Inside the Mind of Joseph SmithInside the Mind of Joseph Smith:
Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon
by Robert D. Anderson

on the cover:
A troubled childhood. A difficult adolescence. How might these have affected the adult character of church founder Joseph Smith? Psychiatrist Robert D. Anderson explores the impact on young Joseph of his family’s ten moves in sixteen years, their dire poverty, especially after his father’s Chinese export venture failed, and his father’s drinking.

It is equally significant, writes Anderson, that Joseph’s mother suffered bouts of depression. For instance, “for months” she “did not feel as though life was worth seeking” after two sisters died of tuberculosis and later when she buried two sons, Ephraim and Alvin. A typhoid epidemic nearly claimed her daughter Sophronia, and the same affliction left Joseph with a crippled leg, after which he was sent to live on the coast with an uncle. Such factors and others produced emotional wounds that emerged later in the prophet’s life and writings, in particular, according to Anderson, the Book of Mormon.

“A superb and fascinating study, approached with the dual advantage of an insider and an experienced psychiatrist. Anderson has mastered the impressive literature and presents a convincing psychobiographic study of one of the great religious figures in the American Scene. He unveils for us one of the most profound and perplexing questions in the understanding of religious movements—how important figures can translate psychic disturbances into messages of conviction and inspiration. The story itself is powerful, and the questions it raises are thought provoking.”
—W. W. Meissner, S. J., Professor of Psychoanalysis, Boston College; author, Ignatius of Loyola: The Psychology of a Saint and of Psychoanalysis and the Religious Experience

“Anderson has an excellent grasp of early Mormon history and writes with dispassion and good balance, impressive scholarship, and readable prose. His naturalistic explanation provides a unique and penetrating analysis of the factors which motivated and fashioned Joseph Smith’s dictation of the Book of Mormon. We have been waiting a long time for this book.”
—Brigham D. Madsen, Professor Emeritus of History and former Vice President, University of Utah; editor Studies of the Book of Mormon

Robert D. Anderson, M.D., is a semi-retired psychiatrist in private practice whose studies at the Psychoanalytic Institute stimulated his interest in applied psychoanalysis. He is a contributor to The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith and has published on psychohistory in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and in the American Journal of Psychiatry. He and his wife live in Bellevue, Washington.

For Delores
I would wish for every man a wife like she,
for every child a mother like she,
for every grandchild a grandmother like she …

Cover Design by Brian Bean

Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and The Book of Mormon was printed on acid‑free paper and was composed, printed, and bound in the United States of America.

© 1999 Signature Books. All rights reserved. Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature books, Inc.

04     03     02     01     2000     99          6     5     4     3     2     1


Anderson, Robert D.

Inside the mind of Joseph Smith: psychobiography and the Book of Mormon / by Robert D. Anderson.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 1‑56085‑125‑2 (pbk.)

1. Smith, Joseph, 1805‑1844—Psychology. 2. Book of Mormon—Criticism, interpretation, etc. 3. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints—Presidents—Biography.

I. Title.
BX8695.S6A                1999
[b] 98‑46501

Table of Contents
Preface [below]

Introduction [below]
Understanding Assumptions,
Current LDS Apologetics
Historian and the Supernatural
The Methodology of Psychoanalysis
Joseph Smith and Narcissism

Chapter 1. Prolegomenon to a Biography of the Child Joseph
Joseph Smith’s Childhood and Youth
A Synopsis of the Book of Mormon

Chapter 2. Joseph and the Sword of Laban
Dysfunction in the Smith Family
Nineteenth‑century Magical Practices
A Period of Poverty
Difficult Times in Vermont
Settling in Palmyra
Conquest of Surgery: 1 Nephi and the Sword of Laban

Chapter 3. Joseph Grows Up: Nephi and Jesus
Splitting as Joseph Smith’s Primary Psychological Defense in the Book of Mormon
Delusion and Deception in Joseph Smith’s Adolescence
Absence of the First Vision in the Book of Mormon
Role of the Angel/Guardian Spirit
The Death of Alvin Smith
The Palmyra Revivals of 1824‑25
Public Humiliation and the Abandonment of Magic
The South Bainbridge Trial, 1826
Dictating the First 116 Pages
The Birth of a Deformed Son
Seven Months of Normalcy
Dictating the Book of Mormon
Oliver Cowdery’s Background
Revenge and Compensation for Humiliation: The Second Nephi,

Chapter 4. A Book of Intricate Complexity: Mosiah and Alma
Polygamy and Doubt
The Final Part of the “Small Plates,”
The Revival Begun
The Revival Concluded
The Order of Nehor
Invincibility Confronts Overwhelming Devastation

Chapter 5. Regression and Recapitulation: The End of Alma, the Book of Helaman
War: The Polarization of Personality into Extremes
Moroni, Zerahemnah, and Amalakiah: Good and Bad Alter Egos
The Harris Marriage
National Parallels: The Jackson Election of 1828
War Continued: Invincibility
Internal Corrosion and Inconstancy

Chapter 6. Descent into Hell
The Small Book of Mormon
The Book of Ether
The Book of Moroni

Chapter 7. Diagnosis and Commentary
Historical Context: The Treason of the Clergy
Joseph Smith and Narcissism
First Modification: Combining the Narcissistic Personality with the Antisocial Personality
Second Modification: Pseudologica Fantastica
Third Modification: The Impostor
Projective Identification


[p.ix] This book began more than four decades ago in a challenge to a group of newly “called” missionaries, all of us volunteers, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). As part of our basic training, we nineteen-year-old males (the women were twenty-one) spent a week at church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, where we were taught that the Book of Mormon would be our main tool in converting individuals who would respond positively to our knock on their door, our street meetings near the center of town, or inquiries in response to various Mormon activities such as the youth movement. The challenge was, simply, to find an alternate explanation to the supernatural origin of the Book of Mormon. As a sincere and earnest young missionary, I was sure that such an explanation could not be found. I now feel differently and have, in fact, tried to articulate such an alternate explanation in the pages that follow.

The Book of Mormon’s central role is epitomized in the fact that it provides this religious movement’s earliest and most enduring nickname. Near the end of the book, a pre-Columbian American prophet named Moroni urges his readers to pray about the book, promising, “And if ye shall ask with a sincere heart [and] real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.”1 It is a scripture memorized by tens of thousands of missionaries every year and is read to every investigator in the first or second meeting. This process of study and prayer while reading the Book of Mormon brings thousands each year into the Mormon church.

My own ancestors were among the hundreds, then thousands, and then tens of thousands of the socially disenfranchised who received religious and economic hope simultaneously of transcending social class discrimination or psychological restrictions. My maternal ancestors came from the slums of Liverpool in the first decade of the twentieth century. My paternal great-grandfather reached America in 1857 from Glasgow. Assigned to help found one of Brigham Young’s hundreds of farming towns, he often repeated, “It’s good we left Scotland when we did.” Both families escalated in status; it is safe to say that I am better off because of, or despite, their beliefs. A century later I returned to Great Britain as a missionary, bap-[p.x]tizing two dozen into Mormonism. One of these Scottish converts visited me in the United States almost twenty-five years later. She said, “You know how it goes. It was too late for Davey and me, but our children now have hope. Without the church, they would have been as hopeless as we were.” This is the genius of Joseph Smith and the closest thing to a miracle in Mormonism. Today throughout the world, the “miracle” continues among the hopeless.

At the heart of this dynamic, both positive and negative, is the Book of Mormon. According to Joseph Smith, founding prophet and translator of the Book of Mormon, the book was produced by and gains its proofs from supernatural aspects: the visitation of angels, special seer stones through which an ancient script was translated into English, and so forth. Indeed, as we missionaries were told, how else could a semi-educated farm boy from New York produce in three months a 588-page, 275,000-word history covering a thousand years of pre-Columbian history with the detail and complexity of the Book of Mormon?

Yet no one has ever successfully differentiated spiritual experiences from psychological ones, and the existence of a Christian civilization in the pre-Columbian New World, as described in the Book of Mormon, enjoys no support from non-Mormon anthropologists and archaeologists. Naturalistic explanations of the book have come and gone, some more persuasive than others. Beginning with Fawn Brodie’s naturalistic biography of Joseph Smith in 1945,2 and again in 1969, new historical materials and approaches regarding Mormon church founder Joseph Smith have increasingly questioned traditional claims of divine translations and visions. Mormons who believe that Smith’s prophetic calling depends on the sum of his miracles often find such modern historical revelations discomfiting.

This new information suggested a progressive reworking of his important “first vision” and evidenced his attempt to rewrite history after the fact, changing dates and years to dramatize his story.3 Smith’s claim to miraculously translate ancient Egyptian foundered when the original papyrus resurfaced.4 These historical advances were troubling to me for they suggested, I believed then and now, deception on the part of Joseph Smith, with good documentation of such behavior before and after the publication of the Book of Mormon.5

This opinion, shared by others, left every claim by him open to question, especially when he emphasized the truth of a happening or incident. Viewing Smith as only partially reliable means that information from others became relatively more important as I pursued my study; the opinions of others, including previously disdained antagonists, took on added weight, especially if their observations fit a consistent pattern, as I believe they do.

This problem of Smith’s reliability as a narrator was compounded by a [p.xi] second level of control and modifications of the original history by Mormon leadership since Smith.6 Much of this new troubling information had come from non-believing Mormons or non-Mormons, which had historically made it easier to dismiss; but some had also been recorded by devout members striving for historical truth. As new information has also become available from a variety of historical sources, including the archives of the Mormon church, it has become clearer that, at least on some issues and in some cases, a history had been created or molded.7 But what about the Book of Mormon?

Unknown to most Mormons for more than half a century, LDS church leader, theologian, and philosopher Brigham Henry Roberts proposed a compelling alternative explanation for the Book of Mormon in the 1920s. Finally published in 1985 as Studies of the Book of Mormon, Roberts’s thought-provoking analysis suggested that the book’s general outline, as well as every major concept, had come from another book, A View of the Hebrews, published a few years earlier and written by Ethan Smith (no relation to Joseph Smith), a knowledgeable theologian of the day.8 A View of the Hebrews subscribed to the popular 400-year-old folk belief that Native Americans descended from the lost Ten Tribes of Israel. Roberts explored the legend in depth, noting the Book of Mormon’s potential debt to Ethan Smith and identifying Joseph Smith’s New World scripture as the most enduring representative of the theory that Native Americans were Israelites. Earlier in his life, Roberts had vigorously defended the Book of Mormon, but now his private analysis contained fierce irony, evidence of his expanding disbelief. In public he continued to champion the book’s ancient historicity.

Even if the Book of Mormon derived its outline and concept from View of the Hebrews, what accounted for its detailed stories of miracles, conversions, heroism, visions, wars, prophecies, and teachings? Where did these stories come from? While brief forays into this area have been made by non-Mormons, there has been no comprehensive, consistent answer, despite a growing number of insightful naturalistic studies.9 One Mormon apostle dismissed such studies: “The practitioners of that approach typically focus on a limited number of issues, like geography or `horses’ or angelic delivery of nineteenth-century language patterns. They ignore or gloss over the incredible complexity of the Book of Mormon record.”10

By the time Roberts’s family published his long-secret manuscript, I no longer participated in Mormon worship but retained an interest in its history, culture, and people. I returned to a serious study of religion and Mormonism after taking practical and theoretical psychoanalytic training and becoming interested in applying psychoanalytic principles to group and national movements, individual leaders, writers, artists, and creative works. I realized during those years that, if the Book of Mormon were not [p.xii] ancient history, Joseph Smith’s own world and personal experiences might be discernible in its narrative, thus documenting the development of miracles from fantasy. In other words, the Book of Mormon might make an ideal subject for applied psychoanalysis. Such an approach could provide the framework into which other studies could be woven. Moreover, an analysis of its text might reveal elements of Smith’s state of mind and also explain the book’s many-faceted aspects, perhaps allowing for a comprehensive psychoanalytic assessment of Smith.

Using the text of the first edition (1830) of the Book of Mormon, I have tried to “listen” to it in the same way I listen to patients. The picture of Smith that emerges for me is fascinating though not always complimentary. When I began, I did not think of writing a psychoanalytic assessment of Joseph Smith. He was a complex, unusual character of considerable force, and the idea was too daunting. However, as my study of parallels between his life and the Book of Mormon progressed, patterns and themes began to emerge which increased my understanding. The psychoanalytic literature remained consistently useful.

I realize that some Mormons, for whom the Book of Mormon is the primary external evidence for Smith’s divine calling, may dismiss my discussion out-of-hand, seeing only a black or white choice. In the words of one Mormon writer: “If the Book of Mormon is true, if it is authentic history brought forth in the last days for the wise purposes of God, then the Saints have good reason for faith and a genuine hope for a trust in God. If the Book of Mormon is the product of a deliberate deception or the sincere psychological delusion caused by severe stress, the Saints have no reason for faith or hope.”11

I hope this dismal assessment is not true. Both outside of and within Mormonism are people whose belief in God and spiritual experiences are more philosophic than literal but who nonetheless retain ongoing faith in the workings of humankind and hope for continued improvement of our welfare. Mormonism is a growing force within Christianity and continues to double in numbers every seventeen years or so. Indeed some non-Mormon observers predict that the Mormon church will become the American religion by the year 2020.12 I believe that Christianity has played at least an indirect role in the leadership of Western culture. Except for fundamentalistic beliefs that disdain reason and individual democratic rights, much of what remains is uplifting. Historian Michael Grant writes that Christianity is the “only religion to profess and practice total, revolutionary, unrestricted charity, compassion, and consolation.”13 Many in Mormonism who doubt or disbelieve, but who have grown up inculcated in faith by loving parents, remain attached to its history, culture, and idealized Christian beliefs.

[p.xiii] I would like to assist in the continued evolution of the Mormon church. Once a cult led by a dynamic charismatic and revolutionary leader, it became a potential enemy of the U.S. government with the immediate goal of forming an independent Mormon empire. For a while the church controlled by intimidation, coercion, and even murder.14 It was arguably the most hated religion the United States has known. Less than a century later, it has transformed itself into today’s international corporate giant of loyal citizens, conservative thinking, and champion of community standards.

Our pluralistic society, awash in social problems of drugs, family disintegration, illegitimacy, violence, and destructive sexual behavior, can use the stabilizing influence of such an institution in promoting family and health values. If this work nudges the Mormon church toward its potential as a world caregiver in a nondoctrinal sense, then I will consider the undertaking worthwhile.

Historian Herbert Butterfield once wrote that a serious “sin in historical composition is the organization of the story in such a way that bias cannot be recognized.”15 In an attempt to avoid such “sin” and for readers who may be curious about my own beliefs, I place on the record the fact that my assumptions informing this discussion of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are explicitly naturalistic. However interested I may be in supernatural phenomenon, such miracles cannot be established as scientific or historical fact. I address this issue—including my own assumptions and methodology—at greater depth in the introduction that follows.

The primary purposes of this book are to investigate the psychology of Joseph Smith, demonstrate the benefits of psychobiography, expand awareness of psychological processes, provide an alternate explanation for at least some supernatural claims, and expand scientific knowledge.

As this work was in final preparation, I became aware of another work on Joseph Smith, entitled, The Sword of Laban: Joseph Smith, Jr., and the Dissociated Mind, by William D. Morain, a plastic surgeon with connections to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, 1998). It is always reassuring when two individuals reach the same conclusions independently, in this case that the character Laban in the Book of Mormon plays a symbolic role associated with young Joseph Smith’s traumatic surgery. There is much in Morain’s book to recommend it. However, my approach sees the life-determining event of surgery on young Joseph as the beginning of inquiry—for a single event, even an overwhelming one, does not make a prophet. Morain does not attempt to evaluate  the personality behind the voluntary actions of Smith in his dictation; and if Smith experienced dissociative states while creating the Book of Mormon, they were, in my opinion, limited in degree. Dissociative states require amnesia, significant distress, impairment in functioning, and/or a disruption of the integrative functions of conscious-[p.xiv]ness, memory, and identity. But the Book of Mormon contains integrated careful calculations of fact and date, creating a complex history instead of a disorganized mess. This result suggests either full or nearly full personality function at the time of dictation.


I owe a great deal to a number of people who have assisted with this work. These include psychoanalysts: first and foremost, my office partner for many years, Frederick S. Hoedemaker, M.D., and also Drs. Werner S. Schimmelbusch, Edward Freedman, Robert Campbell, and Charles Mangham. JoAnn Campbell, Ph.D., did a very useful child-anthropological review of the book, and Jeanette Dyal, A.R.N.P., M.S.W., and Barbara Milam, M.S.W., made useful comments. Special mention should be made of Jesuit psychoanalyst William W. Meissner, who holds the only chair of psychoanalysis in the United States. His many works—over a dozen books (including a psychobiography of the saint and founder of his priesthood order) and 200 papers—bridging the gap between psychiatry and religion demonstrate what can happen when a religion, even an authoritarian one, protects and encourages its intellectuals. He made extensive comments on the organization of an early draft of the work.

I am grateful to Dan Vogel and H. Michael Marquardt, both experts in early Mormon history, who carefully corrected errors and made useful suggestions. Academic encouragement was given by Brigham D. Madsen, professor emeritus at the University of Utah, and, before his death, by the eminent Mormon philosopher, Sterling M. McMurrin. Both made suggestions and recommendations for early drafts of this work.

From the beginning, this work has been encouraged by Gary James Bergera, who has been a gentle point of stability and knowledge through frustrating times. Susan Staker did a miraculous editing of the first draft to the present size, making it more readable; and the final finishing—with useful challenges—was done by Lavina Fielding Anderson. She not only improved the book’s literary style and completeness; but as a knowledgeable devout Mormon, she raised challenges to many points, forcing better documentation and helping me to see biases that could not be sustained. I alone, however, am responsible for factual errors and misjudgments.


1. The Book of Mormon (Palmyra, NY: E. B. Grandin, 1830), 586; now Moro. 10:4.

2. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945). The second edition, revised and enlarged, was published in 1971.

3. Wesley P. Walters, “The Question of the Palmyra Revival,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 (Spring 1969): 5-81; Brodie, No Man Knows My His-[p.xv]tory, 30-31. I have summarized these arguments in “The Dilemma of the Mormon Rationalist,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 30 (Fall 1997): 80-84.

4. Klaus J. Hansen, Mormonism and the American Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1981), 31-32, 222n39: “A scholarly translation published in 1968 revealed the papyri as rather common funerary documents bearing absolutely no relationship to [the LDS canonized scripture of] the Book of Abraham.” See also his “The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: Translations and Interpretations,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Summer 1968): 67-105.

5. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 405-6; W. D. Purple, “Joseph Smith, the Originator of Mormonism: Historical Reminiscences of the Town of Afton,” Chenango Union, 2 May 1977, reprinted in Frances Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America (Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1951), 2:362-67. The evidence for Smith’s deceit has been convincingly summarized in Dan Vogel, “`The Prophet Puzzle’ Revisited,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 31 (Fall 1998): 125-40, and Susan Staker, “The Lord Said, `Thy Wife Is a Very Fair Woman to Look Upon’: The Book of Abraham, Secrets, and Lying for the Lord,” 17 Aug. 1996, Sunstone Theological Symposium, Salt Lake City, copy in my possession. For examples of Smith’s coercion, manipulation, and disingenuousness after the publication of the Book of Mormon, see Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Prophet’s Wife, “Elect Lady,” Polygamy’s Foe, 1804-1879 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984), 95-168, and George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1995), 93-136.

6. Anderson, “The Dilemma of the Mormon Rationalist,” 85-87; D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 272-75; Brigham D. Madsen, Against the Grain: Memoirs of a Western Historian (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 358-60.

7. Dean C. Jessee, “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” BYU Studies 9 (Spring 1969): 275-294, esp. 275n2.

8. Brigham H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, edited and introduced by Brigham D. Madsen, with a biographical essay by Sterling M. McMurrin (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985). Ethan Smith, A View of the Hebrews (Poultney, VT: Smith & Shute, 1825).

9. See, for example, the essays in Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993).

10. Dallin H. Oaks, The Historicity of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1993), 2.

11. Gary F. Novak, “Naturalistic Assumptions and the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 30 (Summer 1990): 35.

12. Harold Bloom, The American Religion (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), 89-90.

13. Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels (New York: Macmillan, 1977), 190.

14. See Klaus J. Hansen, Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1970); Marvin S. Hill, Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989); Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of [p.xvi] Power, and Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997). The retreat of Mormonism from antagonism and enmity toward the U.S. government began in 1890 under pressure of disenfranchisement, the failure of Jesus to reappear as soon as expected, and the inherent loyalty of the majority of the church members. By 1930 the foundation was in place for Mormonism to become the corporate giant of conservative loyal citizens which it now is. Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986).

15. Herbert Butterfield, “The Whig Interpretation of History,” qtd. in Stephen Jay Gould, An Urchin in the Storm: Essays about Books and Ideas (New York: W. W. Norton, 1987), 150.


Understanding Assumptions

[p.xvii] Every writer’s assumptions inform his or her observations, analysis, and conclusions and determine the make-up of the audience he or she wishes to address. Nowhere is this truer than in the area of religion and religious belief. For example, during the witch hunts in medieval Western Europe, thousands of people, mostly women, were condemned to death after confessing under torture to supernatural actions involving the devil. Some 350 years later, historian Joseph Hansen wrote a naturalistic analysis of the this bizarre phenomenon. He believed that confessions of supernatural activities were the result of coercion, including torture, and that witch/demonic interactions did not really occur. Two years later Catholic cleric Robert Schwickerath responded that the “one-sided a priori treatment of the [sixteenth-century Catholic] scholastics was fatal; and it would be well if [Hansen’s] book were studied by Professors of Philosophy and Theology.” Nevertheless, he thought that the work was “based on a false supposition in denying the existence of evil spirits, and consequently leads to wrong conclusions.”1

The supernatural assumptions possible in any study of religion or religious personality may be positioned along a continuum and divided into four categories. At one extreme, God determines all motivations and behavior, thus excluding socio-political, economic, or psychological factors as explanations. This position leaves little room for psychobiography. Early Mormon writings emphasized this approach to LDS history; it is still found in some church manuals and appears to be the position of some church leaders.2 Such biographies of Joseph Smith simply reiterate his official story, along with experiences from his mother, other acquaintances, friends, and enemies, without close scrutiny or analysis. Most non-Mormon historians consider these narratives to be of limited value.3

Joseph Smith opened the door to the second consideration when he declared that “a prophet is a prophet only when he is acting as such.”4 This concept allows for a division of analytical approaches. Scholars may largely exempt his revelations and translations from psychological and environmental inquiry, while seeking understanding of his daily life in the [p.xviii] shaping forces of the nineteenth-century American frontier and, within limitations, some psychological principles. Such a position is probably shared by most present-day devout Mormon historians, who assume that the psychological forces at work in Smith were mostly healthy and that his underlying motivations were fundamentally charitable. The assumption that he was chosen by God leaves little room for other conclusions.5 Perhaps these assumptions explain why “there has been little effort to uncover the background modes of thought, the controlling categories and assumptions, of Joseph Smith himself.”6 This second approach excludes Smith’s revelations and translations, including the Book of Mormon, from psychological inquiry, holding rather that his personality played no part in revelations or translations and assuming that all supernatural acts were accomplished external to his psyche. In other words, this second approach assumes that Smith was no more than God’s tool. Friendly observers David Whitmer and Joseph Knight described the translation of the Book of Mormon in exactly these terms.

Recently, a third type of inquiry has been attempted—namely, seeing the psyche of a saint or prophet as the medium through which God works; his internal conflicts appear not only in his ordinary living but constitute an important element in his visions and spiritual calling. This approach not only acknowledges psychological forces—healthy or pathological—but sees their fusion with spiritual forces; the will of God manifests itself through the resulting struggle for expression.7 This approach is implied in Mormon and non-Mormon analyses arguing that the Book of Mormon is authentic history to which Smith added elements from his own life and time.8 Even more naturalistic is the position that the Book of Mormon has no historical validity but that its spiritual values are worthy of study and adoption in behavior and worship.9 Both orthodox believers and some nonbelievers criticize such devotion, querying why something that is not what it purports to be should be revered.10

These three approaches assume that God, supernatural forces, and spiritual experiences exist but are of no interest to the psychobiographer. William W. Meissner, a Catholic psychoanalyst and psychobiographer of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), elaborates:

The psychoanalyst is concerned with only those aspects of his subject that reflect basically human motivation and the connections of psychic meaning—whether or not the patterns of behavior have religious or spiritual meaning. …

His method and his perspective do not include the theological nor the spiritual. If he is wise he will leave those considerations to theologians and spiritual writers. The psychoanalyst is in no position to deny or exclude any actions, effects, or purposes of God. He is simply not interested in them since his approach has nothing to say about them.11

[p.xix] At first, this approach may seem hair-splitting, but Meissner identifies a significant difference: assuming that God and the supernatural exist (while ignoring them) is not the same as refusing either to assume or deny such sources for visionary prophetic, inspired translations, statements, and acts. The existence of God lies not only beyond the psychoanalyst’s professional interest but, as a scientist, beyond his or her knowledge. This position does not deny the possibility that God could exist and could/would intervene; it simply insists that, given the assumptions of science and history, miracles have not been established as fact and cannot be used as automatic explanations for events. One can acknowledge that the scientist or historian—or anyone, for that matter—may miss vital elements by refusing to acknowledge the spiritual. Perhaps such subjective experiences will forever be outside scientific replication, and science and history may forever miss ultimate causality. Nevertheless, this form of agnosticism is the theoretical position of science and academic history. As a result and on a practical level, science and academic history must not only passively ignore but also actively exclude the supernatural. Michael T. Walton, a historian of science, explains:

The reason for this aspect of academic history is both clear and persuasive. What sense data exist to reveal God’s hand? If such data existed, whose God would it reveal? Because God is not sensible, data dealing with him is nonsense and speculative. Were historians to admit such nonsense data, they would lose much of their shared universe of discourse which allows them to evaluate theories. Personal, inspired speculation with no data would become as valid as hard documents, and chaos would replace orderly criticism.

… Academic history, like science, has limited its universe of discourse to sense data. God and his action, in history, being non-sensible, therefore, do not fall within the bounds of that universe of discourse. … Behind this limitation of subject matter was an attempt to facilitate communication among historians. … Were historians to accept revelations and other metaphysical data, communication would be greatly hindered because individuals from different religious traditions could not agree on which revelations were to be accepted or rejected.

… Should [the believer] seek evidence of God’s action his history, let him turn to his faith, for academic history can never provide proof for something which its methodology excludes.12

Walton’s explanation presents two reasons for excluding the supernatural from consideration. The first, explicated by Pearl of Great Price scholar Edward H. Ashment, is that historians and scientists must be able to communicate despite differences in their individual belief systems. Otherwise, Mormon historians would be required to accept only

Mormon Truth claims. In like manner, historians of Catholicism must accept Catholic Truth claims and the Catholic Holy Spirit as a reliable indicator of those claims, which of course would automatically nullify Mormon Truth [p.xx] claims. The same must obtain of historians of eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and the remainder of the almost 21,000 Christian denominations. Since it would not be possible for historians of religion to write about other religions or denominations without accepting their Truth claims, no historian of one perspective could critically analyze another perspective with any validity because he or she would have to accept the latter’s Truth perspective.13

Requiring Mormon scholars not only to include but to give priority to Mormon truth claims results in a circular argument: Not only must the scholar accept God and the supernatural, but he or she must also accept Mormon truth claims about them. The conclusion leads back to the assumptions—accepting the claims of the religion under discussion. There can be no discussion across lines of faith, for different assumptions disallow it.

The second reason for excluding supernatural claims is that they cannot be established as historical fact or replicated scientifically. What is the proof of a spiritual experience? Only another spiritual experience. In all other areas of our lives, we have learned to review critically strong emotional experiences (such as feelings about the “right” marriage partner, the “right” profession, or the “right” investment), looking outside the experience itself for objective correlating evidence. In some fundamentalist religions, this internal assurance is interpreted as evidence—replacing “knowledge”—that the earth is 6,000 years old or, within Mormonism, reading the Book of Mormon as a record of what actually happened in pre-Columbian America. We will not find objective evidence for the visions of Joseph Smith, but his translation of ancient records is another matter. Historians have largely ignored the Book of Mormon because American archaeologists have not found any supporting objective evidence for it.

Current LDS Apologetics
There is a vast and rapidly enlarging literature by the faithful on the Book of Mormon. Many books are written for rank-and-file members of the church in periodicals and newspapers, while more scholarly articles can be found in books and journals published in association with Brigham Young University. These include many papers and journals from the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) in Provo, Utah, which has an official connection to the university. In addition to many articles in BYU Studies, the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, published by FARMS, contains many relevant articles. Useful on both sides of the question of the origin of the Book of Mormon is FARMS’s recent publication of sixteen essays, Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997). Some scholarly studies by doubters or nonbelievers, demonstrating problems and inconsistencies and suggesting a naturalistic origin for the Book of Mormon, may be found [p.xxi] in the ten articles in Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), hostilely reviewed in FARMS’s Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6, nos. 1-2 (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1994).

Of special interest in the context of this discussion are studies on American archaeology and the geography of the Book of Mormon. Book of Mormon geography has long been a thorny problem with unsatisfactory answers, despite many attempts at developing a internally consistent picture. The most notable of these attempts is John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992), 5-206. Mormons in Joseph Smith’s day assumed that the Book of Mormon “land northward” and “land southward,” connected by a “narrow neck of  land,” were the North and South American continents connected by the Isthmus of Panama. Thus, locating the Hill Cumorah, site of the final Nephite/Lamanite battle and burying site of the gold plates, two or three miles from Joseph Smith’s home was not unreasonable. In 1887 Baptist minister M. T. Lamb in The Golden Bible (New York: Ward and Drummond, 1887), 96-101, emphasized internal inconsistencies in Book of Mormon geography, distances, and migrations. Although Book of Mormon editions to 1920 listed the supposed geographic parallels (and others) in footnotes, the passing decades brought no archaeological or anthropological support for a Book of Mormon culture but rather increasing evidence that the pre-Columbian Native Americans had never developed past a smooth stone culture. In 1973 non-Mormon American archaeologist Michael D. Coe stated bluntly, “The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere.”14

The continued absence of archaeological evidences resulted in a two-pronged defensive response by the faithful. To replace archaeological evidence, believing Mormons have looked for literary evidence within the Book of Mormon. They have found Old Testament styles of writing/speaking (chiasmus), and “wordprints,” complex statistical studies demonstrating that there were different writers, not just Joseph Smith, behind the book’s sermons and dialogues.15 Critics of these approaches have demonstrated possible chiasmus in other writings which do not claim to be ancient Hebrew texts and have challenged the successful use of wordprints with the Book of Mormon.16

As my work suggests, Joseph Smith identified with various people, including revivalist ministers, local and traveling, in his area; I argue that, through his fantasy alter egos, they spoke in their own manner and style in Book of Mormon episodes. I also suggest that, to whatever extent chiasmus [p.xxii] does or does not exist in the Book of Mormon, Smith may have picked up the style from the ministers who may, in turn, have picked it up as a style learned from their Bible memorizations and training. Naturally, the Bible is also a direct influence on Smith himself.

The second approach by the faithful has been to adjust the geographic and archaeological assumptions about the Book of Mormon. Following the publication of Lamb’s book in 1887, certainty in Book of Mormon geography shifted to recommendations by Mormon authorities that it was a mystery best left alone, and then to compromises that crystallized in the 1960s.17 Orthodox Mormon academicians proposed a restricted site in southern Mexico of less than 400 miles in diameter for the Book of Mormon that may yet prove to contain Nephite artifacts when it is found and properly explored; the theory also includes two Cumorahs, with the New York hill being named by Moroni for the original in Mesoamerica.18 It is not clear, in this case, why Moroni, in the nine meetings or more that Joseph Smith claimed to have with him, did not inform him of this renaming and spatial shift.

Additional hypotheses suggest that some time before, during, or after Book of Mormon times, Asiatic peoples crossed the Siberian-Alaskan landbridge and intermingled with the surviving Lamanites until no language or Middle Eastern characteristics remain. Unlike the assumptions of Joseph Smith and friends, these theories propose that only a small fraction of Native Americans are remnants of the Book of Mormon peoples. The Book of Mormon does not mention any other peoples in the Americas, although archaeological evidence dates their presence 10,000 years before the Nephites/Lamanites or the Jaredites.19 Many of these proposals run into difficulties with Book of Mormon statements and contradict the first official account written by Oliver Cowdery with Joseph Smith’s help.20

John Sorenson suggests the hill Cerro Vigia in Veracruz, Mexico, for the original Hill Cumorah, and Santa Rosa, Chiapas, Mexico, as the site for Zarahemla, the Book of Mormon’s major city. The Grijalva and upper Usumacinta rivers in Guatemala and part of Mexico are both candidates for the river Sidon. Sorenson suggests that Joseph Smith may have mistranslated a number of words in the Book of Mormon and that the animals in the text called cattle and oxen are really deer and bison, that horses are tapir or deer, that swine refers to the wild pig, that asses are tapir, and that a curelom may refer to bison or mastodon.21 This flexible interpretation of the translation/dictation period of the Book of Mormon does not seem to fit the described process and careful evidence from the remaining handwritten manuscript of the Book of Mormon dictation, as I will discuss in chapter 3. I read these proposals as attempts to surmount the absence of hard historical or scientific evidence to support the Book of Mormon and as a search for a workable compromise by believing Mormons with one foot in belief and [p.xxiii] the other in rationalism. In contrast to these ideas, I will propose a naturalistic explanation for the geography of the Book of Mormon taken from Joseph Smith’s life. (See chapter 4.)

Historians and the Supernatural
The historian or scientist may personally believe in miracles but must exclude them from his or her professional products. This is the reason historian Michael Grant, in his biography of Jesus, wrote, “It is true that words ascribed to the risen Christ are beyond the purview of the historian since the resurrection belongs to a different order of thinking. … Accordingly, therefore, to the cold standard of humdrum fact, the standard to which the student of history is obliged to limit himself, these nature-reversing miracles did not happen.”22

In contrast to Meissner, who saw the will of God expressed partly through the way in which Ignatius solved internal conflict, or the many Mormon writers on Joseph Smith who separate Smith’s problems from his supernatural claims, a writer who takes his or her stance within the perspective of science or academic history cannot simply ignore or exclude supernatural claims. He or she must attempt to explain them by naturalistic methods. With Joseph Smith, this task has been fraught with problems.

Recently, Lawrence Foster, a careful non-Mormon historian, proposed that Smith may have suffered from an unusual form of bipolar affective disorder.23 While this suggestion has problems, it is worthy of consideration. Yet it is at best a half step, for nothing in the spectrum of manic-depressive illness explains Smith’s claims to receive revelations and translate ancient records. Other friendly non-Mormon historians examine wide varieties of Mormon history but avoid explaining Smith’s claims.24 Perhaps any attempt would threaten their friendly status, for Joseph Smith, unlike many other religious figures, presents a special problem in efforts to understand him psychologically, whether these naturalistic forces are understood as separate or as fused with spiritual ones.

A comparison with sixteenth-century Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Catholic Jesuit order, may clarify the problem. Ignatius was born to a wealthy family. His mother died when he was a child. To outward appearances, he seemed psychologically unaffected by the loss, becoming a heroic soldier in his late twenties. A courageous and aggressive military leader, he was brave to the point of foolhardiness until a cannonball shattered his legs. Without anesthesia, the surgeons’ attempts to set the broken bones in a usable manner failed; later they rebroke the bones in an effort to set them properly, but he walked with leg deformities and an obvious limp until his death in 1556, twenty-six years later. The deformity struck him as hard as the surgical trauma, for he had been a wiry, vain courtier, a sword-swinging Spanish hildago, ready to pull a knife in defense of honor. Leg surgery [p.xxiv] was also Joseph Smith’s most traumatic physical experience in childhood. Similarly, Loyola’s traumatic physical experience, though occurring in adulthood, was a turning point. During his convalescence, he experienced a beatific vision of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, redefined himself as a “soldier” of faith on the battlefield of religion, had repeated visions and supernatural “mystical” experiences, faced the Inquisition and prison in 1526, 1530, and 1536 for possible heresy (the Reformation had begun) and preaching without adequate education. He defended himself adequately, gained his master’s degree in Paris in 1535, and gathered a core of loyal followers. With them he wrote his “Spiritual Exercises” and “Constitution” for the Society of Jesus (founded 1540). These “Jesuits” would spearhead the Counter-Reformation.

If we strip away the claims of supernatural guidance, Ignatius’ behavior can be adequately explained as the result of childhood loss, psychopathological response to adult trauma, upper-class training and education, and, possibly, inborn genetic superiority. His later life was characterized by priestly vows of chastity and poverty. When the wealthy came to him, they found him in a simple house, furnished only with a bed, chair, and desk. He was nearly worshipped by attractive women from all strata of society, yet his comportment was ultra-proper. Funds flowed to his organization. His priest-followers were willing to give their lives to him and his cause in obedience to the pope and church. Only after his death were the Jesuits linked with political intrigue and maneuvering. Today we would despair at his physical self-mortification and vigorously oppose his demand for obedience over reason or anything else,25 but if we concentrate primarily on his behavior, it is easy to admire many aspects of the man without believing in the supernatural, whether one is a believing Catholic or not.

In contrast, if we strip away Joseph Smith’s claims of supernatural guidance, how might his behavior be evaluated? He contracted polygamous marriages, including some with adolescent girls and already-married women.26 He took the position that all civil marriages were invalid in God’s eyes and could therefore be disregarded. He engaged in secret political maneuverings using the Danites and Council of Fifty. He failed to separate his personal finances from those of the church. He made strenuous efforts to create a theocracy that fused church and state. He showed marked aversion to democratic justice systems—although it must be conceded that this aversion was grounded in considerable legal maneuvering on the part of opponents that can be fairly described as harassment. A number of his dealings with others give marked evidence of expediency, deceit, coercion, and manipulation.27

If commanded by God, each of these acts could perhaps be justified. But were any of these acts the result of Smith’s personality, not God’s commands? If we set aside the possibility of supernatural inter-[p.xxv]vention, the image of Joseph Smith is less than morally satisfactory and may actually be part of the reason why his followers so strongly defended and idealized him. (See chapter 7.) Yet, to the faithful, any naturalistic explanation is unacceptable. Any interpretation, whether traditional or innovative, must be drawn from the basic historical documents.Yet control of these documents has become a hotly contested area in Mormon group life. Church officials have taken the explicit position that any criticism of “the Lord’s anointed”—usually interpreted to mean the church presidents and/or apostles—will not be tolerated.28 Such a stance censors nontraditional historical scholarship and seems to include the assumption that the faithful are incapable of recognizing the difference between “office” and “personality.”

The task of trying to develop accurate history against this prejudice has somewhat fallen to the so-called “New Mormon Historians” who have, over the past three decades, been attacked by other devout scholars and sometimes officially condemned by their church for presenting evidence of the limitations and failings of church leaders since Joseph Smith. Shortly before his excommunication in September 1993 for not following church counsel in his research and writing, D. Michael Quinn defined his position against “rancorous, paranoid, and deliberately slanderous” personal attacks:

Even my revisionist examination of the esoteric and occult dimensions on Mormonism’s origins affirmed the reality of the metaphysical events in Joseph Smith’s experience.

… New Mormon Historians have criticized instances where Traditional Mormon History … posits that “the hand of God” is the only needful explanation for any event in the Mormon experience. …

[But] I have always opposed those who present the Mormon past from a perspective that excludes the possibility that there is objective reality to divine revelation, visions, and angelic manifestations.29

Attempting to blend the supernatural with the natural leads to a large, poorly defined gray area. Quinn, a believing Mormon both before and after his excommunication, has focused on Joseph Smith and the “metaphysical” world of magic, using hazel rods and seer stones to find buried treasure, etc. Were these experiences “spiritual,” “spiritual preparation,” deceit of self and others within a context of a dying subculture, or a blend of all three? If the latter, how much of each? Although I respect Quinn’s research, I think it also demonstrates the difficulty in finding solutions that merge the supernatural and natural. Even considering the possibility of a mixture raises difficult questions which the church shows no inclination to answer.

Whereas Quinn sometimes finds fault with traditionalists who believe that “the hand of God” is enough explanation for Joseph Smith, he would probably also see my work as limited because it occupies the [p.xxvi] other end of the spectrum. By using the framework of traditional science and that of the academic historian in this work, I therefore exclude “the hand of God” from consideration. I assume that Joseph Smith composed the Book of Mormon and read it to understand Smith psychologically. Some may find this approach unacceptable; others might allow it as an hypothesis to be explored.

I wish to be very plain about what I am saying. This book is not about “Did Joseph Smith create the Book of Mormon?” but “How did Joseph Smith create the Book of Mormon.” In this case, fortunately, the epistomological position of science and academic history in excluding the supernatural is supported by the evidence of science and academic history.

To summarize: Belief in the Book of Mormon relies on personal internal spiritual experiences, supported by wishes, cohesive group pressure, and family/authoritarian demands. In contrast, there is no “hard” evidence from archaeology to support the book, and the vacuum has grown so large that Mormon archaeologists have rewritten Mormon history in a way that would have probably surprised Joseph Smith and his friends. The “soft” literary evidence is questionable and, to whatever extent it exists, can be explained by naturalistic means. In contrast to this “negative” evidence, history of the last fifty years provides some “positive” evidence about Joseph Smith. We can document intentional deceit from courtroom records before the development of the Book of Mormon, and repeated coercion, manipulation, and deceit after the Book of Mormon was published. Every believing Mormon must ignore, rationalize, or justify his or her founding prophet’s behavior. With this documentation of deceit, all statements by Joseph Smith are suspect, and I will pay increased attention to outside documentation and the voices of others, including antagonists. These will include the townspeople in the Palmyra/Manchester area and his wife’s relatives and friends in Pennsylvania. Generally, these voices paint what I see as a consistent picture of a progressively fabricated history, moving from the world of magic to Christianity.

It may be understandable why authorities in the Mormon Church place limitations on historical research and have engaged actively in censoring and altering church history, but it is not excusable. They not only remain uncooperative today but also punish those who have not been obedient to their insistence in writing “faith-based” history. Given the resulting level of documentary unreliability, I will sometimes use Brigham Young University historians (who must follow the directions from the Mormon hierarchy), but will, of necessity, pay increased attention to nonbelievers and even antagonists.

The strict naturalistic assumptions that form the basic approach of this book have further consequences. If to a neutral observer I am successful in demonstrating an internally consistent chronological pattern and repeti-[p.xxvii]tive psychological style that probably is a reflection of Joseph Smith’s personal life, then this work can help fill in gaps and provide depth and consistency to the historical picture. In areas of incomplete history or even controversy, the fantasies in the Book of Mormon may help us evaluate such historical questions, for which answers based on contemporary documentation are currently unavailable. These include: (1) Did Joseph Smith behave inappropriately with a woman during his stay in Pennsylvania with his wife’s family? (2) Did his father have alcohol problems? and (3) Were there other problems in the childhood home of young Joseph? I will occasionally use the Book of Mormon to suggest such possibilities. But these evidences, in the reverse direction from the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith’s life, will always be only clues or suggestions. They will never provide historical fact or documentation. No matter what happened factually, we will be looking through the eyes of a child who is constructing a compensatory fantasy. In the final diagnostic chapter, I will propose a theoretical formulation of Joseph Smith’s personality, using his mother’s biography of her son, Joseph’s statements, outside testimony by others (including antagonists), and by reading from within the Book of Mormon back into his life.

If, as Mormon general authority B. H. Roberts wondered in the 1920s, Joseph Smith used Ethan Smith’s A View of the Hebrews in composing the Book of Mormon, it provided only an outline and a concept. Its contribution to the Book of Mormon may be summarized in perhaps half a dozen pages. But the Book of Mormon is not an outline—it is an ongoing narrative covering a thousand years and including detailed personal experiences, religious interactions, conversions, and miracles. Heroes and villains abound, many with distinct personalities. The narrative includes extensive military and governmental activities, some economic and agricultural descriptions, and even an excursion into currencies. As I will discuss later, Smith had the opportunity to prepare these stories by thinking about them and relating them to his family for years. However, when the time was ripe, he apparently dictated virtually the entire book in less than thirteen weeks, a prodigious feat. In my professional opinion, such speed is a characteristic, not of translation, but rather of spontaneous  free association; the book’s size, from a psychodynamic point of view, thus provides an excellent opportunity to use the techniques of applied psychoanalysis, including simile, allegory, and metaphor.

In this book, I will argue that Joseph Smith, both knowingly and unknowingly, injected his own personality, conflicts, and solutions into the book he was dictating. Thus I hypothesize that the Book of Mormon can be understood as Smith’s autobiography, that we can discern repeated psychological patterns in Smith’s transformation of his childhood and youth before 1829 into Book of Mormon stories, and that these observations can [p.xxviii] contribute to a psychological understanding of Smith. With this information, supplemented by his mother’s biography and other sources, we can develop a reasonably complete psychoanalytic profile of Joseph Smith.

The Methodology of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalytic psychotherapy enhances patients’ experience of their feelings and fantasies and can help their therapists better understand their patients and their psychological defenses. There is little external stimulus to stir the conversation; the therapist says little but listens much. Over time and often indirectly, the patient articulates feelings and fantasies that both approach and avoid areas of potential psychological conflict in endless cycles. Many of these come from childhood; the patient’s discourse—such as talking about work or spouse—takes on stronger and stronger coloring from childhood. Fantasies spring from nowhere and may become elaborate yet disturbing to their creator. These fantasies may contain childlike conquering compensations and solutions, grand and impossible in scope. Interestingly, some of the physical arrangements employed during the dictation/translation of the Book of Mormon mirrors psychotherapeutic settings. (See chapter 5.)

Psychiatry is a branch of medicine dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of mental dysfunction; psychiatry is a medical specialty. Psychology is not a medical field or specialty, even though its areas of interest overlap significantly with those of psychiatry. The area of psychiatry (and psychology) that focuses on a person’s mental forces such as sexual and aggressive impulses, drives toward self-fulfillment, achievement of core identity and self-esteem, etc., and his or her conscious or unconscious efforts to modify these forces to permit successful social adaptation, is a subspecialty generally referred to as “(psycho)dynamic psychiatry.” Its most intense form is psychoanalysis, or the process of collecting knowledge and a body of theory, as well as a specific form of treatment for some patients.

Classical psychoanalysis began with Sigmund Freud around 1900 and, for sixty years, dominated psychiatry. In the absence of other theories or knowledge, it overextended itself into the treatment of severe psychotic mental illnesses now known to be partly, or largely, genetically determined. In the last thirty years, psychoanalysis has yielded leadership in the field to technical laboratory methods and their results in the burgeoning fields of neurophysiology and psychopharmacology. This development has allowed psychiatrists to modify, but not cure, the most severe forms of mental illness by administering medications. The next fifty years holds promise that the study of the mental drives will unite with technical studies of brain chemistry, and we will be able to give reasons, in neurophysiologic terms, why a mother’s death when a child is two may result in certain types of adult mental disturbance. This goal is one of the presently [p.xxiv] stated objectives of research at the National Institutes of Mental Health. Freud foresaw this development,30 and today some “psychoanalysts” are active in laboratory research.

The term psychoanalyst is not legally regulated in most states, with the result that anyone in those areas may claim the title, including the uneducated and charlatans. Technically, however, in the United States, it is usually reserved for the 10 percent of psychiatrists and, more recently, psychologists and social workers, who have completed a minimum of four to six years of advanced training at the various psychoanalytic institutes recognized by the American Psychoanalytic Association. Others who use the title are expected (but not required) to explain that their use of the term is not the usual or standard definition.

The American Psychoanalytic Association, founded in 1911, and its member psychoanalysts exercise a major influence on all areas of the knowledge and treatment of the mentally ill. The body of knowledge they have accumulated over the last ninety years has filtered beyond the boundaries of mental health professionals into the lives of ordinary citizens. Every modern government has “think tanks” of professionals who use psychoanalytic knowledge to understand the actions of other governments and to evaluate their leaders. Psychoanalytic knowledge is imparted in our high schools; both Hollywood and Madison Avenue have people knowledgeable in psychodynamic understanding and manipulation who use these techniques successfully and without moral compunction. Some of its techniques, modified over decades of practice, appear in the treatment of all mentally disturbed patients. Its classic treatment, using a couch and free association in frequent sessions extending over years, continues to be the treatment of choice for a small percentage of patients.

One division of psychoanalytic thinking, applied psychoanalysis, does not deal with theory or the treatment of patients but instead focuses on culture, art, history, politics, and literature. Attempts to enhance our understanding of individuals by their writings or personal histories is termed psychobiography. Freud’s first attempts to apply psychoanalytic concepts outside of the psychoanalytic treatment of patients began as early as 1897. He made additions to these studies in 1900, 1907, 1910, and 1911, attempting to understand unconscious conflicts and processes in artists and writers hidden in their works.31 Others also realized the potential fruitfulness of such applications. Artistic creativity has been studied, although most of the focus has been on the personalities of artists, including  Jonathan Swift, Lewis Carroll, Ludwig Van Beethoven, and William Shakespeare.32 Ernst Jones in 1951 adapted applied psychoanalysis to studying mass cultural movements, arguing that the historical belief in witches and vampires reflected sexual frustration, a topic that was something of a preoccupation with Freudian thought.33 Two religious figures who have received atten-[]tion are Martin Luther and Gandhi.34 The analysis of fairy tales is helpful to every parent.35 Applied psychoanalytic literature is now vast.

The greatest contributions of psychobiography have been to expand our ideas about the personality of writers. Besides the contributions of psychiatrists, important contributions have also been made by psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, and historians.36 Difficulties and potential pitfalls in such endeavors have been carefully reviewed,37 and two of Freud’s works are now considered unfortunate setbacks.38 However, carefully done psychoanalytical studies open the door to understanding the unconscious processes and motivations among fictional characters, such as Hamlet and his stepfather, or in the Book of Mormon between Moroni and his archenemy Amalickiah. (See chapter 5.) They fit into the object-relations theory of development which presently dominates psychoanalytic discussions.39 It is a general truism that the first artistic creation of an artist or writer is usually most revealing of his personality, for it is hoped that the artist’s work will also be psychotherapeutic work and contribute to resolution of original conflicts and problems. When this happens, the artist not only improves in technical quality, but his or her work demonstrates maturation.40 I spoke with four psychoanalysts who write psychobiography and in applied psychoanalysis, asking for their views. All four agreed with the statement but noted that artists may continue to reflect their stresses in their work throughout their lives. If the creative work of the artist or author is psychotherapeutic (as one hopes it will be and does sometimes seem to occur), then subsequent work will become more and more removed from the original conflicts and struggles. I believe that this same phenomenon applies to the Book of Mormon and will help us understand Joseph Smith.

The interface between psychoanalysis and history is often controversial. In 1958 William Langer, president of the American Historical Association, challenged colleagues to seek deeper psychological meaning in their studies.41 The response varied from mixed to hostile. Historians emphasize that there is no such thing as completely objective history, but the facts of documented historical events mean that the foundations of their analyses are not subjective. In contrast, psychodynamic psychiatry is a world of feelings, thoughts, misrememberings, forgettings, fantasy, analogy, allegory, and metaphor. No wonder some historians give little credence to attempts to make sense out of ephemeral mental material which does not seem to be connected.42 In 1930 Freud himself warned that, in applied psychoanalysis, “we should have to be very cautious and not forget that, after all, we are only dealing with analogies and that it is dangerous, not only with men but also with concepts, to tear them from the sphere in which they have originated and been evolved.”43 Analogy is not a good way to establish historical fact, and history cannot be reduced to psychological explanation. Western historian Bernard DeVoto pointed out: “Psycho-analysis has no [p.xxxi] value whatever as a method of arriving at facts in biography.” Rather, he asserted, the first condition of biography must be “absolute, unvarying, unremitted accuracy.”44 Still, psychoanalytic application and attention to factual detail are compatible; psychoanalytic interpretation and understanding may add texture to the historical picture, fill in aspects of personal meaning and motive, and provide continuity to a history that has gaps even though the distinction between “fact” and conjecture drawn from those facts must be clear to both the writer and the reader. DeVoto found little value in applied psychoanalysis except in the “consulting room, where it belongs, and to the literary speakeasy.” As a result of this refusal to consider psychological implications in coming to terms with Joseph Smith, he dismissed the Book of Mormon as “a yeasty fermentation, formless, aimless and inconceivably absurd … a disintegration.” He later added that the book had “neither form nor structure of any kind, its imagination is worse than commonplace, it is squalid, and the prose is lethal.”45 In my opinion, he seriously misunderstands the work.

The psychiatrist enters the world of history without a historian’s tools. He or she is trained to interact with a live and reactive patient, not someone distant or dead for 150 years. The interaction between therapist and patient is the central focus and will be the means of, if not curing, then improving the patient’s condition. The work of repeated clarification, confrontation, and interpretation describes the observable process. It is speculative work, gaining assurance only over time and during the interaction itself. Every therapist with psychodynamic experience has had the experience of proposing a painful interpretation, only to have the patient exclaim, “No!”, break into sobs, and correct the therapist with even a more painful truth, newly discovered by the therapist’s near-miss. It is this interplay that we cannot have in applied psychoanalysis of a dead writer. It is not possible to explore the Book of Mormon as Joseph Smith’s autobiography without making errors. Smith is not here to correct or modify our interpretations, and, if he were, we might doubt his cooperation. No live patient fits into any mold, and sooner or later will bristle if he or she senses that the therapist is attempting to fit the full richness of his or her life into a particular psychodynamic model. Such an approach always fails to explain important parts of that life. Because the historical subject cannot challenge, correct, and change this tendency to simplify, it is inevitable that psychobiography will lack some of the complexity and development available to a live interaction.

Furthermore, the psychiatrist must not only understand the patient’s personal and familial development, but also the influences of time, place, ethnicity, religion, and culture. A psychiatrist working with a historical personage but not an expert in that person’s historical milieu will inevitably make contextual errors of interpretation. Granted, no author has direct [p.xxxii] first-hand experience with a culture from the past, but a historian’s training is designed to compensate, at least partially, for this deficiency while a psychiatrist’s is not.

Furthermore, human nature in general, and the inner wellsprings of a particular person’s emotions and thought, always contain mysteries. Time veils memories and reshapes interpretations; even with a patient’s full cooperation, some aspects of his or her life will never be understood. These difficulties tempt a psychohistorian to become reductionistic, drawing final conclusions where only incomplete information and partial solutions are available. There is a necessary tension and balance between the historical view and the psychological view. If this latter view becomes too strong, then “psychopathology becomes a substitute for the psychohistorical interface. … The psychopathological idiom for individual development … [replaces] the idiom for history, or psychohistory. When this happens there is, once more, no history.”46

And, finally, psychoanalysis as a treatment is not universally successful. Freud affirmed that all patients appropriate for psychoanalysis used “neurotic” psychological defenses such as repression (pushing conflicts behind a screen where they do not seem to exist), obsessive-compulsive styles of thinking (binding conflict and emotion into structured and rigid mental organization), and sublimation (turning conflict into socially productive behavior). However, some patients went beyond these “ordinary” defenses to denial (a more vigorous repudiation of fact or emotion), splitting (seeing the world in polarized opposites of good/bad, right/wrong, us/them), and projection (ignoring troubling qualities in oneself while imagining, observing, and criticizing similar qualities in other people).47 In contrast, healthier defenses would be altruism (vicarious and constructive service to others) and sublimation (gratification of an impulse by changing the method and goal from a socially objectionable one to a socially valued one).

I have been candid about the dangers of a psychoanalytical approach both to educate the reader and also to assure the reader that I myself am aware of those risks. The potential achievement is still worth the risk, however, for if a balance is maintained, then looking at symptomatic or general behaviors can be productive. The psychodynamic perspective gives valid reasons for believing that all of us derive part of our motives and uniqueness from psychologically meaningful events in our past, most strongly and enduringly from our childhoods. I believe that it is also true for a prophet and that such considerations add depth to our understanding.

If the absence of a live patient is the weakness of psychobiography, its strengths are two areas of collective knowledge and known experience. First, the patterns of style, and, second, overdetermination. “Style” means that we can expect that the mental maneuvers, styles, and defenses of a [p.xxxiii] writer will be represented in his work. As I have already noted, this characteristic is truest if the work was his first or earliest work, for we suspect that the artist has begun an attempt to resolve his conflicts through his work. If successful with this “therapy,” his artistry will take on a life of its own, farther and farther removed from the conflict. His personality style will be more apparent if the work was “spontaneous,” and if the circumstances surrounding its creation were close to the therapeutic process of free association, as was the case I believe with Smith’s creation of the Book of Mormon. The techniques used in applied psychoanalytic investigation are adapted from the techniques of psychoanalytic treatment. If Smith were in dynamic psychotherapy, he could begin the sessions anywhere, under the guide of free association—that is, say anything and everything that came to mind with no editing—while the therapist’s job would be to follow, understand, decipher, confront, and clarify. Patients tell their life story, repeatedly emphasizing problem areas in treatment. But some areas of conflict are too painful to discuss and feel directly, so patients use a number of methods, both conscious and unconscious, to modify their pain. They may talk about a friend with similar problems or discuss a movie or book that contains problems similar to their own. They may divide their history into two or more parts, discussing some segments one day and filling in the remaining segments on other days. The more painful the segment, the more repetitious they will be in “working through” the problem. If the pain of sadness is too much on one day, they may reverse it into an inappropriate euphoria that breaks down in the next days or weeks. Their dreams will repeat their life stories and conflicts, disguised by exaggeration, displacement, reversal, projection onto others, condensation, combining of stories, and so forth. Their mental fantasies repeat their problems and frequently show dramatic wished-for solutions and compensations, some reasonable and some impossible.

Over time the psychotherapist begins to know the life story very well, and becomes acquainted with the patient’s psychological defenses. What becomes increasingly important is not the life story but its modifications—exaggerations, similarities, aversions, combinings, reversals, eliminations, projections, forgettings, denials, imagined compensations, division of the story into two or more parts, etc. These patterns help the psychiatrist understand the patient and help him face his pain and make a more successful adaptation to life. “No single fact or connection will validate the hypothesis,” observed Meissner, “but it begins to take on meaning and consistency in the light of the total complex of facts, data, and their integrating interpretations.”48

The second principle is overdetermination. Bruce Mazlish explains: “The problem of determinism in psycho-analysis is a point that bothers unsympathetic critics of psycho-analysis. Freud insisted that strict determi-[p.xxxiv]nism prevailed in respect of psychic acts; there are no ‘accidents.’ For example, ‘free association,’ the basis of dream analysis and of therapy, is ‘free’ only in the sense that it is not hampered by the censorship of ‘logical,’ ‘rational’ thought and mores. It is not, however, undetermined.”49

Overdetermination comes in two forms: (1) The same word or symbol usually refers to many elements in the unconscious thought process. (2) A single unconscious drive or pattern of behavior will manifest itself in innumerable different conscious manifestations. These multiple manifestations make the evidence abundant and self-confirming. If we are able to reinforce this information with observations from others who know the individual, it seems both reasonable and possible to complete the historian’s tasks of reconciling, interpreting, and confirming evidence, as well as the psychohistorian’s task of psychological explaining.

After the review of the Book of Mormon described above, I will discuss Joseph Smith’s personality by using five elements of psychodynamic theory: the narcissistic personality, the antisocial personality, pseudological phantastica, the act of imposturing, and his enhancement by his followers through the mechanism of projective identification. However, the last four elements are variations on or additions and modifications to the first.

The concept of the narcissistic personality has developed by a historically complicated process, for it entailed understanding new types of psychological defenses, necessitated a rewriting of theory, and required identifying constellations of personality symptoms (“syndromes”).50

In 1900 Freud borrowed the Oedipal “complex” from various poets, playwrights, and philosophers dating back to the classic Greeks and put it into a framework of mental health. The name is taken from the drama Oedipus Rex by the ancient Greek playright  Sophocles, in which a fatally proud king kills his father and marries the queen, only to discover later that he has committed both patricide and incest. According to Freud, this period, which lasts from about age three to six, is crucial in the healthy development of male children. The son becomes aware of his own sexual anatomy, feels sexual attractions for his mother, but fears bodily injury by his stronger and frightening father, with whom he must establish a male-to-male relationship. Basic to Freud’s thinking of psychological development was the “libido theory,” a concept of sexual instinct found in children as well as adults and emphasized during the Oedipal period. Each child had to find some resolution to the unacceptable, impossible, and threatening sexual wishes. The majority of children, he believed, found resolution in a psychological identification with the parent of the same sex, and part of that identification would have profound influences on personality and character, including the major imprint for his future moral values: the child’s future conscience. Freud believed that each individual had a fixed quantity of libido which, in healthy individuals, was balanced between be-[p.xxxv]ing attached to oneself, thus providing self-love and self-esteem, and being attached to others, thus providing friendships and romantic love.

In addition, following his early experiences with hypnosis, Freud believed that a very large part of our mental and emotional processes go on outside of our awareness—in our unconscious—into which are pushed some forbidden impulses as a way of mentally refusing to admit that they exist. The process of keeping them in the unconscious was termed repression, and successful repression was important for healthy living. If, during stress, or because the impulses or conflicts were too large, evidence of the impulse might break through into conscious awareness in such things as disturbing dreams or slips of the tongue and pen, producing anxiety and depression.

Despite this contribution, Freud’s Oedipal theory suffers from incompleteness in two ways that prevented it from fully articulating the concept of the narcissistic personality. First, he defined Oedipal conflicts as existing only in children ages three to six, hypothesizing that human beings were largely a product of genetically determined sexual and aggressive drives. According to this view, human beings relate to other people only when driven by the necessity of satisfying these drives. Such a closed psychological system may be true of adults, and (less likely) even of children ages three to six, but it does not explain the infant-mother dyad, in which the child is “fused” with the mother who fills both physical and psychological needs for the child.

Second, as Freud considered libido to be something of a fixed quantity, the logical consequences of this theory of libido were unsatisfactory. He hypothesized that if an individual did not form an attachment to another person, then his libinal attachment was to himself. Such “narcissistic” personalities were “richer” in libido because none of it was attached to anyone else. While Freud’s theory is logically consistent, few of us would argue that a person incapable of loving anyone but himself is healthier or has “more” love than someone who can form attachments to others.51

Increasing dissatisfaction with the flaws in Freud’s articulation of the narcissistic personality prompted the formation of the “object-relations” theory of human development in Great Britain, beginning in the 1940s.52 According to this theory, human beings have an inborn primary drive to relate.53 Thus the healthy infant begins in almost total “fusion” with the mother, internalizes that relationship, next establishes a relationship with the father and internalizes the more complex triangular relationship, and continues to internalize other relationships, even in healthy adulthood, though to a much smaller degree. Children who are deprived of healthy caring relationships or whose needs are repeatedly frustrated very early in life (for example, though neglect, abuse, the death of a parent—particularly a mother—or other traumatic events) frequently have stronger de-[p.xxxvi]fenses than the “ordinary” neurotic patient, including denial, splitting, and projection.

Another interesting development in the history of psychoanalytic development was the concept of the “false self,” developed during the 1940s and 1950s, also in Great Britain.54 Some patients, whose initial appearance suggested smooth and effective social functioning, revealed during therapy that this apparently successful personality had been artificially created. It was disconnected from core feelings and limited in style. It hid difficult problems. This superficial personality could not be analyzed. The “deeper” personality was a poorly developed self with immature feelings and mental styles, easily threatened self-esteem, no long-range goals, and a weak sense of purpose. Despite the usual smooth functioning, at times the immature shadow became evident. Acquaintances might view such a person in two different ways, depending on which “personality” they saw.

Some very self-centered (narcissistic) patients had the characteristics of a false self. They were frustrating to treat. They did not see the therapist as a person in his or her own right, but only as an agent to serve the patient. These individuals were different from more ordinary “neurotic” patients who wanted the therapist to be different or more fulfilling in some way. Rather, narcissistic patients typically employed conscious and unconscious coercion and manipulation, as if the patient owned the therapist. It was a baffling paradox: the patient, who appeared self-sufficient and even socially successful, would treat the therapist as useless, demanding that the therapist fill a vital psychological function which the patient could not do for himself. If the therapist was unwittingly coerced into this function, then he or she was supporting the patient’s “false self.” If the therapist refused to act as an extension of the patient’s psyche, confronted the manipulation, and attempted to clarify what was happening, the patient would frequently terminate therapy and seek a more compliant therapist. If the patient stayed, however, the poorly defined personality eventually began to reveal itself, along with a profound vulnerability and low self-esteem.

Some of the most historically interesting cases lasted for years. Over time, these patients could go through a period of rage approaching paranoia, then depression as they realized their need for the therapist. As their shadow self expressed itself and matured in therapy, the person became more appreciative of their friends and acquaintances, could deal more quickly with the therapeutic tasks, and could achieve resolution and termination of therapy.

In the larger society these patients used and manipulated other people: spouses, families, acquaintances, followers, congregations. They were sensitive to minor slights and rebuffs from others and could not deal with shame and humiliation. While they might appear unaffected, they seethed in fury. They compensated by fantasies of themselves as conquerors. Some [p.xxxvii] could not stand routine or boredom; while others found situations comfortable, they purposely created dramas and crises. Some patients who functioned by the use of a “false self” had a particular and remarkable degree of artificial self-inflation. The false self of these individuals was given the name “grandiose self.” These “grandiose” personalities attracted others who felt their own esteem and importance elevated by the contact and who supported the “charisma” of such individuals. For personal emotional gain, whether consciously or unconsciously, they supported the grandiose false self of the narcissist.

These personality types received a great deal of attention during this period; the study of narcissicism resulted in the identification of new types of defenses, new personality constellations, and new refinements to psychoanalytic theory. The two most important books dealing with psychoanalytic theory during the 1970s were Heinz Kohut’s The Analysis of the Self (New York: International Universities Press, 1971) and Otto Kernberg’s Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism (New York: Jason Aronson, 1975). Each described slightly different patient populations, and each proposed different theories and treatment strategies.55 The vigorous debate that resulted was not acrimonious, for most parties understood the purpose of theory and used the debate to enhance knowledge and the effective treatment of patients. The narcissistic personality became a formal classification in the American Psychiatric Association’s taxonomy of mental pathology in 1980:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

(3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

(4) requires excessive admiration

(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

(9) shows arrogant, haughty behavior or attitudes.56

[p.xxxviii] There is nothing criminal in the APA description of narcissism. Such a person would not end up in jail, although his or her chances of being involved in civil suits or divorce are high.57 But if such a person also had elements of the antisocial personality—had moral lapses, made fraudulent claims, and deceived others—then he or she would impose a falsely created image on society and would attempt to manipulate it to his or her personal, financial, and/or social advantage.

Joseph Smith and Narcissism

 It is in the light of these criteria that I would like to examine Joseph Smith as a narcissistic personality and how he used the Book of Mormon to express those tendencies. As I read the Book of Mormon, Smith tells his life story in allegorical form at least four times in its pages. The first version—broad, sweeping, and expansive with many diversions and variations—commences at the start and continues to p. 370 in the first edition (1 Ne. 1-Alma 51). Almost one-third of the Book of Mormon is an expanded fantasy of the years 1824-28, ending with the point at which Smith begins dictating the Book of Mormon. He then begins his life story again—pp. 375-451 of the first edition (Alma 53-Hel. 16). The third version covers pages 457-518 (3 Ne. 3-4 Ne.). His fourth and final variation occurs within the single book of Mormon (pp. 518-38). This version corresponds to events in his life when he was ten and a half, rapidly becomes fragmentary, and disintegrates in the carnage and devastation of the Nephite people. All of these variations end at the point where he begins dictating the Book of Mormon. One purpose of the book of Ether is to tell us, yet avoid telling us, about the period of actually dictating the Book of Mormon.

I will not follow the four versions sequentially but will first concentrate on clarifying the story. (See chapter 1.) Chapter 2 reviews Smith’s life to about age seventeen, followed by the reasonably clear parallel in 1 and 2 Nephi through chapter 5 or, in the first edition, to p. 73. Chapter 3 completes the life story of Smith to age twenty-four when he begins dictating the Book of Mormon. I then turn to the parallels in 3 and 4 Nephi, which briskly review his life but focus mainly on Smith’s life from age ten through his twenties. I then return to 2 Nephi and, in chapters 4 and 5, discuss the autobiographical parallels in the rest of the Book of Mormon except for Mormon, Ether, and Moroni. Chapter 6 summarizes these final three books, with particular attention to Ether.

For example, this book discusses Smith’s traumatic leg surgery when he was five or seven. Comprising agonizing suffering before surgery and two surgeries without anesthetic, it was certainly the most physically painful experience of his youth. We could reasonably expect to see post-traumatic stress symptoms, for a time in his childhood, but later in his life such symptoms were not apparent. His surgical experience, instead of being dis-[p.xxxix]tressing with attempts to avoid the memory, was actively being used for personal reasons. (See chapter 5.)

As another example, at age twenty, Smith experienced shame and humiliation when he was put on trial for being a “disorderly person and impostor.”58 He does not mention this trial in any of his historical or autobiographical writings, but I argue that it appears in the Book of Mormon in the trial of Alma and Amulek, while Smith’s intense emotions of humiliation and rejection take the form of devastating cataclysms at the time of Christ’s crucifixion.

My technique in dealing with the Book of Mormon as Smith’s autobiography is to metaphorically “listen,” as I would literally listen to a living patient, until it becomes clear to me that I am hearing major life ancidents told allegorically, metaphorically, and in fantasy. After numerous reiterations, an internally consistent chronological pattern and repetitive psychological style emerges. However, of greater interest is how Smith transforms his real-life events into Book of Mormon narratives, for when we start to discern such patterns we begin to better understand him and his motives.

What might the reader expect as Smith alters his personal life into fantasy? Forty years ago, the eminent psychoanalyst Phyllis Greenacre took a personal interest in the study of artists:

In using the term artist I designate the creative individual … whose work-product shows … unusual capacity for imaginative creation, original thought, invention or discovery [and] would … include those prophets, religious leaders and scientists whose philosophies and discoveries have influenced the course of their times and left an imprint on history.

After reading a great many accounts of artists, I was struck with the prominence of the family romance in their lives. The germ of the family romance is ubiquitous in the hankering of growing children for a return to the real or fancied conditions at or before the dawn of conscious memory when adults were Olympians.59

The reader should be prepared to see Smith’s personal life not only turned to fantasy, but to a fantastic fantasy where the heroes and villains are larger than life. Greenacre’s comment is particularly relevant in the analysis of Ether and the final diagnostic assessment in chapter 7.

There are currently dozens of works on Joseph Smith and early Mormonism that demonstrate extensive research, with references numbering into the hundreds and even thousands. I rely on these works for the historical facts of Joseph Smith’s life.60 The contribution of my own work is not new facts per se, but rather new ways of seeing the available documentary information.


My assessment argues the advantages of giving psychoanalysis serious weight because of its rationality and explanatory power. The only basis [p.xl] for believing that the Book of Mormon has supernatural origins lies in the individual personal internal experience of the believer; yet this reason is the same one cited by every believer regardless of the particular faith. As a matter of logic, the faith claims of the LDS or RLDS believer in the Book of Mormon cannot be placed ahead of the spiritual experiences of every other religious beliefs, especially because they all contradict each other. Little evidence acceptable to scientific or historical scholars supports the historical claims within the Book of Mormon. Ever since Galileo demonstrated that a literal interpretation of the Bible conflicted with the actual functioning of astronomical bodies in the seventeenth century, those in Western civilization have gradually but decisively given priority to naturalistic explanations instead of supernatural ones. An open mind not only allows naturalistic argument, it gives it serious consideration.


1. Joseph Hansen, Zauberwahn, Inquisition and Hexenprozess im Mittelalter (Munich, 1900), and Robert Schwickerath, S.J., “Attitude of the Jesuits in the Trials for Witchcraft,” American Catholic Quarterly Review 27 (1902): 475-516. For a brief overview of the witch trials, see H. R. Trevor-Roper, The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 90-192; R. H. Robbins, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology (New York: Crown Publishers, 1965); and Robert D. Anderson, “The History of Witchcraft: A Review with Some Psychiatric Comments,” American Journal of Psychiatry 126 (June 1970): 1727-35.

2. Ezra Taft Benson, The Gospel Teacher and His Message (Salt Lake City: LDS Church Educational System, 1976), 11-12, qtd. in D. Michael Quinn, “On Being a Mormon Historian (and Its Aftermath),” in George D. Smith, ed., Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 69-111.

3. Lawrence Foster, “New Perspectives on the Mormon Past: Reflections of a Non-Mormon Historian,” in Smith, Faithful History, 113.

4. Joseph Smith, Jr., et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols., ed. Brigham H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1951 printing), 5:265.

5. The possibility that Smith may have had an internal conflict between two systems of morality was proposed by Mormon Jungian psychoanalyst C. Jess Groesbeck, “Joseph Smith and His Path of Individuation: A Psychoanalytical Exploration in Mormonism,” Sunstone Symposium, August 1986, audiocassette #86319-720. Mormon psychiatrist James Morgan in responding to Groesbeck’s presentation emphasized that a prophet’s dreams cannot be evaluated by psychological means since such dreams may contain supernatural elements, i.e., prophecy. Morgan obviously excluded even day-to-day mundane mental functions from consideration.

6. Gary F. Novak, “Naturalistic Assumptions and the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 30 (Summer 1990): 23-40.

7. William W. Meissner, S.J., “Psychoanalytic Hagiography: The Case of Ignatius of Loyola,” Theological Studies 52 (1991): 3-33, esp. 32-33; and his Ignatius of [p.xli] Loyola: The Psychology of a Saint (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), xv-xix, 346-58.

8. See, for example, Blake T. Ostler, “The Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20 (Spring 1987): 66-123; Robert N. Hullinger, Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 1-8, 153-60.

9. See Mark Thomas, “Lehi’s Doctrine of Opposition in Its Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Contexts,” Sunstone 13 (Jan. 1989): 52, his “The Meaning of Revival Language in the Book of Mormon,” Sunstone 8 (May-June 1983): 19-25; and William D. Russell, “A Further Inquiry into the Historicity of the Book of Mormon,” Sunstone 7 (Sept.-Oct. 1982): 20-24. Thomas is LDS, Russell RLDS.

10. See Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), x.

11. Meissner, “Psychoanalytic Hagiography,” 3-33. When he rewrote these paragraphs for his later expanded book, Ignatius of Loyola, 346-58, he eliminated: “If he is wise he will leave those considerations to theologians and spiritual writers.”

12. This quotation is a composite from two letters from Walton, Sunstone 8 (Nov.-Dec. 1983): 2 (“Whose God in History?”), and 11 (Jan. 1987): 6 (“God in History, Not History Books”).

13. Ashment, “Historiography of the Canon,” in Smith, Faithful History, 292.

14. Michael D. Coe, “Mormons and Archaeology: An Outside View,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8 (Summer 1974), 40-48. When an eminent non-believing Mormon historian recently wrote a scholarly yet kindly review of the archaeological evidence in a liberal Mormon periodical, the response was immoderate and hostile. Brigham D. Madsen, “Reflections on LDS Disbelief in the Book of Mormon as History,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 30 (Fall 1997): 87-97. Four letters of response were published in Dialogue 31 (Summer 1998): iv-xv.

15. John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 10 (1969): 69-84, and “What Does Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon Prove?” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, 199-224; Wayne Larsen et al., “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints,” BYU Studies 20 (Spring 1980): 225-51, and John L Hilton, “On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, 225-53.

16. Edward H. Ashment, “‘A Record in the Language of My Father’: Evidence of Ancient Egyptian and Hebrew in the Book of Mormon,” in Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, 329-93, and Brent Lee Metcalfe, “Apologetic and Critical Assumptions about Book of Mormon Historicity,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 (Fall 1993): 153-86.

17. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies [hereafter FARMS], 1992), 371-97.

18. Sidney B. Sperry, “Were There Two Cumorahs?” (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1984); John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985, 26, 44-45), criticized in Deanne G. Matheny, “Does the Shoe Fit? A Critique of the Limited Tehuantepec Geography,” in Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, 269-328; also Dan Vogel, “The New Theory [p.xlii] of Book of Mormon Geography: A Preliminary Examination,” 1985, privately circulated.

19. Matheny, “Does the Shoe Fit?” 281.

20. Messenger and Advocate 1 (Nov. 1834): 13, and 10 (July 1835): 156-59.

21. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 191-276, 299.

22. Grant, Jesus, 13, 39. He emphasizes this required position throughout his writings, as, for example, Saint Peter: A Biography (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1994), 4-5: “Students of history … are not able to take these miraculous happenings into consideration. They can believe in such stories, if they wish, but do so as a matter of faith and not as historians. Or they can dismiss them as they prefer. In either case, it is their duty to attempt to find out what happened, within the realms of historical fact and possibility.” Hugh Nibley, “Phase One: Discussion of the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Summer 1968): 99, writes in agreement, “The problem of Joseph Smith as an inspired prophet never enters into the discussion at all, since that lies entirely beyond the province of scholarship: the experts must judge him as a translator or not at all.”

23. Lawrence Foster, “The Psychology of Religious Genius: Joseph Smith and the Origins of New Religious Movements,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 (Winter 1993): 1-22, with my response, “Toward an Introduction to a Psychobiography of Joseph Smith,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Fall 1994): 268-72.

24. Jan Shipps, “The Prophet Puzzle: Suggestions Leading Toward a More Comprehensive Interpretation of Joseph Smith,” Journal of Mormon History 1 (1974): 3-20.

25. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, trans. by Louis J. Puhl, S.J. (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), 157-60, esp. paras. 353, 361-62, 364-65; Meissner, Ignatius of Loyola, 230-37, 405-16; Jean Lacouture, Jesuits: A Multibiography, trans. by J. Leggatt (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1995), esp. 75-97.

26. George D. Smith, “Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy, 1841-46: A Preliminary Demographic Report,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Spring 1994): 1-72; Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 1-70; Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith; Prophet’s Wife, “Elect Lady,” Polygamy’s Foe (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1984), 65, 100-101, 146-47.

27. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 7-8, 38, 43-46; Hansen, Quest for Empire; Hill, Quest for Refuge; Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power; Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power; Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 211ff; George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1995), 93-198.

28. Lavina Fielding Anderson, “The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership: Contemporary Chronology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 (Spring 1993); and D. Michael Quinn, “On Being a Mormon Historian (and Its Aftermath),” in George D. Smith, ed., Faithful History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 69-112. These two articles document repeated demands by church authorities that only “faith-promoting” history be written. When the authors of Mormon Enigma were censored and forbidden to speak in LDS ward sacrament meetings, one (Linda King Newell) met with Apostle Dallin H. Oaks [p.xliii] about the ban. Oaks was a former Utah Supreme Court justice and past president of Brigham Young University, but his response demonstrates the support of dogma over the search for truth. He said, “My duty as a member of the Council of the Twelve is to protect what is most unique about the LDS church, namely the authority of priesthood, testimony regarding the restoration of the gospel, and the divine mission of the Savior. Everything else may be sacrificed in order to maintain the integrity of those essential facts. Thus, if Mormon Enigma reveals information that is detrimental to the reputation of Joseph Smith, then it is necessary to try to limit its influence and that of its authors.” Linda King Newell, “The Biography of Emma Hale Smith,” 1992 Pacific Northwest Sunstone Symposium, audiotape #J976.

29. Quinn, “New Mormon Hysteria,” Sunstone 16 (Mar. 1993): 4-5. It is important to note that Quinn, in making these comments, alerts his readers that he is stepping outside the role of academic historian in his acceptance of the metaphysical.

30. See S. Freud, “The Claims of Psycho-Analysis to Scientific Interest. Part II (C),” (1913) Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (hereafter Standard Edition), James Strachey, ed. (London: Hogarth Press, 1955), 13:181-82; see also 18:7-64, 20:231.

31. See Freud, Standard Edition, Letter #71 (17 Oct. 1897), 1:265-66; “The Interpretation of Dreams,” 4:263-66; “Delusion and Dreams in Jensen’s Gravida,” 9:3-95; “Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood,” 11:59-137; and “Psychoanalytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia,” 12:9-82.

32. P. Greenacre, Swift and Carroll: A Psychoanalytic Study of Two Lives (New York: International Universities Press, 1955); E. Sterba and R. Sterba, Beethoven and His Nephew: A Psychoanalytic Study of Their Relationship (New York: Pantheon, 1954); Ernst Kris, Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art (New York: Schocken 1971); M. D. Faber, The Design Within: Psychoanalytic Approaches to Shakespeare (New York: Science House, 1970).

33. Ernst Jones, On the Nightmare (New York: Liverright, 1951).

34. E. H. Erikson, Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1958), and Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence (New York: W. W. Norton, 1969).

35. Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976).

36. See the twelve essays in Bruce Mazlich, ed. Psychoanalysis and History (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1971).

37. Heinz Kohut, “Beyond the Bounds of the Basic Rule,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 19 (1960): 143-79; John E. Mack, “Psychoanalysis and Historical Biography,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 31 (1971), 1:143-49; Harry Trosman, Freud and the Imaginative World (Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 1985); Fritz Schmidl, Applied Psychoanalysis (New York: Philosophical Library, 1981).

38. Freud, “Leonardo da Vinci,” and Bullitt and Freud, Thomas Woodrow Wilson; Alan C. Elms, Uncovering Lives: The Uneasy Alliance of Biography and Psychology (New York: Oxford Press, 1994), 1-50.

39. Healthy people develop through life relatively stable ways of mentally representing themselves and others in interactions. These mental representations [p.xliv] are known as internal objects and form from layer upon layer of experiences. Composed of thoughts, ideals, and fantasies mixed with daily reality, they form our outline and guide in living day-to-day. Object relations theory is based on our daily interactions with others, mixed with our ongoing interactions between the mental representations of ourselves and others. We do not just relate to the strict reality of another person but modify such reality by our past experiences with others.

40. Kris, Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art, 35, and passim.

41. W. D. Langer, “The Next Assignment,” American Historical Review 63 (1958): 283-304.

42. See Elms, Uncovering Lives, 4.

43. Freud, “Civilization and Its Discontents,” Standard Edition, 21:144.

44. Bernard DeVoto, “The Skeptical Biographer,” Harper’s Magazine 166 (1933): 181-92.

45. Bernard DeVoto, “The Centennial of Mormonism,” American Mercury, Jan. 1930, 1, as qtd. in Francis W. Kirkham, ed., A New Witness for Christ in America (Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing Press, 1951), 1:352; and as quoted in Lavina Fielding Anderson, “Literary Style in No Man Knows My History: An Analysis,” in Reconsidering No Man Knows My History: Fawn M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect, Newell G. Bringhurst, ed. (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1996), 152n4.

46. Robert J. Lifton, “On Psychohistory,” in Explorations in Psychohistory: The Wellfleet Papers, eds. R. J. Lifton and E. Olson (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), 25.

47. See the hierarchy of defense mechanisms from narcissistic to mature in W. W. Meissner, et al., “Classical Psychoanalysis,” in Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, Alfred M. Freedman, Harold I. Kaplan, and Benjamin J. Sadock, eds., 2d ed. (Baltimore: Williams and Williams Co., 1975), 1:535-37.

48. Meissner, Ignatius of Loyola, xiv.

49. Bruce Mazlish, “Clio on the Couch,” Encounter, Sept. 1968, 52.

50. The literature on the narcissistic personality is vast. For a comprehensive introduction, see Peter Buckley, ed., Essential Papers of Object Relations (New York: New York Universities Press, 1986); Andrew P. Morrison, ed., Essential Papers on Narcissism (New York: New York Universities Press, 1986); and Jay R. Greenberg and Stephen A. Mitchell, Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983). This latter work is an excellent encyclopedic review of psychoanalytic psychology from the time of Freud, suggesting how important object-relations theory has become. The work would make difficult reading for those not in the mental health field, but the last chapter is poetically written. For an example of how Freud’s original theories have been changed or altered, and replaced with ideas that more accurately fit newer understandings of developmental knowledge, see Theo. L. Dorpat and Michael L. Miller, Clinical Interaction and the Analysis of Meaning: A New Psychoanalytic Theory (Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, 1992).

51. See Clara Thompson, Psychoanalysis: Evolution and Development: A Review of Theory and Therapy (New York: Grove Press, 1957), 44-46, see also 7-8, 19-58.

52. Greenberg and Mitchell, Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory, 100-105, 383-408.

53. [p.xlv] See Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries and Danny Miller, Narcissism and Leadership: An Object Relations Perspective, Human Relations 38 (1985): 583-601.

54. Donald Winnicott, Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment (New York: International Universities Press, 1965).

55. See Kets de Vries and Miller, “Narcissism and Leadership,” 587.

56. “Diagnostic Criteria for 301.81 Narcissistic Disorder,” Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1994), 661.

57. The defining of narcissism, describing its characteristics, and proposing etiologies and theories represents a very fine hour of psychoanalysis. Most have viewed the narcissistic personality as the severest form of character pathology that may not have a significant genetic component and is potentially treatable. Various treatment strategies have been proposed, and treatment failures are common. The psychoanalytic treatment is extensive and requires modification to standard treatment; I know of no statistics of treatment outcomes. Family statisticians have recently proposed that narcissism may be a variant of Bipolar Affective Disorder (Manic-Depressive Illness), thus implying a large genetic component. If this diagnosis fits some percentage of patients with narcissism, it requires a rewriting of the major characteristic of both illnesses: in narcissism, vigorous energy (hypomania) must replace self-centeredness; and in bipolar affective disorder, a steady-state condition must replace periodicity. See the discussion and references in my “Toward an Introduction to a Psychobiography of Joseph Smith,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Fall 1994): 268-72. For more recent papers pressuring for the same idea, see Hagop S. Akiskal, “Dysthymic and Cyclothymic Depressions: Therapeutic Considerations,” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 55, suppl. (Apr. 1994): 46-52, and “The Prevalent Clinical Spectrum of Bipolar Disorders: Beyond DSM-IV,” Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 16 (1996), supplement 1:4s-14s.

58. Purple, “Joseph Smith, the Originator of Mormonism,” 2:362-67.

59. Phyllis Greenacre, “The Family Romance of the Artist,” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, Vol. 13 (New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1958), 10.

60. Although some discussion of the Book of Mormon’s theology will be inevitable in discussing certain passages, it is not the focus of this book. For scholarly and sometimes nontraditional analyses, see the essays in Gary James Bergera, ed., Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989); Dan Vogel, ed., The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990); Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon. For excellent specific investigations, see Stan Larson, “The Historicity of the Matthean Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi,” New Approaches, 115-64, and Ronald V. Huggins, “Did the Author of 3 Nephi Know the Gospel of Matthew?” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 30 (Fall 1997): 137-50. Mormon apologists vigorously countered New Approaches to the Book of Mormon in thirteen separate essays in Daniel C. Peterson, ed., Review of Books on the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1994), Vol. 6.