Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet
by Dan Vogel


Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), is among the most enigmatic, controversial figures of the nineteenth century. He has been variously described as a pretender after worldly power, religious fanatic, or God’s mouthpiece on earth. Such strong reaction doubtless stems from Smith’s own claims, specifically his declaration that all churches are false and that those who reject the gospel he restored will be damned. For Smith, there was no middle ground—and thus seemingly no middle ground for assessing him or his claims. However, Boston’s mayor Josiah Quincy, who interviewed Smith in 1844, was less dogmatic:

Such a rare human being is not to be disposed of by pelting his memory with unsavory epithets. Fanatic, impostor, charlatan, he may have been; but these hard names furnish no solution to the problem he presents to us. Fanatics and impostors are living and dying every day, and their memory is buried with them; but the wonderful influence which this founder of a religion exerted and still exerts throws him into relief before us, not as a rogue to be criminated, but as a phenomenon to be explained. … If the reader does not know just what to make of Joseph Smith, I cannot help him out of the difficulty. I myself stand helpless before the puzzle.1

Quincy notwithstanding, I believe we must address what Jan Shipps, non-­Mormon historian of the LDS experience, once termed the “prophet puzzle” if we ever hope to understand Smith and the church he founded. In her 1974 essay, “The Prophet Puzzle: Suggestions Leading toward a More Comprehensive Interpretation of Joseph Smith,”2 Shipps wrote of the Mormon prophet: “What we have in Mormon historiography is two Josephs: the one who started out digging for money and, when he was unsuccessful, turned to propheteering and the one who had visions and dreamed dreams, restored the church, and revealed the will of the Lord to a sinful world.”3 To resolve this “schizophrenic state of Mormon history, with its double interpretive strand of Joseph Smith as a man of God and Joseph Smith as a kind of fraud who exploited his followers for his own purposes,” Shipps called for a more fully integrated view of Smith, one allowing for, even encouraging, the complex spectrum of human personality.4

Unraveling Smith’s character and motives is difficult, but before the puzzle can be assembled, we must try to gather and interpret as many of the pieces as possible. Some of these, I believe, have been overlooked, ignored, or mishandled—pieces which reveal important, telling features of Smith’s multifarious personality. Since I am convinced that it is impossible to write a meaningful biography of Smith without addressing his claims, I begin with a discussion of some of the major pieces of the puzzle together with my own assumptions and biases.

To my mind, the most obvious solution to Shipps’s conundrum is to suggest that Smith was a well intentioned “pious deceiver” or, perhaps otherwise worded, a “sincere fraud,” someone who prevaricated for “good” reasons. Admittedly, the terms are not entirely satisfying. Nevertheless, “pious” connotes genuine religious conviction, while I apply “fraud” or “deceiver” only to describe some of Smith’s activities. I believe that Smith believed he was called of God, yet occasionally engaged in fraudulent activities in order to preach God’s word as effectively as possible. Robert N. Hullinger, a Lutheran minister, argued similarly in his 1980 book, Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon.5 Responding in part to Shipps, Hullinger plumbed Smith’s motives for writing the Book of Mormon by examining its rhetoric and concluded: “Joseph Smith … regarded himself as [a] defender of God.”6 “Even if one believes that Joseph Smith was at best a scoundrel,” he observed, “one still must account for the Book of Mormon.”7 Indeed, the book’s religious appeal—its defense of God, Jesus, spiritual gifts, call to repentance—argues against presuming that Smith’s motives were wholly self-serving.8

Marvin S. Hill, at the time a professor of history at Mormon-owned Brigham Young University, cautioned against approaching Smith solely in either/or terms.9 In his 1972 review of Fawn Brodie’s biography, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet (1945), Hill suggested that she had ignored the religious side of Smith’s personality, portraying him as essentially irreligious. “[Brodie] says little about the rationalizations Joseph would have had to go through where his religious role was imposed upon him,” he wrote. “Brodie was never able to take us inside the mind of the prophet, to understand how he thought and why. A reason for that may be that the sources she would have had to use were Joseph’s religious writings, and her Smith was supposed to be irreligious.”10

While Hullinger’s thesis harmonizes many disparities in the historical record concerning Smith, I do not believe it goes far enough, for—like Brodie’s discussion—it does not explore the inner moral conflicts of an individual who deceives in God’s name while holding sincere religious beliefs. Among the first words Smith recorded in the diary he began keeping in late 1832 were: “Oh my God grant that I may be directed in all my thoughts. Oh bless thy servant. Amen.” A few days later, he added: “Oh Lord deliver thy servant out of temptations and fill his heart with wisdom and understanding.”11 Such passages reveal his inner world, and those who disregard them, who do not recognize a spiritual dimension to Smith’s character or who count his profession of belief as contrived, discard a major piece of the puzzle.

At the same time, one cannot ignore Smith’s capacity to deceive. One of the clearest evidences of this is his repeated public denial during the early 1840s of his own and others’ plural marriages.12 Perhaps more relevant to his early life is his activity as a treasure seer, one of the pieces of the puzzle that, I believe, has not been fully exploited by most writers. For example, some dismiss this as irrelevant to his later prophetic career or view it as a kind of supernatural training-ground for a developing prophet.13 Such perspectives, while not entirely inaccurate, are nonetheless incomplete.

Despite attempts to minimize his involvement in treasure searching, Smith was in fact a leader among the treasure seers of Manchester, New York. It was Smith’s reputation as a seer that drew Josiah Stowell to travel more than a hundred miles to hire the twenty-year-old, not to dig, but to lead in the hunt.14 From November 1825 until his arrest and court hearing in South Bainbridge in March 1826, Smith was employed by Stowell and others to locate buried treasure not only in Harmony, Pennsylvania, but throughout the southern part of New York state in Broome and Chenango counties.15 During the 1826 proceeding, Smith admitted that he had been actively engaged as a treasure seer for the past three years but said that he had decided to abandon the practice because it strained his eyes.16  It was not without reason that Smith tried to conceal these facts in his official history: if he did not consider them at odds with his role as prophet, he at least found them easier to omit than to explain.

When we examine specific examples of Smith’s treasure seeing, most attempts to minimize his involvement fail to persuade. For example, Jonathan Thompson, testifying in Smith’s defense at the 1826 court hearing, reported that Smith once located a treasure chest with a seer stone. After digging several feet, the men struck something like a board or plank. They asked Smith to look into his stone again, but Smith refused, stating that the treasure was protected by the spirit of a murdered native American. Thompson remained a firm believer in Smith’s “professed skill,” adding that “on account of an enchantment, the trunk kept settling away from under them while digging.”17

Any interpretation of Smith that is to be taken seriously must account for Thompson’s friendly testimony. As I see it, there are three possible explanations: (1) Smith saw an imaginary treasure in his stone, (2) Smith pretended to see a treasure in his stone, or (3) Smith saw a real treasure which disappeared before being unearthed. Thus, we either accept the treasure-seeking lore of Smith’s day as reality and reject rationalist categories of traditional historical investigation or come face-to-face with a man who consciously or unconsciously deceived. Personally, as both a ration­alist and skeptic, I find it easier to assume that the treasure never existed and that Smith deceived Thompson or was himself deluded rather than believe that a buried treasure supernaturally vanished or relocated itself to another hiding spot.

Those who believe that Smith literally translated the Book of Mormon from anciently engraved gold plates or who dismiss his treasure-seeing activities as irrelevant have difficulty with Thompson’s testimony. Central to this is the knowledge that Smith used the same stone to translate the Book of Mormon. The implications are clear: if Smith translated and received revelations with his stone, did he also locate real buried treasure by the same means? Specifically, in the instance that Thompson reported, was there an actual trunk and did Smith really see two Indians who had fought over it?

In the Book of Mormon, Smith integrates the treasure-seer’s world view into his religious beliefs, describing cursed and slippery treasures (Hel. 12:18-19; 13:17-22, 31; Morm. 1:18-19) while confining the use of the seer stone to translating (Mosiah  8:13-18). The fact that Smith’s interviews with a heavenly messenger (1823-27) occurred while he was also seeking treasure and that he used the same stone to translate the Book of Mormon seem to exclude any explanation that separates the two roles.18 Determining the nature of Smith’s treasure seeking activities is thus essential in assessing his subsequent prophetic career.

The pious fraud theory suggests a conscious decision to deceive. But what if Smith’s deceit was unconscious? This theory posits that Smith may have been a victim of his own delusions, that he truly believed that he was receiving revelations when, in fact, they originated in his subconscious. A version of this theory was advanced at the turn of the twentieth century by I. Woodbridge Riley, who suggested that Smith’s visions were the result of epileptic seizures, the Book of Mormon the product of unconscious forces.19 Riley associated Smith’s rapid dictation of the Book of Mormon with a phenomenon known as “automatic writing,” examples of which may be found in literary history.20

While elements of Riley’s theory have persisted,21 his appeal to epilepsy has not. Smith did not inherit epilepsy from a grandfather whose seizures were the result of a head injury, and Smith’s description of a loss of consciousness accompanying some of his early visions is comparable to the fainting spells of revivalists. Moreover, there is no evidence that Smith’s early faintings were symptomatic of a life-long trait. Likewise, Utah-born literary critic Bernard DeVoto’s theory that Smith’s visions and revelations were entirely the result of paranoid delusions has not fared well.22 Brodie effectively countered such theories, arguing that the Book of Mormon’s “very co­her­ence belies their claims. … Its structure shows elaborate design, its narrative is spun coherently, and it demonstrates throughout a unity of purpose.”23 Dale Morgan observed that one would expect the continuance, even proliferation, of hallucinations and the like if DeVoto’s thesis had merit, whereas with Smith, the reverse was true.24 In 1976, non-Mormon psychologist T. L. Brink argued that Smith’s fears of persecution were based on reality and did not exhibit pathological or delusional qualities.25

The same fate may hold for those who suggest that Smith suffered from manic-­depressive illness, also known as bipolar affective disorder. Prolonged depression can cause delusions and other dysfunctional behavior, but it does not adequately explain the Book of Mormon. As noted by Robert D. Anderson, a psychiatrist who points to the apparent lack of “periodicity” (i.e., episodic occurrences of mania) as a major weakness of such theories: “How does any form of Bipolar Affective Disorder explain the Book of Mormon, Smith’s revelations, or the Book of Abraham? At best, it only provides Smith with thoughtful introspection when depressed and energy when hypomanic. It contributes little to the explanation for these ‘miracles.’”26 Anderson’s suggestion that Smith suffered from narcissistic personality disorder, which includes symptoms of grandiosity and mania, may offer a more persuasive approach to explaining Smith.27

Despite the apparent appeal of the unconscious fraud thesis, which seemingly relieves Smith of responsibility for his behavior, the specifics of his actions, both as treasure seer and inspired translator, demonstrate to my mind, at least, a major failing.28 There is an important piece of evidence that Smith’s treasure seeing was not an unconscious delusion. It comes from Josiah Stowell, who testified at Smith’s 1826 trial. Stowell said that Smith once told him he looked in his stone and saw a treasure buried with a “tail feather” near a certain tree stump. Stowell said he and Smith dug for the treasure and eventually found the feather, but the treasure had disappeared.29 The discovery of an object not normally found underground is proof either of a gift or of fraud, for the deluded would not accomplish such feats. For me, the most compelling evidence against unconscious fraud is the existence of the Book of Mormon plates themselves as an objective artifact which Joseph allowed his family and friends and even critics to handle while it was covered with a cloth or concealed in a box. The plates were either ancient or modern.30

Despite what I see as compelling evidence of conscious misdirection, I caution against viewing Smith’s activities as treasure seer in either/or terms for it is possible that Smith was both convinced of his ability and also deceptive. In other words, he may have been sincere in his claims about seeing treasures and guardian spirits but at times provided additional proof through nefarious means to either satisfy followers or to silence enemies. Although the evidence for deceit is more easily demonstrated, Smith’s complaint about being persecuted for his gift may nevertheless have been sincere. Likewise, as prophet, Smith may have believed himself to be inspired and may have at times heard voices or experienced visions but still used some deception to convince others.

No biographer is completely free of bias. As is no doubt apparent, my inclination is to interpret any claim of the paranormal—precognition, clairvoyance, telekinesis, telepathy—as delusion or fraud. I do not claim that the supernatural does not exist, for it is impossible to prove a negative. I maintain only that the evidence upon which such claims rest is unconvincing to me.

As a teenager I dabbled in stage magic and sleight-of-hand tricks, but my attention soon turned to charlatans and confidence men who use similar methods. The more I learned of the art of deception and its history, the more skeptical I became of any kind of real magic. While I later enjoyed D. Michael Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (1987), I thought his treatment of magicians was too generous. Indeed, the book says virtually nothing of charlatans or of those who use magic as a backdrop for trickery and seems to accept uncritically the possibility that magicians—aside from stage magicians—actually possess to some degree the supernatural powers they claim. In fact, there is a variety of possibilities for categorizing magicians, as follows:

1. The charlatan who may or may not believe in magic but uses its vocabulary and props while employing trickery for profit, power, and prestige.

2. The sincere charlatan who believes in magic but occasionally uses trickery both to enhance his presentation and more easily convince others of his powers.

3. The deluded magician who, for a variety of reasons, believes he really possesses magical powers.

4. The sincere magician who practices magic without trickery but may support his belief through anecdotal evidence.

5. The real magician who possesses supernatural gifts, controls nature, performs miracles, etc.

While most magicians make no religious or supernatural claims about their sleight-of-hand tricks and illusions, the roots of  “manipulative magic” extend back to the origins of shamanism. If ancient shamans were anything like their counterparts in the world today, they were by definition magicians. Today, tribal shamans use rudimentary sleight-of-hand, fire handling, and other techniques to reinforce their spiritual messages.31 Despite their use of trickery, they sincerely believe they possess special gifts of healing and divination. Similar commingling of deception and sincere belief is practiced in the West by some faith healers.

In ancient Egypt and Greece, shamans were temple priests who used their knowledge of science to control people. In the Apocrypha, the book “Bel and the Dragon” (ca. 130 B.C.) includes the story of Daniel exposing the trickery of Babylonian priests who entered the temple at night through a secret passage to consume food left for the god Bel.

With the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of Rome in the fourth century, the magician’s role diminished. The church guarded its authority and did not treat competitors kindly. During the latter Middle Ages, the Inquisition turned its attention from heretics to witches and sorcerers. In 1584, Reginald Scott, horrified by the slaughter of witches, published the Discovery of Witchcraft in which he not only described magic as a belief system but revealed the secret tricks of street magicians. By doing so, he hoped to put an end to superstition, fear, and bloodshed.

In the nineteenth century, modern Spiritualism began with a simple hoax, conceived and perpetrated by teenage sisters Margaret and Kate Fox. Their home in Hydes­ville, New York, was purportedly invaded in 1848 by the ghost of a murdered man. As the sisters later confessed, the thumping sounds the ghosts made were achieved by the sisters cracking their toe joints. This prank turned into a small industry as the sisters and hundreds of others became “mediums” through whom the dead contacted the living during seances. While some mediums believed they possessed this gift, others used a variety of tricks to convince skeptics and to attract clients. Spiritualism thrived, especially after the Civil War and World War I, because mediums gave the grieving what they most wanted, which was hope.

The history of mentalism (clairvoyance, precognition, second-sight) is equally relevant to Joseph Smith. The earliest famous practitioner was Conte Alessandro di Cagliostro (1743-95), a fraudulent seer who, like Smith, began his career locating buried treasure, then became an advisor to Marie Antoinette. During the French Revolution, he was exposed, arrested, and nearly executed. Washington Irving Bish­op was an American mentalist who, in the late 1800s, perfected the blindfolded driving trick, claiming that “Almighty God” had given him special powers. He was exposed by the leading English stage magician, John Nevil Maskeylne, and left that country in disgrace. During the early twentieth century, a talented and charismatic mentalist named Joseph Dunninger claimed psychic powers and, through radio broadcasts, reached a prominence that was unparalleled by his predecessors. More recently, psychics Edgar Cayce and Jeane Dixon attracted followers, even posthumously, despite poor showings in scientifically controlled tests. Today the curious may reach psychics by telephone at any time of day or night for a fee.

While Quinn describes magic in the context of treasure seeking and Smith’s participation in a widespread phenomenon, he does not address the issue of charlatans and their methods. A typical confidence scheme in Smith’s time involved a transient who entered an area that was known for its tales of lost treasures and the charlatan’s magical powers could be put to good advantage. Using a “peep” stone or mineral rod, he would lead the credulous to a remote spot where he had previously deposited a few coins and was able to impress them by “finding” the coins. In the ensuing excitement, he would ask to be paid for his services or, more boldly, suggest that a company be established and that shares be sold. Thereupon, he would disappear with the money. On the other hand, he might string the people along by leading them to subsequent spots, then offer magical explanations for the failure to locate or secure the treasure. For instance, he might tell them that the treasure was protected by an evil spirit or that they had not precisely followed the magical formula he had given them. Eventually he would suggest that the undertaking be abandoned, whereupon he would slip out of town with the money.

A version of the above scheme was perpetrated upon some of the inhabitants of Morristown, New Jersey, by Ransford (or Rainsford) Rogers in 1788-89. Rogers, who had duped a number of citizens in Exeter, New Hampshire, prior to his arrival in Morristown, bilked the Morristown treasure seekers of large sums of money before being exposed and arrested. However, he managed to escape and flee the state.32

The charlatan cannot exist without those who are vulnerable to his approach. The confidence scheme works because the charlatan takes advantage of his victim’s greed, vanity, and trust. Similarly, the pious fraud works because of our own vulnerabilities. Otherwise rational people can be deceived because of their desire to control their environment or to avoid life’s dangers. They want to believe that the future can be known, that the dead can be contacted, or that evil can be averted. It gives us a sense of control over the uncontrollable or a sense of comfort about the unknowable. Magic is an escape from the real world to a simpler time of fantasy when our parents were all-powerful and we were immortal. When the magician takes on the role of a surrogate parent, the attraction is irresistible to some. Indeed, the bond may be so strong that some charlatans continue to attract followers even after their fraud is exposed. Those who persist in trusting someone despite the evidence are said to suffer from the “true believer’s syndrome.”33 The magician requires the cooperation of his audience-–the abandonment of skepticism and the suspension of disbelief. To penetrate the illusion, to expose the fraud, one must first stop collaborating.

Since all magicians use the same vocabulary and exploit the same world view, we may ask what kind of magician/shaman Joseph Smith may have been. I believe that during his early career as a treasure seer, he was a charlatan but came to believe that he was, in fact, called of God and thereafter occasionally used deceit to bolster his religious message. I do not believe in real magicians, slippery treasures, bleeding ghosts, and so I regard Smith’s discovery of the tail feather as an example of fraud. Nevertheless, there is a high degree of sincerity in Smith’s career as a prophet, his defense of God against deism and skepticism. His touching emotional outburst at the 1830 baptism of his father appears to have been genuine.34

Taking a cue from Robert F. Berkhofer’s 1969 book, A Behavioral Approach to Historical Analysis,35 some writers have suggested that historians should not attempt to evaluate Smith’s supernatural experiences but instead “try to understand [such] experiences in the way in which the actors themselves understood them.”36 Reflecting this approach in his 1984 biography of Smith, Richard L. Bushman wrote: “My method has been to relate events as the participants themselves experienced them. … Insofar as the revelations were a reality to them, I have treated them as real in this narrative.”37 While there is value to such a method, I am reluctant to dispense with critical tools and become a storyteller or narrator of the supernatural. I, too, want to understand Smith on his own terms, but I would like to be able to explain him.

The suggestion that historians simply “relate events as the participants themselves experienced them” oversimplifies Berkhofer’s thesis and results in a methodological reductionism that assumes the historical record is both factual and accurate. Berkhofer knew well that the record of an event cannot be taken at face value because accounts are so often tainted by a recorder’s subjective beliefs. The historian’s task is to determine, as best he or she can, what really happened. Berkhofer was not dealing with reports of supernatural events but with more mundane human behavior. Even so, when Smith fails to mention foundational visions until years after the event and gives conflicting and anachronistic accounts of them, how certain can one be that he relates events as he experienced them at the time?

Even if we were to accept the idea that testimony regarding supernatural phenomena is reliable, we would still be under no obligation to uncritically embrace the witnesses’ interpretations of those experiences. What Berkhofer did in 1969 was to open the door to psychology and sociology, not to close the door on the humanistic sciences. Historians do well to narrate the Salem witch trials of 1692 “as the participants themselves experienced them”—complete with accounts of paranormal phenomena, demonic possession, etc.—but they are also right to make a case for mass hysteria, for example.38 Simply put, a researcher is not limited in his or her analysis by the subjective view of the participant or even the work of past generations. Often, succeeding generations find additional sources and better tools with which to assess an event beyond what the participants themselves assumed.

Arguing that skeptics like me are victims of their own “naturalistic assumptions” diverts attention from the fact that there is simply no reliable proof for the existence of the supernatural. Naturalism is part of our everyday experience; supernaturalism is not.39 The burden of proof rests with those making supernatural claims, and until such claims are proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” one is justified in approaching such claims skeptically. In his book The Age of Reason, eighteenth-century deist Thomas Paine argued: “Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course; but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it is, therefore, at least millions to one, that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.”40

In my experience, those who champion the supernatural invariably do so arbitrarily, picking and choosing with little explanation which events qualify as genuine, which do not, and why one experience is superior to another. In my view, the defenders of a certain spiritual experience are vulnerable to the chaos of contradictory claims and lack the means, or methodology, to enable them to distinguish between theoretically “real” events and those clearly explained by naturalistic assumptions.

None of Smith’s defenders, as far as I know, have attempted to school themselves in the methods of the charlatan or in the psychology of the psychic. Yet, I believe such an education is essential to understanding phenomena that one sometimes encounters in the historical record. Consider, for example, Smith’s use of stones and rods to locate buried treasure and lost objects. If the historian believes that divination is possible or that magic is real, he or she may make false assumptions about the nature of Smith’s activities as a treasure seeker that will lead to misinterpretations of Smith’s work as translator. In 1987, Quinn worried that some writers too willingly accepted “rationalist categories of superstition and fraud rather than Smith’s and his supporters’ affirmations of supernatural powers from the perspective of folk magic.”41 In 1999, Bushman suggested that “treasure-seeking stones … helped Joseph move step-by-­step into his calling” and that Smith “must have understood that the stones had prepared him to step into the improbable roles of seer and unlearned translator.”42 More recently, another scholar proposed that Smith moved “incrementally” from mineral rod to seer stone, to “a better seer stone,” to the biblical urim and thummim, and was finally able, with the aid of this last instrument, to “train himself for unaided revelation.”43 As I read these assertions, they not only imply that Smith saw objectively real treasures in his stone but embrace as fact a magical world view, including the bleeding ghosts and enchanted treasures that moved through the earth. In my mind, the failure of present-day adepts to prove the efficacy of divination under scientific conditions weighs heavily on the interpreter trying to make sense of Smith’s early involvement in treasure searching and subsequent use of the same method as a translator.44 Since the same psychological forces producing this phenomenon today were undoubtedly at work in previous centuries, in what way could Smith possibly train himself to be a prophet using such delusive methods? Is it reasonable to assume that the same instruments that deluded so many of Smith’s contemporaries suddenly became real in Smith’s hands?

Apologists for the supernatural argue that since true objectivity is impossible, faith-based history is as legitimate as secular-based history. Using the vocabulary of certain epistemologists, these writers confuse reasonable certainty with unreasonable doubt. Like all human endeavors, history has limitations, but I am comfortable in let­ting the best reconstruction—the one having the fewest assumptions and inconsistencies, and requiring the least elaboration—prevail.

In writing this biography, I did not want to provide a simple chronological narrative of Smith’s early life. Rather, I intended to consider the psychological implications of Smith’s actions and beliefs and get as close to the man as possible. Thus, I have written an interpretive biography of an emotional and intellectual life. I will occasionally use qualifying verbs and adverbs to indicate where my analysis is speculative or conjectural, but my overall discussion and conclusions are firmly grounded in the primary source documents.

The reason the pious fraud concept has not been fully considered in the past is because it is difficult to imagine why someone would deceive in God’s name while simultaneously holding sincere religious beliefs. Yet, history is replete with examples of this. In 1748, skeptic David Hume asserted that “a religionist may be an enthusiast and imagine he sees what has no reality; he may know his narrative to be false and yet persevere in it with the best of intentions in the world, for the sake of promoting so holy a cause.”45 Concerning religious fraud generally, seventeenth-­century moral philosopher William Paley declared:

Pious frauds … pretended inspirations, forged books, counterfeit miracles, are impositions of a more serious nature. It is possible that they may sometimes though seldom, have been set up and encouraged, with a design to do good; but the good they aim at, requires that the belief of them should be perpetual, which is hardly possible; and the detection of the fraud is sure to disparage the credit of all pretension of the same nature. Christianity has suffered more injury from this cause, than from all other causes put together.46

While Paley referred to medieval and post-medieval religious forgeries, one should not forget the many pseudepigraphic (or pseudonymous) and apocryphal writings—the Assumption of Moses, the Book of Enoch, the Ascension of Isaiah—generally dating from 200 B.C. to A.D. 200. These writers appended names of ancient prophets and other Jewish figures to their books not only to conceal their own identities but to lend authority and prestige to their works.47 While the pseudonymous author believed his writing was inspired, he knew its ancient setting was fictional, leading one interpreter to compare Smith’s Book of Mormon to the work of the pseudepigraphists.48

Britain boasted two talented forgers in the eighteenth century, Thomas Chat­ter­ton, who at age twelve began “discovering” poems said to have been written in the fifteenth century, and James MacPherson, who pretended to translate a series of poems purportedly dating from the third century.49 A religious forgery surfaced in England in the mid-1790s bearing the title, A Remarkable Prophecy, and claimed to be a translation of a 600-year-old Hebrew text written in gold letters on a stone buried in France. Republished throughout America, Remarkable Prophecy foretold the French Revolution and the eventual establishment of God’s millennial kingdom in 1800.50 A forged letter of Jesus “found” sixty-five years after the crucifixion under a large stone that only a young boy could lift was also widely published in America between 1761 and 1815.51

Like Paley, Paine declared in The Age of Reason:

There have been men in the world who persuade themselves that what is called a pious fraud might, at least under particular circumstances, be productive of some good. But the fraud being once established, could not afterward be explained, for it is with a pious fraud as with a bad action, it begets a calamitous necessity of going on. … From the first preachers the fraud went on to the second and to the third, till the idea of its being a pious fraud became lost in the belief of being true.52

We need not confuse Smith’s inner, spiritual world with the image he projected to followers. Many of those close to Smith eventually discovered the disparity between the mantle of the prophet and the man himself. Historians must similarly distinguish between the public and private Smith and carefully unravel the many layers of his image, created in large measure to satisfy the demands of followers. We should seek to discover the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual “reality” from which he operated. It is not enough to know that Smith was religious or that he had a spiritual dimension; one must try to know what those particular beliefs and actions were.

Sometimes one’s private beliefs are unconsciously or unintentionally revealed in the implied or connotative meanings of a text. In my analysis, I will consider the Book of Mormon and the texts of Smith’s revelations as primary sources containing possible clues to his inner conflicts and state of mind. The Book of Mormon, in particular, is important in any consideration of possible environmental and cultural sources. This is not to say that I am trying to determine its modernity or antiquity but rather to achieve a deeper understanding of its contents and what it reveals about Smith. As one writer explained:

The possible sources of a literary work are as numerous and varied as the writer’s whole experience of life. They may be people he has known, who have served him as prototypes for fictional characters; by learning all we can about his real-life models and his relations with them, as has been done with much success in the cases of Thackeray, Conrad, Joyce, and Thomas Wolfe, among others, we can reconstruct his own view of them and thus clarify the significance of their fictional counterparts.53

In other words, I am in fact interested in the cultural and environmental influences on the Book of Mormon, and I will bring them to the reader’s attention wherever applicable, but I am mostly interested in Smith’s state of mind. “Like any first novel,” Brodie noted, the Book of Mormon “can be read to a limited degree as autobiography.”54 This is especially true since Smith’s method of dictation did not allow for rewriting. It was a more-or-less stream-of-consciousness composition. Indeed, woven into the Book of Mormon’s narrative are certain beliefs, hopes, fears, struggles, transformations, thoughts, dreams, and future plans that are illuminating when read in the context of autobiography. However, to suggest that the Book of Mormon is partly autobiographical is not to say that it would exactly reproduce Smith’s life. Rather, it contains possible fragments of Smith’s life and views, rearranged and altered in a way that produce a distinct narrative force and continuity.55

Of particular interest are instances where Smith articulates the ideas and philosophies of an apparent religious pretender, including the principles upon which a pious deception could be founded. One of the most important textual evidences of Smith’s early state of mind is a revelation he dictated in March 1830—the month the Book of Mormon came off the press (D&C 19). Directed to Martin Harris, the revelation not only reveals a secret belief in Universalism, seemingly reversing the Book of Mormon doctrine, but also provides a glimpse into pious rationalizations.56 The revelation explains that the terms “eternal punishment” and “endless punishment” are motivational scriptural embellishments intended to “work upon the hearts of the children of men” (v. 7) but that “it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment” (v. 6). In other words, God deceives men and women for their own good. This is precisely what one would expect of a religious pretender. The revelation invokes secrecy concerning its contents and expresses concern that the truth of the temporary hell would encourage sinners to remain unrepentant (BofC 16:22-23; cf. D&C 19:21-22). Despite posing as a traditionalist in regard to heaven and hell, Smith privately aligned himself with the Universalists and did not himself fear an eternal, never-ending punishment.

Like other pious manipulators, Smith undoubtedly took comfort in various biblical precedents such as the story of Abraham and Isaac lying about the marital status of their wives (Gen. 12:11-13, 20:13; Gen. 26:7); Abraham lying to Isaac about the true object of sacrifice (Gen. 22:7-8); Jacob deceiving Isaac to obtain his firstborn’s blessing (Gen. 27); Moses lying to Pharaoh (Exod. 3:18); one prophet lying to another (1 Kings 13); Jehu pretending to worship Baal (2 Kings 10); and Paul becoming “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22) in circumcising Timothy (Acts 16:3). Smith knew that God told Adam he would die “in the day” he ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:17), that God sent a lying spirit to Ahab (1 Kings 22:19-23; cf. 2 Thess. 2:11), and that God deceived Israel (Jer. 4:10), as he did Jeremiah (Jer. 20:7) and other prophets (Ezek. 14:9).57 Combined with Universalism, the belief that God sometimes deceives to save his children explains how Smith could perpetrate religious deception while at the same time having the appearance of a deep and sincere faith. Those who overlook this aspect of Smith’s private belief system cannot fully understand or appreciate his development as prophet.

To counter the argument that the infusion of other disciplines diminishes history, I point to Berkhofer’s observation that a historian brings to his subject a considered view of human behavior, so this view should draw from a disciplined and conscious theory.58 A disciplined understanding of human personality and psychology has a twofold benefit of being a safeguard against the unintentional imposition of one’s own psychology onto the subject and an expanded spectrum from which a subject may be viewed.

My approach to Joseph Smith is also informed by family-systems theory, which views the family as an organism-like system that seeks to maintain emotional equilibrium (homeostasis).59 In a dysfunctional family, where one or both of the parents are emotionally impaired, the family seeks balance in neurotic or pathological ways. An imbalance between parents greatly affects the family system, especially the children who usually seek to save the marriage. I argue that the marriage of Smith’s parents—Lucy and Joseph Sr.—like many marriages, was essentially dysfunctional. It was marked by religious conflict and financial burden even before Joseph Jr.’s birth.60 Other contributing factors were Lucy’s periodic bouts with depression and suicidal fantasies and Joseph Sr.’s struggle with low self-esteem and alcoholism.61

I argue that the Smith children, first Alvin and then Joseph Jr., were drawn into their parents’ dynamic in an attempt to save their marriage. In the years before his death in 1823, Alvin functioned almost as a surrogate husband and father.62 The significance of his death in his younger brother’s development cannot be overemphasized. The sudden loss of Alvin created a vacuum in the family, plunging it into a period of instability and conflict. It would take years for the Smiths to achieve a measure of equilibrium, largely acquired through the founding of Smith’s church. Smith’s family environment cannot be ignored. I will argue that the “singular environmental pressure” motivating Smith’s behavior came primarily from his family, that he began his religious career, in part, to resolve family conflict.63

To augment Hullinger’s thesis, I suggest Smith believed he was called of God to preach repentance to a sinful world and felt justified in using whatever means were at his disposal to accomplish this mission. Initially, he thought he could frighten followers into repentance and thereby save them from the torments of even a temporary hell (D&C 19). Later, in 1832, he would use incentives of higher rewards by introducing the concept of three heavens (D&C 76). Meanwhile, if men and women were saved by erroneously believing in an eternal hell, this was justified by the fact that Smith’s followers would be saved; all that mattered were that their repentance and faith in Christ were sincere. Like the faith healer who uses confederates and deception to create a faith-promoting atmosphere in which “true” healing miracles can occur, Smith assumed the role of prophet, produced the Book of Mormon, and issued revelations to create a setting in which conversion experiences could take place.

In perpetuating this myth, what did Smith believe his own fate would be? There is a hint of this in his March 1830 revelation which declares: “I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:16-17). Of course, orthodox Christians view this as an infringement on Jesus’ infinite atonement. Still, in Smith’s day, this concept was held by other Universal-Restorationists in one form or another. Applied to Smith’s piety, he may have thought that those who believed in the Book of Mormon and repented, regardless of the book’s origins, would be saved or at least not destroyed at Jesus’ second coming. For this act of deception, Smith—much like Jesus —would have to suffer in a temporary hell and become a savior to his followers.64

His March 1830 revelation—together with other passages from his writings— demonstrates that he believed God sometimes inspires deception, that some sins are committed in accordance with divine will, and that occasionally it is necessary to break one commandment to fulfill another. We may never fully know Smith’s reasons, but we can confidently say that if he wrote the Book of Mormon, became a prophet, and founded his church as a pious invention, he possessed the psychological means to explain and justify such acts.

In assembling the prophet puzzle, I have tried to understand Smith, but I have not wanted to judge him. I find myself sympathetic to Smith, although not uncritically. As Shipps noted, “The mystery of Mormonism cannot be solved until we solve the mystery of Joseph Smith.”65 I hope this biography not only brings Shipps’s two Josephs together but elucidates his motives, conflicts, and rationalizations, as Hill also suggested. Indeed, only by pushing an analysis of Smith beyond the prophet/ fraud dichotomy and plumbing the complexities of his life will a truly three-­dimen­sional person emerge. He may have been a prophet, however one might define that term; but to instill faith, he pretended to be more. He became the kind of man his followers wanted him to be—one more convincing, powerful, and righteous than he knew himself to be.

I need to express thanks and appreciation to those who encouraged me in this project: H. Michael Marquardt for his support; Lavina Fielding Anderson, Robert D. Anderson, Newell G. Bringhurst, and Richard Van Wagoner for their advice; and my wife, Margie Dresser-Vogel, for her love and encouragement. While I am certain that none of these individuals agrees entirely with my analysis and conclusions, I have benefitted immensely from each of them. Whatever errors may exist within the book are my own. In quoting original manuscripts, I have sometimes silently edited spelling, capitalization, and punctuation to enhance readability. References to my five-­volume Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003) appear in the chapter endnotes as EMD followed by volume and page number(s).


1. Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past from the Leaves of Old Journals (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1883), 376-78, 400.

2. Jan Shipps, “The Prophet Puzzle: Suggestions Leading toward a More Comprehensive Interpretation of Joseph Smith,” Journal of Mormon History (1974): 3-20; rpt. in Bryan Waterman, ed., The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 25-47.

3. Waterman, Prophet Puzzle, 44.

4. Ibid. As early as 1943, Dale Morgan recognized that Smith could not be explained in simple black or white terms and called for a more integrated view of his motives and personality (see John Philip Walker, ed., Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986], 44).

5. Robert N. Hullinger, Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon (St. Louis: Clayton Publishing House, 1980); rpt. as Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992). For convenience, I use the second edition.

6. Hullinger, Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism, xv.

7. Ibid., xvi.

8. In assuming the role of prophet, Smith was not acting maliciously or selfishly. In this regard, his comment to Oliver B. Huntington is relevant: “Joseph Smith said that some people entirely denounce the principle of self-aggrandizement as wrong. ‘It is a correct principle,’ he said, ‘and may be indulged [in] upon only one rule or plan—and that is to elevate, benefit and bless others first. If you will elevate others, the very work itself will exalt you. Upon no other plan can a man justly and permanently aggrandize himself’” (qtd. in Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Book­craft, 1974], 61).

9. Marvin S. Hill, “Joseph Smith and the 1826 Trial: New Evidence and New Difficulties,” BYU Studies 12 (Winter 1972): 232. See chapter 6 for Smith’s 1826 trial.

10. Marvin S. Hill, “Brodie Revisited: A Reappraisal,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 7 (Winter 1972): 74-75.

11. See Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith: Volume 2, Journal, 1832-1842 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992), 2, 5.

12. See Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 61. On 26 May 1844, Smith countered those who accused him of practicing polygamy: “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one” (Joseph Smith Jr. et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols. 2nd ed. rev.; [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1948], 6:411). Such statements succeeded in misleading many Mormons who remained unaware that Smith practiced polygamy.

13. Richard Bushman, who concludes that “the Smith family at first was no more able to distinguish true religion from superstition than their neighbors” and “were as susceptible to the neighbors’ belief in magic as they were to the teachings of orthodox ministers,” believes Smith’s treasure-seeking activities were essentially irrelevant to his subsequent career as a prophet (Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984], 72). Where­as, D. Michael Quinn, who attempts to remove barriers between magic and religion and believes that the treasures Smith claimed to locate were “real” and moved through the earth, sees Smith’s activities as a treasure seer as part of his development as a prophet (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987], 46 [cf. 2nd 1998 ed., 57]). See also Richard L. Anderson, “The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Search­ing,” BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 489-560, which combines both perspectives.

14. Besides not telling of his procurement of a seer stone from the Chase family in 1822, Smith concealed the role he played in Stowell’s treasure-digging venture in Harmony, Pennsylvania, by portraying himself as a hired hand (Smith, History of the Church, 1:17; cf. Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003], 1:67-68; hereafter EMD.)

15. See Dan Vogel, “The Locations of Joseph Smith’s Early Treasure Quests,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Fall 1994): 213-27.

16. The trial transcript was published in Salt Lake City in “A Document Discovered,” Utah Christian Advocate 3 (Jan. 1886): 1. See also chapter 6 of this volume.

17. See chapter 6.

18. Marvin S. Hill has similarly argued that “there was certainly more continuity between the money-digging religious culture and the early Mormon movement than some historians have recognized. Joseph Smith began receiving revelations as a prophet in 1823, and thus began assuming the role central to his religious movement long before he abandoned his money digging in 1827” (Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989], 20).

19. I. Woodbridge Riley, The Founder of Mormonism (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1903).

20. Ibid., 84, 167, 195-205.

21. See Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality: Three American Communal Experiments of the Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 296-97, n. 15; and Scott C. Dunn, “Spirit Writing: Another Look at the Book of Mormon,” Sunstone 10 (June 1985): 16-26; rpt. as “Automaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon,” in Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, eds., American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 17-46.

22. Bernard DeVoto, “The Centennial of Mormonism,” American Mercury 19 (Jan. 1930): 5.

23. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, 2nd ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976), 68-69. Robert D. Anderson, M.D., echoes Brodie’s complaint (see his Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999], 126).

24. Dale Morgan to Bernard DeVoto, 20 Dec. 1945, in Walker, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism, 99.

25. T. L. Brink, “Joseph Smith: The Verdict of Depth Psychology,” Journal of Mormon History 3 (1976): 74.

26. Robert D. Anderson, “Toward an Introduction to a Psychobiography of Joseph Smith,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Fall 1994): 268-72; rpt. in Waterman, Prophet Puzzle, 226-37. Responding to the observation that Smith lacked the usual symptoms accompanying clinical depression, Groesbeck has argued that Smith may have suffered from a “low-grade” form of depression but managed to stay in the manic phase. He expressed this view while participating as a respondent to my paper, “Joseph Smith’s Family Dynamics,” presented at the Sunstone Theological Symposium, Salt Lake City, 30 July 1998.

27. See, e.g., Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries and Danny Miller, “Narcissism and Leadership: An Object Relations Perspective,” Human Relations 38 (1985): 583-601; Jerrold M. Post, “Narcissism and the Charismatic Leader-Follower Relationship,” Political Psychology 7 (1986): 675-­88; and Len Oakes, What Makes a Prophet? Prophetic Charisma; The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997).

28. In this regard, Morgan noted: “This idea has the advantage of leaving Joseph’s sincerity unimpaired, and makes less troublesome the analysis of his subsequent career [as a prophet]. But as I face the actual fact of the Book of Mormon and contemplate some of its physical characteristics—in other words, as I get out of the realm of beautiful thinking and wrestle with obstinate facts which have to be set one in front of the other in some kind of order—I find this conception untenable” (Morgan to Bernard DeVoto, 20 Dec. 1945, in Walker, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism, 96).

29. This is discussed in more detail in chapter 6.

30. Dale Morgan believed that the unconscious fraud theory did not adequately explain what he called the Book of Mormon’s “Isaiah problem”—the appearance of eighteen chapters taken nearly verbatim from the King James Version of the Bible (not to mention three chapters from Matthew and two from Malachi). Morgan stated, “It is hard to conceive that he had memorized the thousands of words in [the] Isaiah text so that in his ‘delusions’ he could have dictated this text automatically.” Morgan thus concluded: “Either, as the Mormons claim, the Isaiah text is integral to the Book of Mormon as well as the Bible, or one must conceive that Joseph had an open Bible before him while he was dictating the Book of Mormon behind the curtain” (Dale Morgan to Juanita Brooks, 15 Dec. 1945, in Walker, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism, 89; Morgan expressed the same argument in his letter to DeVoto [ibid., 96]). While the Isaiah chapters were dictated in Fayette, New York, when Smith was no longer seated behind the curtain, Morgan’s point is well taken: at some point Smith decided to include long excerpts in the Book of Mormon.

31. Late nineteenth-century Russian anthropologist V. M. Mikhailovskii describes the use of sleight-of-hand and other manipulations among the shamans of Siberia (V. M. Mikhailovskii, “Shamanism in Siberia and European Russia,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 24 [1894]: 68, 69, 97, 136-38). Similar use of trickery has been observed among Native American shamans (Robert H. Lowie, “Shamans and Priests among the Plains Indians,” in W. A. Lessa and E. Z. Vogt, eds., Reader in Comparative Religion [Evan­ston, IL: Row, Peterson, and Co., 1958], 411-13; and Milbourne Christopher, The Illustrated History of Magic [New York: Crowell, 1973], esp. “American Indian Conjuring”), African shamans (E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976]), and the fakirs of India (see Mil­bourne Christopher, ESP, Seers, and Psychics [New York: Crowell, 1970], 233, and Mediums, Mystics, and the Occult [New York: Crowell, 1975], esp. “Mystics from the East”).

32. Ransford Rogers not only used “chymistry” and “soothsaying” to dispel guardian spirits from buried treasures but also employed an accomplice, a Mr. Goodenough. See Andrew M. Sherman, Historic Morristown, New Jersey: The Story of Its First Century (Morristown, NJ: Howard Publishing Co., 1905), 415-26; Charles H. Bell, History of the Town of Exeter, N.H. (Exeter, NH: [J. E. Farwell and Company], 1884), 411-14; and Richard M. Dorson, Jonathan Draws the Long Bow (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1946), 181.

33.For “true-believer syndrome,” see M. Lamar Keene’s The Psychic Mafia (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997). See also Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (New York: Harper and Row, 1951), and Victor Benassi and Barry Singer, “Fooling Some of the People All the Time,” Skeptical Inquirer (Winter 1980-81): 17-24.

34. See chapter 29.

35. Robert F. Berkhofer Jr., A Behavioral Approach to Historical Analysis (New York: Free Press, 1969).

36. See, e.g., Thomas Alexander, “The Place of Joseph Smith in the Development of American Religion: A Historiographical Inquiry,” Journal of Mormon History 5 (1978): 17; Klaus Hansen, “Jan Shipps and the Mormon Tradition,” Journal of Mormon History 11 (1984): 136; and George D. Smith, editor’s introduction, Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), ix.

37. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 3.

38. Chadwick Hansen, Witchcraft at Salem (New York: Braziller, 1969); see also chapter 29.

39. At heart, I am a rationalist and naturalist. I believe that the physical universe follows natural law, that it does not behave in supernatural or contradictory ways, that it functions without supernatural forces, and that it is unnecessary to go outside nature to explain what takes place within it. In an attempt to replace a rational conception of the universe with one that includes magic, miracles, etc., some writers appeal to quantum mechanics and the seemingly inexplicable behavior of subatomic particles. However, to my mind, such appeals are unconvincing. As a possible corrective, see Martin Gardner, “Parapsychology and Quantum Mechanics,” in Paul Kurtz, A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1985), 585-98.

40. Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, in The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Philip S. Foner, 2 vols. (New York: Citadel Press, 1945), 1:509.

41.Quinn, Mormonism and the Magic World View, 46 (cf. 2nd 1998 ed., 57).

42.Richard L. Bushman, “Joseph Smith as Translator,” in Waterman, ed., Prophet Puzzle, 79.

43.Mark Ashurst-McGee, “A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rods­man, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet,” M.A. thesis, Utah State University, 2000, 26-27. This developmental interpretation ignores the fact that Smith quickly abandoned the urim and thummim and returned to using his seer stone and that the entire Book of Mormon was dictated using the latter rather than the former. It also fails to explain how one stone might be better than another or what quality a superior stone might have and how it could aid in the receipt of revelation, let alone train a prophet for future unaided revelation.

44. See, for example, James Randi, Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and other Delusions (Buf­falo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1986), 307-25. This subject will be discussed in detail in chapter 1.

45. David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Charles W. Hendel (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1955), 125.

46. William Paley, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, 9th American ed. (Boston: West and Richardson, 1818), 115.

47. R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), 2:vii-ix.

48. See Robert M. Price, “Joseph Smith: Inspired Author of the Book of Mormon,” in Vogel and Metcalfe, American Apocrypha, 321-66.

49. Ian Haywood, The Making of History: A Study of the Literary Forgeries of James Mac­Pherson and Thomas Chatterton in Relation to Eighteenth-Century Ideas of History and Fiction (London: Associated University Press, 1986); see also Gordon K. Thomas, “The Book of Mormon in the English Literary Context,” BYU Studies 27 (Winter 1987): 40-44, which suggests that the MacPherson and Chatterton forgeries were in part responsible for the distrust and cynicism Mormon missionaries encountered in Britain regarding the Book of Mormon.

50. Ruth H. Bloch, Visionary Republic: Millennial Themes in American Thought, 1756-­1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 162-63; see also Mark D. Thomas, Digging in Cumorah: Reclaiming Book of Mormon Narratives (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 115.

51. A Copy of a Letter Written by Our Blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and Found under a Great Stone Sixty-five Years after His Crucifixion (Boston: n.p., 1801).

52. William M. Van der Weyde, ed., The Life and Works of Thomas Paine, 10 vols. (New Rochelle, NY: Thomas Paine National Historical Assoc., 1925), 8:87.

53. Richard D. Altick, The Art of Literary Research, rev. ed. (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1975), 90.

54. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 413.

55. A similar perspective is articulated in Anderson’s Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith. While there is overlap in our interpretations, we diverge due to a difference regarding which parts of Smith’s environment one might expect to find in a given Book of Mormon story. Nevertheless, we agree that elements of Smith’s life will be detected not only in Book of Mormon characters but also in plots and sub-plots.

56. See chapter 29.

57. See Perry Zagorin, Ways of Lying: Dissimulation, Persecution, and Conformity in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990).

58. Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., A Behavioral Approach to Historical Analysis (New York: Free Press, 1969), 30.

59. My views are summarized in “Joseph Smith’s Family Dynamics,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 32 (2002): 5,174. For examples of works which treat the family as a system, see Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy and James Framo, eds., Intensive Family Therapy: Theoretical and Practical Aspects (New York: Harper and Row, 1965); Ivan Boszormenyi-­Nagy and Gerald H. Zuk, eds., Family Therapy and Disturbed Families (Palo Alto: Science and Behavior Books, 1967); Alfred A. Messer, The Individual in His Family: An Adapted Study (Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1970); R. D. Laing, Politics of the Family and Other Essays (New York: Vintage Books, 1972); Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy and Geraldine M. Spark, Invisible Loyalties: Reciprocity in Inter­gen­erational Family Therapy (New York: Harper and Row, 1973); David Kantor and William Lehr, Inside the Family (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1975); Philip J. Guerin, ed., Family Therapy: Theory and Practice (New York: Gardner Press, 1976); Augustus Y. Napier and Carl A. Whitaker, The Family Crucible (New York: Harper and Row, 1978); Stephen J. Schultz, Family Systems Therapy: An Introduction (New York: Jason Aron­son, 1984); Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, Between Give and Take: A Clinical Guide to Contextual Therapy (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1986); Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, Foundations of Contextual Therapy (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1987); and John Bradshaw, Bradshaw on the Family (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1988).

60. My emphasis on Smith family conflict is similar to the views expressed by Hill in Quest for Refuge, 10-11. Bushman, on the other hand, describes Lucy’s and Joseph’s relationship as essentially harmonious (see Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 33-36), although he does recognize the early religious differences between them (39).

61. See chapters 1 (for Lucy) and 3 (for Joseph Sr.).

62. On “compensating siblings” (parent surrogacy), see Frits Boer and Judy Dunn, Child­ren’s Sibling Relationships: Developmental and Clinical Issues (Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1992), 41-43.

63. In a 1943 letter to S. A. Burgess, Dale Morgan wrote: “I think [Joseph Smith] was a man subjected to a singular environmental pressure, and that his behavior must be interpreted as the effect of this pressure upon distinctive psycho-physiological components of his character” (Walker, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism, 44).

64. That Smith’s mission of saving souls went beyond the usual task of calling sinners to repentance is hinted at where the Book of Mormon applies Old Testament messianic prophecy to Smith (see my comments in connection with 3 Ne. 21:9-10 in chapter 20 of this volume). On a deeper level, one might view Smith’s death as the inevitable extension of a messiah complex. The Broome County Courier for 29 December 1831 called Smith a “second Messiah.”

65. Waterman, Prophet Puzzle, 43.