In response to the document How could Joseph Smith have composed the Book of Mormon?, the following comment was posted to facebook:

It looks like all the above sources originate from Fawn McKay Brodie who was a well known anti-Mormon writer. She was also a Freudian psychoanalyst. Her works on Joseph Smith are considered dubious by many scholars. Search FairMormon Wiki (as a start) for responses to all things Brodie.

Thanks for raising this concern. If Brodie is a dubious source and “all the above sources originate from [her]” then that would be cause for great concern.

I wrote several of the linked articles and I’ve never read Brodie

A huge chunk of what I have posted and linked to is my own original research using primary source documents. I’ve actually never read Fawn Brodie’s book. I studiously avoided the book while a member of the Church. Several years after my faith transition I tried to read it but never got more than a couple of pages into it—I’m far more interested in the primary documents and most of those are easily accessible today.

I’ve been writing on and researching Mormonism for a while now, and I am careful about citing my sources. You can search all of my research for “Brodie” and you will find her mentioned in only 3 of my ~377 documents totaling about 400,000 words. I personally only cited her one time and that was when I was unable to find a primary source document and so was relying on her conveyance of a newspaper article from Joseph Smith’s time. Another mention was by Tad Callister and I was only quoting Callister. The third mention of her was in an analysis of one of Brian Hales’s documents where he used Brodie to buttress one of his points, and I was discussing the merit of her analysis of Joseph Smith’s polygamy denials.

Hence, since I wrote many of the documents cited your claim “all the above sources originate from … Brodie” seems factually incorrect on those grounds.

The other sources

We can also dig into each of the other documents and authors I reference to understand whether they “originate” from Brodie.

  1. Dan Vogel (2 links) is a historian in his own right (i.e., he examines the original documents and comes to his own conclusions). In his introduction to “Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon” he writes:

    [Brodie] delivered the fatal blow to the Spalding theory and followed Riley’s environmental approach to the Book of Mormon. Since both Riley and Brodie were writing biographies of Joseph Smith, neither explored the Book of Mormon itself in great depth. Some important aspects were missed entirely.

    In fact, Vogel does not cite Brodie a single other time in his entire work. It seems shortsighted to claim that his work “originates with Brodie” when his primary historial contribution and the one most closely related to the topic at hand does not cite her outside the introduction.

  2. Hamer (2 links) admits that, according to his wikipedia article (which I just discovered), “Fawn Brodie rehabilitated Joseph Smith for him”. However, I still am unclear on how we can say that Hamer’s historical reflections “originate from … Brodie”. Again, Hamer seems to be a historian in his own right and hence would be synthesizing primary historical documents. But I am open to being convinced: in what ways does Hamer’s analysis “originate from … Brodie”?

  3. William Davis also cites Brodie, but, like Vogel, he is suggesting that Brodie’s analysis of the Book of Mormon is simplistic. For example: “in situating the Book of Mormon within American literature, scholars often overlook its militaristic aspects and follow the lead of Fawn Brodie, who describes the work as ‘one of the earliest examples of frontier fiction.’” Davis’s other citation of Brodie is in her citation of Kirkham regarding Joseph Smith’s rate of production (i.e., ~3,700 words per day). It seems clear that Davis’s dissertation can’t be said to “originate” with Brodie. Also, compare Davis’s two references to Brodie with all the references and citations to Brodie by Richard Bushman, Brian Hales, and Todd Compton (they each cite and reference Brodie more than Davis!)

  4. Creativity Theory and the Origin of the Book of Mormon and other Mormon Scriptures is discussing models of creativity that were recently formulated (for example). He leans on Vogel and some of my work as background, and I’ve already discussed how neither of us lean on Brodie. And, he cites all his sources and never mentions or cites Brodie directly.

  5. Is it possible for Joseph Smith to have orally dictated the BoM without notes? mentions Hamer but does not depend on him. The author does not cite Brodie at all.

  6. ImTheMarmotKing’s post about Mosiah Priority cannot possibly rely on Brodie because the Mosiah Priority theory was only developed and substantiated decades after Brodie wrote her biography. See the wikipedia page:

  7. ImTheMarmotKing’s comment Evidence of Oral Composition mentions Hamer but leans on original research posted by Lodo_the_Bear and the insights of a non-LDS translator of the Book of Mormon.

  8. ImTheMarmotKing’s comment Explaining Consistencies contains an original analysis of the usage of “Antionum” in the Book of Mormon with Bethel in the Bible. No Brodie anywhere.

  9. Book of Mormon parallels to 1800s thought is a collection of resources. Several of the resources I wrote, so I’m 100% sure that Brodie was no part of them. Most of them are direct references to primary historical data, such as this or this. And much of the research I link to on that resource page is original research performed decades after Brodie and seems quite independent of any influence (e.g., analysis of the Late War)

  10. Recent LDS Scholar observations favoring a modern origin for the Book of Mormon is almost completely citing LDS scholarship, so it is difficult to understand how Brodie would relate.

  11. Was Joseph Smith intellectually and educationally capable of authoring the Book of Mormon? is a document that I produced. I found original documents and source everything from places like the Joseph Smith Papers project.

  12. Reasons to discount aspects of Emma’s testimony of the creation of the Book of Mormon is another document that I authored. One can track initial drafts of the document online and can find that I gathered feedback from many individuals, including believing members, and I’ve acknowledged those contributions in the document.

  13. The last two documents (Brian Hales and stisa79) represent the LDS apologetic position and do not cite Brodie.

  14. I also cited one document inline which is not represented in the bulleted documents which was an exchange with Brent Metcalfe on the Mormon historian facebook group. He conveys his own personal observations and primary data which he links to on the Joseph Smith Papers project. It is difficult to imagine any direct influence from Brodie on his observation.


So, of 17 links, 15 do not appear to “originate” with Brodie by any reasonable stretch. Several of these reference ideas or research generated decades after she wrote on Joseph Smith (and some directly contradict her position at the time, like the Mosiah Priority). I acknowledge that Hamer (2 of the links) was inspired by Brodie when he was younger, but as an actual published historian we also expect that his syntheses are original (although I’m open to demonstrations of how his commentary “originates” with Brodie).

Ad hominem as distraction

To some extent, though, all of this seems like a distraction. Does it ultimately matter if an idea or primary reference first originated with or was discovered by Brodie?

Let’s just say that Brodie was wrong 50% of the time and correct 50% of the time. If we only referenced the 50% of her work that was correct and repudiated the other 50% that was wrong, then we are correct 100% of the time, even if we referenced Brodie. Ultimately, it’s not about Brodie but rather the accuracy of any given claim.

If her claims (or anyone’s claims) are based on sound evidence and even-handed analysis then, barring additional evidence or superior argumentation, we should adopt those. If her claims (or anyone’s claims) are based on bad evidence or biased/poor analysis then we should reject those.

So, ultimately, a discussion leading with this argument seems like an ad hominem (or ad mulierem or ad feminam):

Ad hominem (Latin for “to the person”), short for argumentum ad hominem, typically refers to a fallacious argumentative strategy whereby genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided by instead attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.

Here is FairMormon’s analysis of Brodie.

* Which, if any, of these claims are relevant to my analysis?
* Is it possible to fairly interpret the data in a manner that differs from FairMormon?

I welcome correction

I am careful about my work and will correct anything that is wrong, that is unfair, or that lacks even-handedness. I welcome your corrections and suggestions.

edits: some grammar issues; minor changes in tone; formatting