D. Michael Quinn responds to Jerald and Sandra Tanner
As an historian, I have been concerned that a number of faithful Latter-day Saints seem to have been troubled by reading Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s Mormonism–Shadow or Reality? After preparing the following letter for a friend, upon his recommendation I have decided to publish the letter in this form. This publication has not been copyrighted, so that it can be reproduced and distributed freely by others, if they feel that the contents have value.
JERALD AND SANDRA TANNER’S DISTORTED VIEW OF MORMONISM:
A RESPONSE TO MORMONISM–SHADOW OR REALITY?
I apologize for the delay in answering your letter, but I felt that your inquiry and comments deserved both research and reflection on my part. Before I go into the substance of your request, let me express myself about something you implied. You seemed almost embarrassed to admit reading a book you regard as anti-Mormon, and you seemed to feel that my first reaction to your letter would be a criticism of your paying any attention to such writings. I can speak only for myself, but I feel that your curiosity in reading Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s work Mormonism–Shadow or Reality is a legitimate part of the process of spiritual understanding and testimony Paul described when he wrote: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (I Thessalonians 5:21). With that philosophy, I began reading literature of the world’s religions, writings by noted skeptics and atheists, and anti-Mormon literature while I was in the mid-teen years. In so doing, I sought the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit in leading me to new discoveries, in affirming previously believed truths, and in suspending judgment about areas where I had insufficient information. It was my adolescent boast to my non-Mormon friends that Mormonism not only encouraged but demanded that we investigate conflicting claims of religious truth, and accept truth from whatever source and reject error from whatever source. Many years have passed, but that faith of my youth remains.
From your letter I cannot be sure whether you have looked at several of the Tanners’ publications, or whether the revised 1972 edition of Shadow-Reality is the only one you have read. In any event, you ask that I evaluate the accuracy of their work from my point of view as a professionally trained historian who has studied Mormon history and theology at some length. You admit that you have been “seriously disturbed” by what you have read, and you mention some general areas you want me to respond to. You are a recent convert to Mormonism, and I sense that although your experience with anti-Mormon literature of this type has jolted you, that you sincerely want to know how the information in the Tanners’ publication(s) fits within the whole framework of Mormonism.
You have not asked me to bear my religious testimony to you, but have asked me instead to be an “expert witness” about the historical truth of what you have read. Nevertheless, let me take the time here to express my feelings both about spiritual things and about the world of mind, evidence, and historical interpretation that is my chosen field. Whether speaking of God, “exact” science, or the very inexact field of human history, a person must be sincerely willing to approach the subject on its own terms and to consider all available evidence. Otherwise, we lock ourselves into a position where we will really listen only to those persons or evidences that support our preconceived conclusions: that is the path to spiritual and intellectual stagnation.
Your questions not only deal with the academic and historical character of Mormonism, but with its spiritual verification. In spiritual knowledge, I must say that my own experiences with prayer, the Spirit, and revelation are primary evidence, whereas the evidence and testimony of the Scriptures, of the prophets and other good, believing people, and of the historical record of mankind are secondary. Each person must bring both kinds of evidence to his relationship with God. Throughout the rest of this letter I will, at your request, emphasize those evidences that are the secondary part of spiritual verification and knowledge. How you relate this information to your primary experience with spiritual truth is something only you can decide, but my experience confirms a knowledge of God’s existence, a knowledge of the reality of salvation through His son Jesus Christ, a knowledge of the importance of revelation, authority, and the community of believers (“the Church”), and an appreciation of the humanity and fallibility of God’s mortal servants in ancient and modern times.
You can see already that this is going to be a long letter, but I suppose you expected it. If you have waded through Mormonism–Shadow or Reality? with its more than five hundred pages of closely written commentary and document excerpts (both of which are presented with such heavy-handed repetition that I felt I was enduring a Chinese water torture when I read the book), then you should be able to get through this letter all right. I cannot possibly take the time to discuss the Tanners’ rejection of Mormonism on a point-by-point basis, but I will make some general observations about their approach, and will spend sometime with several of the specific issues you asked me about. Because I am very aware of my own intellectual limits and enormous areas of ignorance, I will deny being an “expert” on much of anything, but will give you my historical analysis of Mormonism (and the Tanners’ approach to it) and will document statements where it seems to be necessary.
The most important comment to be made about the approach of Jerald and Sandra Tanner to Mormonism is their selective use of evidence. The Tanners have published some very useful collections of excerpts and documents that otherwise would have to be read in the library-archives where they are located. Making documents available to the reading public and analyzing a subject through those documents are central features of the practice of history. But it is perspective–being able to see an issue in its totality and presenting its component parts in their relationships to each other and to the whole–that is the purpose and goal of writing history. A non-Mormon historian who has spent many years studying Mormonism recently commented that the Tanners choose only the most negative evidence to portray the “reality” of Mormonism and its history, while ignoring evidence or entire issues that do not support their interpretations. lt is fair to say also that some Mormon defenders have also done equal disservice to the LDS Church by adopting the same method in reverse: presenting carefully chosen evidence that shows only the positive side of Mormonism, while ignoring or denying the existence of contrary evidence. If Mormon defenders have on occasion been guilty of some of the polemical techniques used by the Tanners, that still does not justify or sanctify distortion.
The historian is both similar and dissimilar to the artist in the matter of perspective. The artist must study his subject carefully in order to portray it in isolation to the viewing public. If the portrayal is to be one of “reality,” the artist studies not only his subject, but its surroundings, and the technicalities of mathematics and vision in order to be true to the external appearance of his artistic subject. If the artists chooses to present a personal, subjective emphasis for effect, he may freely distort the “real” image to emphasize a selective interpretation. In the fine arts, this distortion for effect is not only legitimate but is commendable and desirable, because the artist is seeking to communicate realities that are emotional, psychological, social, religious, and often both ineffable and invisible.
In writing about the past, the historian must also select the topic as well as the available evidence that can be used to present the issue in an understandable manner. But the selective use of evidence to provide a distorted view of the historical subject is a deception, even if inadvertent or well-intentioned. It is a deception because the reading public expects the historian to digest the existing evidence of a particular issue and to present that historical event or subject “as it was.” Because the historian’s tools include diaries, letters, newspaper accounts, reminiscences, civil documents, he often has the potential of understanding an historical event or subject better than any single participant. But human lives and events are complex and historical evidence is continually being discovered, recognized, and reevaluated. Therefore, the writing of history never achieves its absolute goal describing the past “as it was,” and so each new historian and historical work tries to add to the previous efforts at achieving perspective. When persons disregard perspective in historical writing, then their works represent the lowest characteristic of polemics, forensics, and propaganda: doing whatever is necessary to win the argument.
The Tanners are guilty of such distortion as they seek to repudiate Mormonism by applying inflexible standards of criticism that they seem unwilling to apply to the rest of sacred history. For example, in the 1972 edition of Shadow-Reality (page 60), the Tanners ridicule accounts of some Mormons seeing visions while others standing nearby did not, yet as Evangelical Christians they presumably accept the experience of Christ when he heard the voice of the Father, while others thought it had merely thundered (John 12:28-29), or the fact that those with Saul on the road to Damascus did not experience the same vision and revelation he did (Acts 9:7, 22:9). Similarly, the Tanners criticize at length (pages 245-51) “secrecy” in Mormonism despite the precedents of Christ’s instructions to maintain secrecy about healings (Matthew 8:4; Mark 7:35-36; Luke 5:13-14, 8:55-56), about the fact that he was the Christ (Matthew 16:20; Mark 7:36; Luke 9:21), and about the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:9; Mark 9:9). I suspect that the Tanners would try to explain why Jesus required secrecy, but such explanation would give a biblical “problem” a perspective they deny to a similar (if not identical) issue in Mormon history.
In this same respect, the Tanners use a common polemical device to repudiate the historical validity of crucial events in Mormon history, without applying the same standard to biblical sacred history. Concerning the differing manuscript accounts of Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” the Tanners dramatically observe (on page 148): “yet EVERY ONE OF THEM IS DIFFERENT;” (on page 150) that these differing accounts prove “that Joseph Smith made up the vision many years after it was supposed to have occurred;” and (on page 152): “How can we reconcile such discrepancies?” Are they as willing to dismiss the story of Christ’s resurrection as fabrication because His apostles disagreed as to whether there were one or two angels at the tomb (Matthew 28:5; John 20:12)? Or do they likewise claim that Luke’s report of Saul’s vision on the road to Damascus was “made up years after it was supposed to have occurred” merely because Luke could not retell the experience twice in the same letter without contradicting himself (Acts 9:7, 22:9)? The selective requirement for inflexible standards of consistency is a stock weapon in debate and the practice of law to invalidate the testimony of your opponent’s witnesses. Yet perfect consistency is as often a trait of deception as of truth, and truth is often relayed by inconsistent witnesses. The record of human experience has rarely been free of ambiguity.
A classic weapon of debate and polemics (ad hominem argument) is employed repeatedly by the Tanners to question how Mormonism could possibly be true when its leaders are guilty of sin, errors of judgment, and disagreeable personality traits. This is the direction of the Tanners’ response to Joseph Smith’s polygamy, smoking and drinking, financial failures, misjudgments of history and people, occasional temper outbursts, and a host of personality foibles. In like manner, they are deeply appalled and alienated that modern LDS apostles would, dare write letters threatening legal action for unauthorized reproduction and sale of personal diaries and sermons (pages 12-13), or that an apostle would warn them not to “start anything against this church” (p. 570; compare II Peter 3:12).
Before exposing the errors of LDS leaders, the Tanners could have referred to the Apostle John’s description of the universal condition of mankind (including himself as an apostle): “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. . . . Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 1:8, 3:4). The Apostle Paul, who was truly born again in Christ, publicly admitted that in spite of himself he did evil things he did not want to do and did not do good things he wanted to do (Romans 7:14-19). The New Testament informs us that only one man born of woman has been free of sin, and therefore all mankind (including all prophets and other holy, born-again persons), despite all efforts to the contrary, continue to remain in the mortal condition of committing transgressions of the laws and commandments of God.
Although the prophets and authors of ancient religious history communicated God’s condemnation against all sin, they also presented the clear understanding that God’s servants continued to sin or “make mistakes,” and were thus fully human despite a divine commission. Noah occasionally drank wine to the point of drunkenness and unconsciousness (Genesis 9:21, 23). Abraham acquiesced in his wife’s mistreatment of his second wife (Genesis 16:6). Jacob “with subtlety” and deception obtained his brother’s blessing from his blind father Isaac (Genesis 27:12, 35), and also hated his first wife Leah (Genesis 29:30-31). Moses at the least committed manslaughter prior to his call as a prophet (Exodus 2:12-14), and after that call occasionally exhibited doubt in God’s word, fierce anger, and boastful arrogance (Exodus 4:10-14, 5:22-23, 32:19; Numbers 20:10-12). The Lord had to intervene directly to prevent Samuel from choosing the wrong man as king (1 Samuel 16:6-7). Daniel sought forgiveness for his sins while prophet (Daniel 9:20). Jonah resisted the commandment of God to him (Jonah 1:2-3, 4:1) Jesus drank enough alcohol at banquets to be criticized as a “winebibber” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). James and John, as apostles, delighted in the thought of their opponents being destroyed (Luke 9:52-56) and pridefully sought to elevate themselves above the rest of God’s children in the eternities (Mark 10:35-38). Peter was impudent, boastful, arrogant, and cowardly as an apostle during the life of Jesus (Matthew 16:21-23, 26:69-75; John 13:8-9, 18:10-11). Despite Christ’s command to send the Gospel to all nations at His ascension (Matthew 27:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47), it required another specific revelation to Peter to persuade him that the Gospel should be taken to those who were not Jews (Acts 10-11), and even years after that revelation Peter continued to demonstrate his prejudice (Galatians 2:1,9,11-14). Nor did Peter hesitate to criticize the approach of his fellow apostle Paul in teaching the Gospel (2 Peter 3:15-16); Paul likewise boasted that he had publicly condemned Peter and “withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” (Galatians 2:11-14). Moreover, conflicts between Barnabus and Paul resulted in the disruption of their mission (Acts 13:2, 15:36-39).
Do such evidences of humanity, error, sin, and fallibility invalidate prophetic or apostolic callings? The answer to this question is ultimately a personal one, but it is obvious that in the Hebraic view of sacred history, these signs of humanity were not regarded as a repudiation of the callings of these men. The ancient writers of sacred history seemed to feel that by showing the humanity of God’s servants, the rank-and-file of Israel and the Church would not assume that prophets and apostles were somehow otherworldly and immune from the kinds of problems plaguing the “ordinary” mortal. Ancient sacred history seemed to be telling all people: See, God chose these weak men to do great things in His service, and so each person on earth should realize that he or she can also serve God, receive revelation, and do righteousness, despite human problems and inability to live totally without sin.
In presenting the weaknesses and foibles of Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders, the Tanners write as though these were hidden secrets that they have been able to dredge up. On the contrary, the published revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants frequently condemn Joseph Smith for lack of faith, cowardice, and other sins for which he is commanded to repent (D&C 3:6-10, 60:6-7, 90:1, 93:47, 110:5). From what hidden records did the Tanners learn that Joseph Smith continued to drink wine and beer after the Word of Wisdom was given generally “as counsel” and occasionally enforced upon the Church?–From the official “History of Joseph Smith” in the Deseret News and LDS Millennial Star (See pages 406-7 for some of the Tanners’ own quotes). Moreover, their references to Joseph Smith’s violent temper and other personality quirks come primarily from the LDS apostles who knew him and wanted (like the ancient biblical historians) to share his humanness with Mormons who did not know him personally.
While a disagreeable personality trait or action does not become commendable and less offensive when it occurs in the life of a prophet or apostle, the message of sacred history is that such flaws are inevitably part of humanity, and therefore will always be with the people of God, the Church, and its leaders. It is regrettable that in our urbane, twentieth century experience as a church, many of our writers (including nearly all of our apologist-defenders) have found it necessary to ignore or even deny the weaknesses, fallibility, and humanity of our prophets and apostles. This reflects a lack of confidence in the ability of LDS converts and lifetime members to accept the fact that a man is considerably less than “a little lower than the angels” when he becomes a bishop, stake president, apostle, or prophet. In the short-run, glorifying our leaders may be good public relations, but in the long-run it makes Mormons vulnerable to shallow, muckraking ad hominem attacks on their leaders. In a related issue, however, I wish to discuss the occasions in which the Tanners (as well as others, of course) call something evil which Joseph Smith and other LDS leaders called divine. The obvious example is the practice of polygamy (or polygyny), but it extends to a number of other areas as well. In the total view of ancient and modern sacred history, the issue was best stated by Joseph Smith in a document that has been identified as written to his intended plural wife: “Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.” The classic example in the Old Testament is “Thou shalt not kill” of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:13), compared with such events as God’s command through Moses to kill three thousand of the Israelite idolaters (Exodus 32:26-28); Joshua’s order that every man, woman, and child of Jericho be killed except Rahab and her family (Joshua 6:17, 21); the Prophet Samuel’s command to King Saul to destroy all living things, including infants, of the Amalekites; and the fact that when the lone survivor was presented to Samuel, the prophet took a sword and “hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord” (I Samuel 15:2-3, 32). Moreover, the Prophet Elijah personally killed 450 pagan prophets who had been disgraced and taken captive (I Kings 18:19-40); and Ezekiel commanded that the people of Edom be destroyed “by the hand of my people Israel” (Ezekiel 25:13-14). The Tanners would like to ignore the issue by claiming that the people of the Old Testament practiced polygamy and “many other sins which God will not allow us to commit now that Christ has revealed the perfect way” (Page 206). The Tanners fail to realize or to admit that the same God is the central authority for both Old and New Testaments (Covenants), and that the ministry of the Old Testament prophets had validity, just as the ministry of the apostles who followed them had validity. Moreover, the issue is the same within the New Testament. Jesus of Nazareth openly violated the commandments given by God to Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel concerning the Sabbath and encouraged others to violate those strict laws. In the outward violation of the Decalogue’s injunction against theft (Exodus 20:15), Jesus instructed two of his disciples to take a colt from where it was kept by its owners and bring it to Jesus for His own use, with only a cursory explanation to the owners who inquired about the action. The only basis upon which one could regard Jesus as anything but a lawbreaker is by faith in His role as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, who had the authority to fulfill and not to destroy the law. The overpowering message of the first chapter of Genesis is that what God does is good, and that equation is not altered when He does it through His mortal, fallible servants.
An extension of the Tanners’ selective use of evidence is the fact that they often make assertions and draw conclusions without referring to evidence that qualifies, challenges, or refutes their argument. For example, they berate the LDS Church for “Suppression of Records” (on pages 10-12 and elsewhere) because the Tanners’ requests for purchasing microfilms of manuscripts in the LDS Archives were refused. Of course, prestigious manuscript libraries throughout the world (e.g., British Museum, Huntington Library, Harvard University Libraries) have long refused permission to photocopy manuscripts, or have restricted the photocopying of manuscripts–but this is not mentioned by the Tanners. Moreover, the Tanners cast the LDS Archives in a sinister light because it was closed to the public for many decades, but fail to comment that this closed-archive practice is not only consistent with the policy of most businesses (including the richly historical Hudson’s Bay Company), but also with that of most religious and charitable organizations. The custodians of LDS manuscripts have sometimes been defensive about the documents under their control, yet this has been no less true in institutions that have lacked the LDS Church’s heritage of persecution and hostile propaganda.
The failure to cite well-known evidence that challenges their conclusions occurs repeatedly in the Tanners’ analysis of the seven- volume History of the Church. For example, it is implied (pages 134-35) that the prophecy of Joseph Smith about the Mormons moving to the Rocky Mountains (HC 5:85) was a falsification added to the history after the Mormons were actually in the Great Basin. However, in 1964 (eight years before this edition of Shadow-Reality) Stanley B. Kimball published a bibliography of sources for the Nauvoo history of Mormonism (of which the Tanners should have been aware) where he noted that the Oliver H. Olney Papers (written in 1842-43) at Yale University, “recorded the early plans of Joseph Smith to move west. . . .” If the Tanners did not trust that description, they or their widely scattered friends could have read the versified, anti-Mormon manuscript by Olney, dated July 2, 1842:
As a company is now a forming / In to the wilderness to go / As far west as the Rocky mountains. . . . If this was not the secret whispering / Amongst certain ones of the Church of L.D.S. / And could be easily proven If man could speak.
The Tanners are aware that the History of the Church was compiled from a variety of sources (many of which were only loaned to Church historians, to be returned once they had extracted pertinent information), and that the exact source for the account of Joseph Smith’s prophecy of August 6, 1842 is not clear. Olney recorded the rumors about the move west in July, and someone else recorded the prophecy in August. In another section of the Tanners’ tirade about the History of the Church, they discuss a statement in the “Manuscript History of the Church” in which Joseph Smith is reported to have stated in 1832 that Brigham Young would become president of the Church. Regarding the entry as a falsification, the Tanners state “Although the Mormon Historians added the part about Brigham Young speaking in tongues, they have never dared to add the prophecy that Brigham Young was to become leader of the Church” (p. 138). In fact, the prophecy was published by “Mormon historians” in 1858, 1863, 1876, 1886, 1893, 1901, 1936, and 1968.
Two other examples of the Tanners’ “suppression of evidence” indicate their slanted use of sources. On page 257, the Tanners quote B.H. Roberts, who was not trained in law or legal history, to support their conclusion that the suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor by orders of Joseph Smith as mayor of Nauvoo was illegal. Seven years prior to the revised edition of Shadow-Reality, Dallin H. Oaks, at that time a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, published an article in a legal journal demonstrating that the suppression (abatement) of the Nauvoo Expositor as a “public nuisance” was within the powers granted by the state of Illinois in the Nauvoo Charter, was consistent with contemporary judicial interpretations of the First Amendment, and was supported by legal precedents in support of suppression of newspapers prior to 1844. I find it hard to believe that the Tanners were unaware of this article, in view of the fact that they frequently cite Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, and the Oaks article was reviewed in the Summer 1966 issue of Dialogue.
In another example, the Tanners (on pages 204 and 208) accuse Joseph Smith of committing adultery according to the definition of Lorenzo Snow because Joseph married plural wives before the 1843 revelation on polygamy. The Tanners have failed to state the historical context in which Lorenzo Snow’s statement must be understood: First, he was being interrogated by a hostile audience; and second, the Tanners are well aware that his sister Eliza R. Snow married Joseph Smith in polygamy a year before the 1843 revelation, and he was hardly accusing her of adultery. Moreover, the attention of Lorenzo Snow’s interrogators was upon the 1843 published revelation on polygamy, but there were earlier unpublished revelations concerning polygamy as far back as 1831. In 1831 a Mormon defector wrote that Joseph Smith had given a revelation concerning polygamy, and in 1861 an early Mormon wrote a letter to Brigham Young in which he gave the text of that revelation. The Tanners could not have been unaware of this when they published the revised Shadow-Reality in 1972, because such a revelation was referred to in the 1834 Mormonism Unvailed (which the Tanners quote from on page 58), in Helen Mar Whitney’s 1882 Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph, in the 1887 Historical Record (which they quote from on page 203), in the 1922 Essentials in Church History (which they quote from on page 31), in a 1970 article on the “Manifesto” (which they quote from on page 231), and in the Journal of Discourses (virtually every volume of which is quoted by the Tanners). As mentioned elsewhere in this letter, Lorenzo Snow and other General Authorities may make statements about LDS history that are inaccurate or misleading when viewed in isolation, but can be understood or qualified when one is aware of larger circumstances and evidences. Jerald and Sandra Tanner have read widely enough in the sources of LDS history to provide that perspective, but they do not. Although the most conscientious and honest researcher can overlook pertinent sources of information, the repeated omissions of evidence by the Tanners suggest an intentional avoidance of sources that modify or refute their caustic interpretations of Mormon history. In drawing conclusions from the evidence they do present, the Tanners are often guilty of the non sequitur: in other words, the conclusions arrived at are not supported by the evidence. For example, they state (on page 33) that the recently discovered bill of charges from the 1826 trial of Joseph Smith “proves that the published court record is authentic.” The published “court record” appeared in contradictory versions in 1831, 1873, 1877, and 1883, several of which allegedly quote detailed testimony from this trial. The Tanners’ statement would lead the reader to believe that the bill of charges substantiates the entire published versions of the trial (including all alleged testimony–p. 34), whereas these recent discoveries verify quite limited facts: there was a trial in 1826 in which Joseph Smith was described as “The Glass looker” and charged with a misdemeanor, twelve witnesses were subpoenaed, a mittimus was issued, and the total court costs were $2.68. The evidence of the 1826 trial, like many other historical issues the Tanners discuss, invites something more than their uncompromising conclusions.
A similar non sequitur occurs when the Tanners say (on page 304) that “it is logical to assume” that a letter written by an anti-Mormon at Marissa, Illinois on November 23, 1967 (with at least a two-day transit) to the Metropolitan Museum of New York was the cause of the museum’s turning over the Egyptian papyri to the LDS Church on November 27, because “neither the Church nor the Metropolitan Museum would have wanted the opponents of Mormonism to have been the first to announce the discovery.” The only logic that supports that conclusion is the Tanners’ assumption that both Mormons and non-Mormons are intimidated by anti-Mormons.
In the presentation of their argument, the Tanners are often guilty of a classic misuse of parallels in historical analysis: because Item Y resembles Item X closely and because Item Y existed in point of time after Item X, then Item Y necessarily or obviously derived from (was copied from, was influenced by, etc.) Item X. Such a line of reasoning first of all defies a frequently demonstrated principle in the history of philosophy, the natural sciences, anthropology, mathematics, literature, economics, religion, music, and other fields: that extremely similar (and sometimes nearly identical) ideas, interpretations, literatures, inventions, artistic forms, rituals, economic systems and cultural epochs have occurred closely related in time, but so far removed in geography and/or means of communication that neither similar manifestation had an influence upon the other.
A related misuse of parallels occurs once Item X can be shown to be capable in point of time and place of influencing Item Y. The conclusion is made that Item X necessarily influenced (was copied by) Item Y, without seriously considering 1) that despite the proximity, both Item X and Item Y developed independently, and 2) that an Item A, B, or C existed long prior to Item X and may have been the direct influence on both X and Y. There is a very important role of parallelism concerning the character of ancient and modern scripture, but I will defer my discussion of that topic until later in this letter, and will indicate here other examples of misuse of literary parallels by the Tanners.
The Tanners suggest (pages 86-88) that Lehi’s “Tree of Life Dream” in the Book of Mormon was borrowed from an 1811 dream of Joseph Smith, Sr., as found in Lucy Mack Smith’s published history of her martyred son. Relating her family’s history from memory in 1845, when Lucy Mack Smith came to the early visions of her son Joseph Smith, she (or her ghost writers, Howard and Martha Coray) simply quoted from the published version in the Times and Seasons. When Lucy related the first visionary experiences of her husband that had occurred in 1811 (34 years prior to the time that the 69-year-old woman sought to reconstruct her life’s experiences), they appeared remarkably close to the dream related by Lehi in the Book of Mormon. The Tanners conclude that the original 1811 dream is the Item X that Joseph Smith copied into the Book of Mormon Lehi dream (Item Y). But the Tanners are confusing the elements of the textual parallel: the subject of comparison is the written description of the dreams, and if one insists on the post hoc ergo propter hoc analysis of similarities, then the Lucy Mack Smith version written in 1845 was the Item Y that was dependent on, copied from, derived from, the fifteen-year-earlier published dream in the Book of Mormon. (Item X). If one looks for an Item A, B, or C that was an antecedent for the Lehi dream in the Book of Mormon, the Tree of Life symbols and texts of the ancient world deserve a consideration which the Tanners will not give because they are already convinced that the Book of Mormon is not an ancient text.
The Tanners’ treatment of the relationship of Mormonism and Masonry (pages 484-92) is a similar use of historical parallels. The Tanners claim that Mormon temple ordinances are the Item Y that Joseph Smith copied from the Item X of Masonry: “We feel that there is only one logical explanation for the many parallels between the temple ceremony and Masonry, and that is that Joseph Smith borrowed from the Masons” (page 490). This is the “only” logical use of analogy if Joseph Smith’s claim of revelation has already been rejected. First, the Tanners ignore the fact that five years before Joseph Smith was introduced to Masonry, two essentials of the Mormon endowment were practiced at Kirtland: the ceremonial washing (not just of feet) “from head to foot in soap and watter . . . next in perfumed spirits,” and the anointing with consecrated oil. This and the more complete LDS temple ceremony of baptism, washing, anointing, endowment (including symbolic remembrances of Christ’s sacrament), and sealing in marriage, bear striking resemblances to the format of salvation ordinances described in the Gospel of Philip which was discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in recent decades: “For this one is no longer a christian but a Christ. The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism [anointing with consecrated oil] and a eucharist and a redemption and a bride-chamber.”
Joseph Smith’s initiation as a Master Mason in 1842 may indeed have acted as a catalyst for him to seek further revelation about the ceremonies that Masons claimed came from the Temple of Solomon, and (in view of what I will discuss later about scriptural phraseology) it is possible that Masonic phraseology influenced the development of the wording used to teach the sacred elements of the LDS endowment. Nevertheless, before repudiating Mormon temple ordinances by historical parallel, one should consider the ancient rites and ceremonies in Egyptian documents, semitic manuscripts, and early Christian sources. This is a more appropriate test, since the LDS claim is that the temple ordinances existed prior to Masonry and prior to Solomon’s temple. The existence of parallels in ancient rites and LDS ordinances therefore is of at least equal importance as Masonic-LDS parallels.
Another tool of polemics that the Tanners frequently use is the “Straw Man” approach. Briefly, this method sets up an easily refutable and non-representative argument that is supposed to represent the position of one’s opponents, and once the opponent has been set up in this manner, the polemicist proceeds to devastate the “Straw Man,”leaving the audience with the impression that the real opponent has been defeated. The common addition of the Tanners to this device is to create their Straw Man by quoting from their opponents’ own sources, in this case from the prominent advocates and defenders of Mormonism. One use of the “Straw Man” by the Tanners involves quoting General Authorities of the Church on doctrine and history, and then showing how the doctrines in question are disputed by other General Authorities or by written scriptures, and also by showing how specific historical statements and explanations of the General Authorities are inadequate or contradicted by the historical evidences. The Tanners are aware that the official position of the LDS Church is “that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such” (HC 5:265), but they also know that despite this denial of infallibility, Mormons tend to give special significance (if not outright divine status) to anything said by an LDS President or other General Authority. Therefore, the Tanners use Mormon gullibility and misplaced allegiance to priesthood authority as weapons to destroy confidence in the foundations of Mormonism. Although Brigham Young is commonly regarded as an autocrat who demanded unquestioning acceptance of his word, throughout his service as President, Brigham Young criticized the indiscriminate acceptance of the statements of prophets, seers, and revelators:
These persons do not depend upon themselves for salvation, but upon another of their poor, weak, fellow mortals…. say they, … I depend upon you brother Joseph upon you, brother Brigham, upon you, brother Heber, or upon you, brother James; I believe your judgment is superior to mine, and consequently I let you judge for me…. Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another’s sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate…
I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied….
How often has it been taught that if you depend entirely upon the voice, judgment, and sagacity of those appointed to lead you, and neglect to enjoy the Spirit for yourselves, how easily you may be led into error, and finally be cast off to the left hand? ….
I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence….
Now let me ask you, if you trust to my faith, to my words and teachings, counsel and advise, and do not seek after the Lord to have His Spirit to guide and direct you, can I not deceive you, can I not lead you into error? . . .
Now, let me ask the Latter-day Saints, you who are here in this house this day, how do you know that your humble servant is really, honestly, guiding and counseling you aright, and directing the affairs of the kingdom aright? . .
How do you know but I am teaching false doctrine? . . . live so that you can discern between the truth and error, between light and darkness, between the things of God and those not of God, for by the revelations of the Lord and these alone, can you and I understand the things of God.
General Authorities have the limitations of all men in the matters under discussion here. They can engage in doctrinal speculation, defend valid or invalid doctrinal interpretations from a faulty understanding of written scripture, and make assertions or denials about sacred and secular history that are founded on inadequate research or misunderstanding. This should be no more startling than to freely admit that the biblical prophets and apostles accepted the ancient belief that the earth was a flat, rectangular surface, supported at its four corners by pillars, as indicated by the references of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and John the Revelator to the “four corners of the earth,” by the references of Moses, Job, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Zechariah, and Paul to the “ends of the earth,” and by the statement in I Samuel 2:8:”for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them.” We should also remember that when Moroni wrote of the”mistakes of men” in the preface to the Book of Mormon, the men he referred to were the Nephite prophets and scribes.
Another “Straw Man” approach of the Tanners is to quote some Mormon defender about his view of what would constitute a refutation of Mormonism, and then demonstrate (or try to) that the refutation has been accomplished. The Tanners quote from two recent Mormon defenders (on pages 35-36) that if the 1826 court record as published was accurate, then (according to Francis W. Kirkham) Joseph Smith’s “believers must deny his claimed divine guidance,” and (according to Hugh Nibley) “it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith.” Leaving aside the fact that no contemporary evidence has verified the alleged testimony in the 1826 trial (contrary to the Tanners’ effusions), I wish to comment on the approach of accepting someone’s simple standards of refutation. I cannot say whether Kirkham and Nibley actually would regard the verified 1826 trial testimony as a refutation of Mormonism (the Tanners would lead the reader to believe so), but I can state as an historian that simply verifying the 1826 testimony would not in validate Mormonism or repudiate Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims. Both Mormons and Anti-Mormons have compulsively used either-or argumentation: if such-and-such happened, the LDS Church is false or true. All possible evidence of support and refutation for any ideological or historical proposition must be put into perspective, and it is such perspective that prevents a rush to judgment. Debaters and polemicists resort to the “Straw Man” technique precisely because total refutation is not an easy achievement.
Although the Tanners abandon all pretense of historical perspective by the other methods I have described, they further distil their distortion through their bizarre editorial style. First is their use of ellipses ( . . .). For example (on page 95) the Tanners write that “Joseph Smith certainly had the ability to make up ‘new names’,” and then quote an account of Joseph Smith’s giving a “boy the name of Mahonri Moriancumer . . .” (that is where their quote ends). By consulting the sources the Tanners cited for this quotation, however, one learns that they purposely deleted the following sentence: “When he had finished the blessing, he laid the child on the bed, and turning to Elder Cahoon he said, the name I have given your son is the name of the Brother of Jared [in the Book of Mormon]; the Lord has just shown (or revealed) it to me.” The part left out by the Tanners would require the reader to decide whether Joseph Smith could act as a divine revelator, but because the Tanners already conclude that he was a fraud, they eliminate his explanation for the unusual name. The use of ellipses is a well established tool of scholarship, but it may also be used for purposes of distortion.
Second, is the Tanners’ use of repetition. The Tanners quote and requote, in whole or part, the same documents over and over again, sometimes within a few pages of each other. They also repeat the same concluding ideas throughout each chapter (e.g., in the chapter on the Book of Abraham, nearly every page has some statement by them that Joseph Smith did not understand the Egyptian language–pages 344-61 especially). This alternately bored me and drove me to distraction, but as a methodology such repetition has a more specific function. A certain amount of re-emphasis is necessary for all communication and teaching, but incessant repetition is not designed to persuade by logic, but instead to induce the reader or listener to suspend rational thought in favor of total acceptance. The negative consequences of such a technique are obvious. The Tanners introduce the third editorial practice with a statement on the last page of their Preface: “Capitalization and underlining are used for emphasis throughout this book.” As is true of ellipses, the occasional use of underlining or italics for emphasis is fully acceptable and even desirable. With the exception of pages 75-79,462-73, and 500-511, however, every page of Shadow-Reality is alive with underlinings and FULL CAPITAL phrases. This extensive use of emphasis in the closely spaced text of the 587-page Shadow-Reality actually discourages reading each word or even every sentence and paragraph, but instead encourages the reader’s eye to skip from emphasized words to emphasized words that are in close proximity, and to pay little attention to the tightly spaced words in between. This editorial practice enables the Tanners to quote lengthy documents “in context,” with the assurance that the reader will assimilate only the sensationalistic headlines and emphasis. For example, on page 413 the Tanners quote a long passage from a conference talk of Joseph F. Smith in which many words and sentences are emphasized, including the phrase: “. . . Z.C.M.I. KEPT LIQUORS of various kinds for medicinal purposes.” The Tanners’ editorial practices discourage the reader from noticing the connecting words and sentences that modify or alter the sensational impression of the emphasized words.