Thursday, October 27, 2022

Richard Bushman and No Man Knows My History

John Dehlin and his collaborators continue to misinform viewers and readers about the relationship between Richard Bushman's book Rough Stone Rolling (RSR) and Fawn Brodie's book No Man Knows My History (NMK).


For example, in an October 21, 2022, YouTube video, he said this during his interview of a "Questioning Mormon."


"Questioning Mormon":  Is No Man Knows My History a book about, is it an autobiography--

John Dehlin:  It's the best biography, it's not an autobiography, it's the best biography ever written about Joseph Smith

"Questioning Mormon":  by the woman who was excommunicated--

John Dehlin:  By David O McKay's niece. So David O. McKay was prophet his niece uh wrote this biography and it's the best. Richard Bushman of Rough Stone Rolling quotes this book more than any other book he quotes

Notice how he misleads his audience into thinking that NMK must be authoritative and reliable because Richard Bushman quoted and cited it so frequently.


Richard didn't cite NMK because he considered it reliable and authoritative; he cited it because it was not reliable and authoritative.

Richard long recognized the problems with NMK, which employed a genre of psychoanalysis popular in the era during which it was written. For that reason, he very consciously intended RSR to replace and supersede NMK as the definitive JS bio in the non-LDS world.  

He even deliberately used the same publisher (Alfred Knopf).  Therefore, he needed to address NMK frequently so that no one could say NMK covered things that RSR did not. Otherwise, readers might think they had to go to NMK for the full picture.

This isn't to say that RSR is perfect. In some places, the book states theory and interpretation as fact, as I've noted here:

However, RSR is still more reliable than NMK.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Richard Bushman clarifies his comments on LDS Church history

Some critics including MormonStories have focused on an isolated comment Richard Bushman made about problems with LDS Church history. 

Recently on Gospel Tangents Richard Bushman discussed the way these critics have taken his brief, informal comments about LDS Church history, made in a private meeting, out of context.

17:54 GT: I know there have been some critics that have kind of to me have used your words out of context. I know there's a famous quote of you where you've said well the the church history narrative needs to change. Do you feel like some critics have have misused your words as kind of a way to whip the church?

RB: yes I think I've been mistreated in that way. I was in a fireside it was at the home of one of Eugene England's sons and they were asking questions and I made the comment that... something about the narrative--the early church history narrative--is false and has to change and as I said the words I know I didn't mean false, I meant there were errors that had to be corrected and--various people, I was barely being recorded which I was not aware of--and have used that to imply that I say Joseph Smith didn't have the revelations he did. The words don't say that. 

This is, it's false in some ways and I've talked to those people I've told them that's not what I said. I said this in public many times and still is repeated over and over again and I'm very resentful. I think it's malicious, and I truly wish they would stop doing it because they are making those words say things that I didn't mean then and don't mean now but they refused to be corrected.

Despite Richard's clarification, the critics continue to quote this excerpt. Examples of these misleading critics include MormonStories and CES Letter.  

John Dehlin at MormonStories has ignored Richard's correction since he posted it in 2016, such as with his so-called "birthday" post from 2021.

Dehlin claims to respect Richard's work, but what kind of respect does it show to keep repeating and re-posting a video made without Richard's permission or knowledge which Richard has repeatedly stated does not represent his actual views?

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Anniversary of this blog

I started this blog about a year ago. Since then, I've listened to many Mormonstories podcasts. I haven't posted my comments on most of them because they are so repetitive. 

Here's John Dehlin's basic formula.

1. John presents his pejorative interpretation of Church history and doctrine as fact and creates a straw man argument that the Church and its members/leaders ought to be held to a standard of perfection because of its truth claims. People and organizations always fall short of their aspirations; that's why they are aspirations. The higher the aspirations, the larger the gap between reality and expectations. The larger John can make the gap, the more compelling his content can be, and the more money he can make.

2. John finds, or is contacted by, disgruntled Latter-day Saints, former Latter-day Saints, or observers outside the Church (as well as people in similar situations with other faith groups) who confirm his biases. 

3. The screened guests relate their stories, explaining why they are disgruntled, hurt, damaged, disenchanted, or otherwise unhappy about their experiences (the gap between reality and expectations).

4. If they don't already blame the Church or its members/leaders, John prompts them to do so, often with leading questions.

5. Throughout the interviews, John feigns astonishment at the disparity between his straw man portrayal of the Church (expectations) and reality.

6. Finally, John solicits donations for more of the same, assuring donors that he would be making far more money if he were doing something else, but he feels his calling to help people in "faith crisis" is more important than mere money.

Ironically, the gap between (i) John's professed aspirations--helping people to make fully informed decisions in an environment of mutual respect and tolerance--and (ii) the reality of what Mormonstories has become, has grown dramatically since he began Mormonstories.  

Hopefully John will narrow that gap and become more tolerant and inclusive in the future.


Mormonstories provides a useful service for people to vent, form a community of like-minded people, and confirm their respective biases. That's all fine. People can believe and do whatever they want. 

Latter-day Saints are a community of like-minded people who seek to establish Zion in the real world. We think many people, regardless of religious faith or unbelief, also seek such a society. People have sought a utopia for generations. But human institutions have fallen way short because of self-interest. 

We believe God restored the gospel, established an organization, and continues to inspire members and leaders to accomplish the long-sought objective of establishing Zion. We recognize that this process requires self-sacrifice, hard work, and devotion to one another as well as to God, despite our imperfections. Thus, we understand that many people are uninterested in participating. We expect opposition. All we can do is explain our beliefs and our objectives, invite others to help out, and ask others to not mischaracterize or misrepresent them.

What we're observing in modern society was expressed long ago in D&C 1.

They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.

(Doctrine and Covenants 1:16)

This verse explains the key point: "they seek." 

What do people seek for? 

Latter-day Saints have aspirations, hopes, objectives, dreams, plans, and systems for establishing Zion. We are implementing divinely inspired programs throughout the world to enhance faith, education, prosperity, equality, and harmony. 

Others have different aspirations. And that's fine.

Mormonstories ignores, if not opposes, the overriding objectives and desires of the Latter-day Saints and their leaders at all levels. This is evident in most, if not every, podcast.   

We hope John can close the gap between his own aspirations and the reality of Mormonstories.


Wednesday, November 10, 2021


On November 1, 2021, Mormonstories posted an ensemble episode focused on a trip to the UK by three members of the Quorum of the Twelve.

The phrase "Mormon British Rescue" was coined by the podcasters, presumably invoking the "Swedish Rescue" from 2012.

But was it a rescue mission? Or simply a visit to missionaries and members in the UK to express encouragement and gratitude? 

The cup is half empty or half full...

The Church's press release on the trip described it this way: "Apostles Conclude Ministry Visit to Great Britain: President Ballard, Elder Holland and Elder Cook speak to Latter-day Saints in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales."  

The show notes outline the program:

[John is] joined today by the folks who have been dubbed “The Britvengers”, a collection of progressive and post Mormons who all have one thing in common, they’re British! 

They will be discussing what is being called “The British Rescue”. On Halloween Weekend 3 Senior Apostles are coming and addressing the UK membership. Is this a rescue?

The Britvengers are:

Nemo the Mormon

Peter Bleakley

21st Century Saints

Laura & Julian Heath

Priesthood Dispatches

The program follows the typical Mormonstories formula: critics complaining because their expectations were not met.

The underlying premise is that the critics' expectations were reasonable to begin with.

This is an interesting case because we see two completely different framings of the visit. The critics complained that Church leaders did not give the UK Latter-day Saints enough specific instruction and guidance. From what I heard and saw, the Church leaders were instructing and encouraging the UK Latter-day Saints to be spiritually and temporally self-reliant. 

Maybe there's a parallel between religion and politics in a sense. Some people want the government to solve their problems, typically through programs that involve regulation combined with taxation and redistribution of wealth. Others prefer to be self-reliant and think government should be limited to those actions that only government can do, accommodating systems that encourage self-initiative and work.

There are legitimate arguments for both approaches, which explains the ongoing tension between the two basic philosophies.

It's similar with religion.

Critics tend to expect "the Church" to solve their problems, right every wrong, answer every question, etc. Others expect "the Church" to provide basic doctrines and systems that help members serve one another, become self-reliant, and build Zion with their respective talents and efforts.

People interpret Church teachings through these respective lenses, as we see in this podcast.   

An alternative perspective of the trip was summarized this way:

Elder Holland, who served as the Area President in England in the early 1990s, observed that during his return to the country this week he has felt optimistic for the future of the Church.

“The great days of the United Kingdom are still ahead of us,” Elder Holland said. “We don’t look to the past to say, ‘Oh, only if it were yesterday.’ The great, great days of this island are still ahead of us in the gospel.”

Elder Holland was optimistic. The critics were pessimistic. I suppose we'll see which version of reality pans out in the future. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Is John Dehlin running out of money or ideas?

The other day John posted a video/podcast titled "Questions I Would Ask Richard Bushman." 

He spent two hours asking a series of loaded questions along the lines of ""Have you stopped beating your wife?"

You can listen/watch here:

FWIW, I listened to it while on a driving trip. I didn't waste two hours; I accelerated the replay.  

He could have listed his questions in a brief post, but his objective was not really to tell us what questions he would ask Richard Bushman (or any other faithful historian). 

He sounds/looks like he was venting his frustration that his audience and donors are declining and he is running out of ideas.

I respect John for his early work, when he seemed to be sincerely seeking answers and explanations. He pointed out problems with Church history narratives, Book of Mormon historicity, etc. Like Jeremy Runnels and his CES Letter, John's objections originated with what he had been taught and his perception that he'd been misled or lied to.

(Unfortunately, our SITH and M2C scholars have largely agreed with the critical approaches to these issues, as we've discussed many times on this blog and elsewhere. For example, our top LDS scholars now agree that Joseph never really translated the plates, that Joseph and Oliver misled Church members by teaching that Cumorah was in New York, etc.) 

Lately, though, John's podcasts have been repetitive recitations by undoubtedly sincere people who, for one reason or another, have "left the Church." Naturally, these guests confirm John's biases. 

If/when I get some free time, I'll go through the list of logical and factual fallacies John uses to persuade his listeners. 

Essentially, John manipulates his audience by focusing on common human weaknesses and mistakes, found in every group or organization, and then attributes them to the Church and its teachings. It's a clever approach, but disingenuous.  


Friday, January 29, 2021



January 27, 2021

Summary from webpage: In this short Mormon Stories Episode I sat down with Trent Told, who created a prototype of Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon Plates. Based on Dan Vogel’s theories surrounding the “Tin Plates” and the Book of Mormon, Trent created a proof of concept model of the Book of Mormon made out of tin, in order to help demonstrate the physical size and weight of the plates. This model is also intended to help illustrate complexity and improbability that Joesph [sic] Smith could have possessed and handled actual Gold Plates (let alone run with them).  

This podcast again demonstrates one of the fallacies of M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). As always, I emphasize people can believe whatever they want. Those who believe M2C, and don't want their belief challenged, should not read this blog.

Our LDS M2C scholars insist that the "real" Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is somewhere in southern Mexico. They say the Hill Cumorah in New York is a false tradition started by early Church members who ignorantly speculated. This means that Moroni had to take the plates from southern Mexico to western New York. 

In the podcast, John Dehlin points out the impracticality of Moroni hauling heavy metal plates from Mesoamerica to western New York. 

The other approach, of course, is to believe what Moroni told Joseph Smith; i.e., that the Nephite "history was written and deposited not far from that place," referring to the Smith farm where Moroni first appeared to Joseph.

The Hill Cumorah was about 3 miles from Joseph's home. If, as he said, Moroni and his father abridged the Nephite records while living "not far from that place," it would not be difficult for them to move the plates around, even if they weighed 60 pounds as some accounts indicated. 

Other accounts reported 30 pounds. E.g., the Fayette Lapham interview with Joseph Smith, Sr., published 40 years after the fact and containing obvious errors or misunderstandings, nevertheless includes some interesting detail. For example, it includes this quotation: "I weighed it," said Mr. Smith, Senior, "and it weighed thirty pounds." )

I attribute this discrepancy to Joseph Sr. weighing the plates of Nephi instead of the abridged plates. Even though the quotation in the Lapham interview follows the account of Joseph bringing home the plates, it does not necessarily follow that he weighed them right when Joseph brought them home in September 1827. That seems implausible, actually, given how protective Joseph was of the plates at that point. 

It wasn't until nearly two years later, in late June 1829, that Joseph Sr. was allowed to handle the plates as one of the Eight Witnesses. That is more likely when Joseph Sr. weighted them (which probably means he "hefted" them, not that he put them on a scale).

Of course, neither the North American setting nor the two sets of plates scenario were raised by Dehlin or his guest. It's far easier to point out the improbabilities of M2C.

The podcast also assumed the plates were a solid block of sheets of metal. The guest had fabricated plates of tin and said they weighed about 37 pounds. I've also fabricated plates, just to see what the process involved. Mine weighed considerably less, but they were not tightly stacked (which seems more realistic to me, given they were hand made and not machine rolled metal).

Another consideration is the possibility, which I consider a likelihood, that the set of plates included a compartment for the Urim and Thummim. 

The Lapham interview also included this interesting detail:

In answer to our question, as to what it was that Joseph had thus obtained, he said it consisted of a set of gold plates, about six inches wide, and nine or ten inches long. They were in the form of a book, half an inch thick, but were not bound at the back, like our books, but were held together by several gold rings, in such a way that the plates could be opened similar to a book. Under the first plate, or lid, he found a pair of spectacles, about one and a half inches longer than those used at the present day, the eyes not of glass, but of diamond. 

Whenever I read published accounts, I pay attention to quotations within quotation marks vs paraphrasing. The article quoted Smith Sr. as having weighed the plates, but here it paraphrases the rest of his description. Let's look at each detail.

Six inches wide and nine or ten inches long. That description varies from Joseph's in the Wentworth letter. "These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold, each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin."

The difference between "eight inches" and "nine or ten inches" may not be significant, but it could also be another indication that there were two sets of plates. In the Wentworth letter, Joseph described what he found in Moroni's stone box--the abridged plates, which he called "the original Book of Mormon." Joseph Smith Sr. most likely weighed the plates he handled as one of the Eight Witnesses, which I think were the original plates of Nephi. We call them the small plates, but that's a reference to how much history they contained, not their actual dimensions.

Half an inch thick. Joseph said "The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed." This discrepancy could be attributed to Joseph Sr. referring to the plates he handled (the plates of Nephi) vs the abridged plates, or it could be a mistake in the paraphrased published account; i.e., Joseph Sr. might have said "half a foot think" but the interviewer recorded "half an inch thick" instead.

Under the first plate, or lid, he found a pair of spectacles. Joseph wrote, "With the records was found a curious instrument which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate."

Joseph's description is vague; "with the records" could mean "next to" the records, "on top" of them, or "inside" the records, as Joseph Sr. said. Joseph Sr.'s description makes sense. It doesn't seem reasonable for Moroni to just put the spectacles loose somewhere in the stone box, or even resting on top of the plates. A compartment with a lid as part of the set of plates does make sense. I built one when I constructed my set of plates, and it can move around the rings if the holes are the right size.

If the abridged plates included a compartment for the U&T, the entire set would weigh much less than a solid block of gold. This also explains why David Whitmer, as one of the Three Witnesses, said part of the plates looked "solid as wood." He was looking at the compartment.

This is also consistent with the concept of two sets of plates. Joseph Sr. said he weighed (or hefted) the plates, and he was one of the Eight Witnesses who handled the plates, but none of those witnesses said anything about seeing the Urim and Thummim or any compartment. That leads me to conclude that when he described these elements, Joseph Sr. was relating what Joseph Jr. told him, not what he actually saw himself. 

Here's the scenario that makes sense to me. Mormon and Moroni abridged the plates while living "not far from" the Smith farm near Palmyra. Moroni constructed the stone box for the abridged plates, breastplate, and U&T in a part of the hill separate from the repository (for reasons I've discussed elsewhere).

Joseph Jr. brought the abridged plates home in September 1827. He told his family what they looked like, including the U&T in the compartment. Lucy Mack felt the breastplate and U&T through a cloth.

Joseph then he took the artifacts to Harmony. When he finished translating the abridged plates, he gave them to the messenger (one of the Three Nephites) who returned them to the repository in Cumorah and picked up the small plates of Nephi for Joseph to translate in Fayette. (These were to replace the Book of Lehi lost with the 116 pages and were the "other records" that Oliver was promised he could help translate in D&C 9:2). 

By the time Joseph showed plates to the Eight Witnesses in Palmyra in June 1829, they were the plates of Nephi, not the abridged plates. That's why they weighed only 30 pounds and did not have either a sealed portion or a compartment for the U&T.

None of this makes sense if you believe M2C, of course. If you believe M2C, by definition you reject what David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, Lucy Mack Smith and others said about these events. 

And that's fine. People believe whatever they want to believe. But I agree with John Dehlin and his guest that the M2C scenario is implausible.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021



This podcast was mostly an interview with RFM (Radio Free Mormon) about the amended complaint in the Gaddy lawsuit. I blogged about the original suit in 2019, expecting it to fail on a motion to dismiss, which it did. 

The amended complaint adds a new theory that would probably be no more successful, except for a few developments since the original one was filed. 

The "stone-in-the-hat" narrative (SITH) is now quasi-official. The Ensign quoted David Whitmer on the subject a year ago, which I blogged about here:

and here:

The Saints book establishes SITH, as well. SITH was an emphasis at BYU Education week in 2019, about the time when I first posted on the lawsuit. 

It seems to me that the plaintiff can rely on the revisionist LDS historians who have repudiated what Joseph and Oliver taught about the translation and the New York Cumorah. Through the academic cycle, these scholars have persuaded younger generations that Joseph didn't really translate anything, but merely read words that appeared on the stone-in-the-hat.

The alternative interpretation, as I've explained in detail elsewhere, is that Joseph used SITH as a demonstration but actually translated the ancient plates with the Urim and Thummim.

My prior posts about this lawsuit: