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Critics Corner


Correspondence between Malin Jacobs
and UMI Director Dennis Wright

The following correspondence with Rev. Dennis A. Wright and Malin Jacobs is a follow-up to Rev. Wright's reply to Dr. Midgley.  It provides an excellent example of dishonesty in the scholarship of Fawn M. Brodie in her book, No Man Knows My History.  The correspondence also covers Dr. Key's book, The Book Of Mormon In The Light Of Science, and the errors contained therein.

Letters: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Letter One

From: "Malin Jacobs" <>
To: "Dennis A Wright" <>
Cc: "Stan D Barker" <sdbarker@[]>
Subject: An Example of Fawn M. Brodie's Scholarship
Date: Sat, 14 Feb 1998 11:12:02

Dear Rev. Wright,

I have been reading the correspondence between you and Drs. Dan Peterson and Louis Midgley with interest.  I add my agreement that the quality and tone of your messages are a couple orders of magnitude improved over those of your predecessors.

As a brief introduction, I am 51 years old, an electrical engineer by profession (I hold an MSEE), and have been involved to some extent in LDS polemics for the last 25 or so years.  I have read over 200 works on the LDS church, including all the standard works written against it.  A Few years ago I corresponded with both Mike Reynolds and Robert McKay on the Fidonet Mormon Echo, where I was moderator for several years.  I am also one of the three people responsible for the SHIELDS website ( ).  A more extensive bio and several examples of my scholarship (such as it is) can be found there.  Two of these are: 1) a review of the book, The Mormon Corporate Empire, and 2) a paper titled, THE ALLEGED FIFTY-SIX-YEAR SECOND-COMING PROPHECY OF JOSEPH SMITH: AN ANALYSIS.  Both deal largely with the way many (if not most) anti-Mormons use evidence.

My attitude toward critics is "Disagree with my faith if you want, but don't misrepresent my church's teachings, and don't misuse evidence in making your case."

Now to the point of this letter:

You and Drs. Peterson and Midgley have been discussing Fawn M. Brodie's book, No Man Knows My History.  All of you have been discussing the merits of her book, especially how her scholarship has been received.  In my view, the opinions of this or that literary expert or historian on Brodie's work, while interesting, are really only of value to someone who has not checked out her sources to see how she uses them.  This letter will provide one single example which, I hope, will give you reason to reconsider the value of her book from a "search for truth" perspective.  I am using the 11th printing of the 2nd edition (1983) of No Man. . . .

Brodie begins her book by setting the stage.  Among other things, her view was that Joseph Smith's background was basically irreligious.  On p. 2, speaking of Joseph Smith's paternal grandfather, Brodie states:

    "Like many others of the time Asael was avowedly Christian but basically irreligious."

As support for this statement she quotes from a letter dated April 10, 1799, written by Asael to his family at a time when he thought he didn't have long to live.  Here is Bordie's quote in full:

    "'As to religion,' he wrote to his children, 'I would not wish to point any particular form to you; but first I would wish you to search the Scriptures and consult sound reason. . . . Any honest calling will honor you if you honor that.  It is better to be a rich cobbler than a poor merchant; and rich farmer than a poor preacher.'"

She seems to have made her point.  But if you go to the original letter, a quite different picture emerges.  A photocopy of the handwritten letter can be found in Dr. Richard L. Anderson's Joseph Smith's New England Heritage (Deseret Book, 1971), pp. 130-140.  This material can also be found as printed text on pp. 124-129.  In the photocopy the quoted material appears on pp. 131 (the quoted material before the ellipses) and 135 (the quoted material after the ellipses).  In the printed text the material can be found on pp 125-126.

Mrs. Brodie left out over 600 words!  In addition, she left out other material that is quite relevant.  Here is the entire section of Asael's letter that is relevant to his attitude towards religion.  I put what Brodie quotes in caps.

    "And first to you, my dear wife, I do with all the strength and powers that is in me, thank you for your kindness and faithfulness to me, beseeching God, who is the husband of the widow, to take care of you and not to leave you nor forsake you, nor never suffer you to leave nor forsake him nor his ways.  Put your whole trust solely in him.  He never did nor never will forsake any that trusted in him.  One thing, however, I would add, if you should marry again.  Remember what I have undergone by a stepmother, and do not estrange your husband from his own children or kindred, lest you draw on him and on yourself a great sin.  So I do resign you into the everlasting arms of the great husband of husbands, the Lord Jesus Christ."

    "And now my dear children, let me pour out my heart to you and speak first to you of immortality in your souls.  Trifle not in this point:  the soul is immortal.  You have to deal with an infinite majesty; you go upon life and death.  Therefore, in this point be serious.  Do all to God in a serious manner.  When you think of him, speak of him, pray to him, or in any way make your addresses to his great majesty, be in good earnest.  Trifle not with his name nor with his attributes, nor call him to witness to anything but is absolute truth; nor then, but when sound reason on serious consideration requires it.  AND AS TO RELIGION, I WOULD NOT WISH TO POINT OUT ANY PARTICULAR FORM TO YOU; BUT FIRST I WOULD WISH YOU TO SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES AND CONSULT SOUND REASON, and see if they (which I take to be two witnesses that stand by the God of the whole earth) are not sufficient to evince to you that religion is a necessary theme.  Then I would wish you to study the nature of religion, and see whether it consists in outward formalities, or in the hidden man of the heart; whether you can by outward forms, rites and ordinances save yourselves, or whether there is a necessity of you having help from any other hand than your own.  If you find that you stand in need of a Saviour, Christ saith: 'Look unto me and be ye saved all ye ends of the earth.'  Then look to him, and if you find from scripture and sound reason that Christ hath come into the world to save sinners, then examine what it was that caused him to leave the center of consummate happiness to suffer as he did---whether it was to save mankind because they were sinners and could not save themselves or whether he came to save mankind because they had repented of their sins, so as to be forgiven on the score of their repentance. If you find that he came to save sinners merely because they were such, then try if there is any other so great that he cannot save him.  But mind that you admit no others as evidences but the two that God hath appointed, viz., scripture and sound reason.  And if these two witness that you are one whit better by nature than the worst heathen in the darkest corner of the deserts of Arabia, then conclude that God hath been partial towards you and hath furnished you with a better nature than others; and that consequently, he is not just to all mankind.  But if these two witnesses testify to you that God is just to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works; then believe them.  And if you can believe that Christ came to save sinners and not the righteous Pharisees or self-righteous; that sinners must be saved by the righteousness of Christ alone, without mixing any of their own righteousness with his, then you will see that he can as well save all as any. And there is no respect of persons with God, who will have all mankind to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, viz., that 'there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.'  And when you believe this you will enter into his rest, and when you enter into his rest you will know what that rest is, and not before.  And having gotten this evidence that God is true, be still adding to your evidence and enjoy your present assurance.  Do all to God as to your father, for his love is ten thousand times greater towards you than ever any earthly father's could be to his offspring."

    "In the next place strive for these graces most which concern your places and conditions, and strive most against those failings which most threaten you.  But above everything avoid a melancholy disposition.  That is a humor that admits of any temptation and is capable of any impression and distemper.  Shun as death this humor, which will work you to all unthankfulness against God, unlovingness to men, and unnaturalness to yourselves and one another."

    "Do not talk and make a noise to get the name of the forward men, but do the thing and do it in a way that is fair and honest, which you can live and die by and rise and reign by.  Therefore, my children, do more than you talk of, in point of religion.  Satisfy your own consciences in what you do.  All men you shall never satisfy; nay, some will not be satisfied though they be convinced."

    "AS FOR YOUR CALLINGS:  ANY HONEST CALLING WILL HONOR YOU IF YOU HONOR THAT.  IT IS BETTER TO BE A RICH COBBLER THAN A POOR MERCHANT; A RICH FARMER THAN A POOR PREACHER.  And never be discouraged, though sometimes your schemes should not succeed according to your wishes."

[The next ten paragraphs discuss other things, with but brief mention of God or religion.  The final paragraph of Asael's letter is also relevant.]

    "Sure I am my Saviour, Christ, is perfect, and never will fail in one circumstance.  To him I commit your souls, bodies, estates, names, characters, lives, deaths and all--and myself, waiting when he shall change my vile body and make it like his own most glorious body.  And I wish to leave to you everything that I have in this world but my faults, and them I take with me to the grave, there to be buried in everlasting oblivion; but leaving my virtues, if ever I had any, to revive and live in you.  Amen. So come, Lord Jesus; come quickly.  Amen.

I ask you, Rev. Wright, how is it possible that Mrs. Brodie could read this letter of Asael's and with honesty (scholarly or otherwise) conclude that he was "basically irreligious?"  I don't see how it is possible.  It can't be that she didn't read the letter, for she had to search it carefully to find the only portions that could be strip quoted in such a way as to support her "basically irreligious" position.

Given this single example of Mrs. Brodie's methods, Rev. Wright, what basis do you have for accepting ANY of her conclusions as correct and based on a proper evaluation of evidence, unless of course, you personally examine her sources to see if they really do support her conclusions?

This is only a single example of Mrs. Brodie's "scholarship" in No Man.  It is not the first, despite its occurrence early on p. 2.  Based on my own research into Brodie's sources, I believe the best evaluation of No Man... is Hugh Nibley's, which appears as the preface to the 1959 reissue of No Ma'am, That's Not History:

    "When the writer first read Mrs. Brodie's book thirteen years ago he was struck by the brazen inconsistencies that swarm in its pages, and so wrote this hasty review.  At that time he had no means of knowing that inconsistency was the least of the author's vices, and assumed with other reviewers that when she cited a work in her footnotes, she had actually read it, that when she quoted she was quoting correctly, and that she was familiar with the works in her bibliography.  Only when other investigations led the reviewer to the same sources in ensuing years did the extent of Mrs. Brodie's irresponsibility become apparent.  While a large book could (and probably should) be devoted to this remarkable monument of biographical mendacity, more than a decade of research abetted by correspondence with Mrs. Brodie's defenders has failed to discredit a single observation made in our 1946 review, which is printed here with only a few typographical errors corrected."

Mrs. Brodie's book is a marvelous example of how easy it is to fool people when those people know little or nothing about the subject, and when they are diligently looking for a non-godly explanation for Joseph Smith and the LDS church.

It is completely beyond me how anyone can defend the kind of "scholarship" demonstrated by Mrs. Brodie's use of Asael Smith's letter to "demonstrate" a view that is completely opposite to how Asael actually felt, I shake my head in wonder that a book filled with such things can be considered by anyone as the "definitive" biography of Joseph Smith.  While, as Hugh Nibley demonstrates in No Ma'am, No Man Knows My History is full of poor scholarship and downright falsehoods, this single example (which, incidentally, does NOT appear in Nibley) should be enough to demonstrate Mrs. Brodie's honesty and integrity.  And having had demonstrated to them the true nature of her honesty and scholarship, I would fail to understand how anyone claiming to be a seeker after truth could continue to promote her book, unless, of course they believed that the ends justify the means.

Malin Jacobs

Letter Two

From: "Malin Jacobs" <>
To: "Dennis A Wright" <>
Cc: "skinny" <>
Subject: SKINNY: Fawn Brodie and Asael Smith's Letter
Date: Fri, 20 Feb 1998 19:10:02

Dear Rev. Wright,

It's been about a week now, and I have not received anything from you concerning my example of Fawn Brodie's perfidy.  Have you for some reason not received the message?


Malin Jacobs

Letter Three

From: Malin Jacobs <>
To: Dennis A Wright <>
Subject: Another try with Brodie's Scholarship
Date: Sunday, March 08, 1998 7:51 PM

Dear Rev. Wright,

ON February 14, I sent you an e-mail that provided an example of Fawn M. Brodie's scholastic mendacity.  To date I have received no response, not even an acknowledgement that you received the message.  On the chance that Murphy's Law was in effect, and you never got the message, I am enclosing that message below, and am sending it to your new e-mail address.  I am truly interested in your reaction to this example of Brodie's methods.


Malin Jacobs

Letter Four

From: Dennis Wright <>
To: Malin Jacobs <>
Subject: Re: Another try with Brodie's Scholarship
Date: Monday, March 09, 1998 1:35 PM

Dear Mr. Jacobs,

Thanks for your e-mail.  I am in the middle of a computer overhaul (four machines) and I will have to postpone reading your letter until tonight.  As soon as I do, I will reply to your questions.


Dennis A Wright

Letter Five

To: "Dennis A Wright" <>
Cc: "skinny" <>
Subject: SKINNY: Brodie's use of Asael Smith's letter
Date: Mon, 9 Mar 1998 21:28:07

Dear Rev. Wright,

Thank you for acknowledging receipt of my post providing an example of Brodie's use of evidence.  I look forward to your comments about it.


Malin Jacobs

Letter Six

From: "Malin Jacobs" <>
To: "Dennis A Wright" <>
Subject: SKINNY: The Book of Mormon in the Light of Science
Date: Mon, 16 Mar 1998 23:40:34

Dear Rev. Wright,

I have just received a copy of Dr. Thomas Key's book, The Book Of Mormon In The Light Of Science. While I don't have a degree in Biology (it is not clear from the title page if Dr. Key's Ph.D, Sc.D., or Ed.D. [or perhaps all three] is in biology), as an electrical engineer with an MSEE I do know something about science.  As most of the subjects listed in the Table of Contents are outside the realm of Dr. Key's area of formal expertise, it is apparent that he does not believe it necessary to limit his comments to that area.  Consequently, he cannot fault me for discussing things that are outside my area of formal expertise.

What is important is not Dr. Key's formal credentials, but how good a job he does in finding and presenting genuine problems.  It's too bad that he didn't take the Book of Mormon more seriously when coming up with his problems.  It is also too bad he didn't bother to find out what LDS scholarship has to say on the subjects he discusses.

For instance, if you aren't embarrassed by his discussion of Book of Mormon so-called coinage, on pp. 43-44, you should be.  Dr. Key seems to be unaware that the chapter headings in the current editions of the Book of Mormon are NOT part of the text translated by Joseph Smith.  And it is only in the chapter heading of Alma 11 that the word "coin" appears.  Had Dr. Key done his homework, he would have known that this chapter heading was added by Orson Pratt in 1879 when he reorganized the chapters.  Orson Pratt erred when he assumed that Alma 11 was discussing coins.  But that is no excuse for Dr. Key, who had available to him a considerable body of LDS scholarship to draw upon, had he desired.

Dr. Key states that "v. 13 is confusing when it says 'an Onti was as great as them all.'"  This confusion arises because Dr. Key does not recognize the difference between value and weight as discussed in these verses. As Dr. Nibley states:

    "Now when Alma compares the value of different metals, he uses the expression 'equal to'" thus ' a senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold' and they both equaled a measure of barley, though of course they did not weight the same (Alma 11:7), and 'an antion of gold is equal to three shiblons' (Alma 11:19), shiblons being a silver measure (Alma 11:15).  But when he compares the value of the silver pieces among themselves, he uses a different expression: 'And an amnor of silver was as great as two senums.  And an ezrom of silver was as great as four senums, and an onti was as great as them all.' (Alma 11:11-13).  Here he is refering not to value, but 'greatness,' i.e., weight.  Naturally a senum of silver, a senine of gold and a measure of barley would not all weight the same, but are equal in value; whereas the comparative values of pieces of the same metal would be exactly proportional to their greatness or weight.  From which it would appear that the Nephites used the old-fashioned type of money."  (FARMS & Deseret Book, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 7, Since Cumorah, p. 224)

This book was first published in 1967, and was reprinted as part of the Collected Works in 1988.  (Nibley's discussion of Nephite money had actually been published some years before 1967, but 1967 is sufficiently early to nail Dr. Key for bad scholarship in either not knowing about it, or keeping relevant information from his audience if he knew.)  Had Dr. Key bothered to read the text carefully he would have noticed the difference between "equal" and "as great" and perhaps would not have been confused.  Or, if he had bothered to see what the LDS had to say about the subject, he would have read Nibley's discussion and avoided his confusion.

Concerning Dr. Key's points on P. 44:

#1.  Since the Book of Mormon doesn't talk about coinage, this point is moot.

#2.  Dr. Key doesn't like the similarity between some of the names of the monetary units and believes that they sound made up.  Well, that's his privilege, but this opinion hardly constitutes Science (with a capital S) demolishing the Book of Mormon.

#3  Dr. Key simply demonstrates his own ignorance about ancient monetary systems.  At least part of the time, Roman soldiers were paid in salt (hence the expression that someone wasn't worth his salt) and in Egypt under the Romans, inflation was measured in terms of the change in the value of wheat.  Monetary systems that included items beside precious metals have been around for a long time.

#4.  Dr. Key seems to be unaware that pre-Columbian New World barley was discovered 14 years before his 1997 "extensively revised and enlarged" fifteenth edition (See FARMS newsletter for March 1984, citing the December 1983 issue of Science 83).  About the other items on his list, based on his ignorance in the case of barley, how would Dr. Key know if they have or have not been discovered?

#5  Dr. Key sees the lack of mention of maize as a problem in a discussion of Nephite money.  The obvious solution to this delima is that maize was sufficiently plentiful that it had too low a value to be useful for money.  While in the U.S. the penny is the smallest coin, just how many of them do you carry around in your pocket?  Why don't you use them more?

Dr. Key shows on p. 43 that the values of the monetary units form a 1-2-4-7 sequence, but the significance of this sequence escapes him.  As Richard P. Smith showed in 1954, this sequence allows the user the maximum flexibility in paying for goods while carrying around the minimum number of different units of money.  The same system was used by IBM for punched card data entry for a similar reason. (See The Improvement Era 57:316-317.)

I would say that in his discussion of Book of Mormon coins, the Book of Mormon looks pretty good under the light of science.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Dr. Key.  His discussion of Book of Mormon coins joins his discussion of "Godly Grooves" as examples of anti-Mormon "scholarship."

Which brings up the question of why UMI sells the book?  Are you simply unaware of its flaws?  If so, over time perhaps we LDS can remedy this problem.

Hoping to hear from you,

Malin Jacobs

Letter Seven

From: "Malin Jacobs" <>
To: "Dennis A Wright" <>
Subject: Dr. Thomas Key and Book of Mormon Coins
Date: Tue, 17 Mar 1998 09:09:07

Dear Rev. Wright,

It seems that Dr. Key believes in getting maximum mileage out of a Book of Mormon "problem."  The issue of coins appears not only under the heading Mathematical Problems, which I discussed in my e-mail of last night, but also under the heading of Economic Problems on pp. 23-24.  This makes me wonder how many other "problem" categories will also discuss the coins of the Book of Mormon.

It appears that Dr. Key is indeed aware that the Book of Mormon text does not talk about coins, but rather about money.  However, he still thinks coins are a problem (p. 24) because

    "1.  Mormon Scriptorians obviously considered literal coins to be the proper interpretation" because of the use of the term "coin" in the chapter heading.

So?  The fact that a "coin" interpretation seemed reasonable to Orson Pratt does not constitute evidence that the text is actually referring to coins.  And taking the position that the LDS are somehow obligated to view Nephite money as coins because Orson Pratt did is hardly an example of shining the light of science on the Book of Mormon. Concerning what the Book of Mormon *means*, it is the text that rules, not the chapter headings, for which there is no claim of inspiration.

    "2.  Even if literal coins were not the intended interpretation, the description is obviously referring to monetary denominational values that are the exact equivalent of literal coins."

Rev. Wright, that statement is true of *any* monetary system.  All monetary systems have precise relative values between the various units, and such values can *always* be considered "the exact equivalent of literal coins" by one used to coinage.  Dr. Key is looking at Alma 11 through, to coin a phrase, "coin colored glasses,"

Furthermore, he is trying to create a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.  If we LDS view Alma 11 to be talking about coins, we are wrong because coins supposedly weren't used in pre-Columbian America.  If we view Alma 11 as talking about non-coin money, we are still wrong because, by golly, it sure *sounds* like Alma 11 is talking about coins, and, wouldn't you know, the Nephite monetary system can be expressed as if it were coins!  How profound!

    "3.  The Nephites were supposedly Hebrews, and were well familiar with Hebrew and other coins, so it would be most reasonable to assume that these were literal coins, and should have Hebrew names."

Really?  Perhaps Dr Key should provide some evidence once in a while.  For instance, his statement suggests that he is unfamiliar with the history of the minting of coins which, while it appears to have begun in the 7th century BC, was not adopted by the Romans until the 4th century BC. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1968 ed., Vol. 15:555). Consequently, the Jews of Lehi's day might have known of the existence of coins and still not used them.  Quoting Prof. E. G. Kraeling, Dr. Nibley points out that for a number of societies, including the Jews in 5th century BC Elephantine in Egypt, "even after the establishment of coinage, people continued to weigh out pieces of metal." (Since Cumorah, p. 224).  If he has any evidence that King Zedekiah's government minted coins, Dr. Key leaves us unenlightened, and is seemingly content with bald, unscientific assertions.

As for Hebrew names for coins, if the Jews of the 6th century BC were not using coins, why should Lehi or his descendents be expected to know their names?  Furthermore, The Book of Mormon explicitly states that the Nephites rejected the old monetary system and developed their own (Alma 11:4).  Even if the Jews of Zedekiah's time used coins, if the Nephites rejected the old system and invented a new one, why would they keep the old names?  Doing so would only generate confusion.  Better to invent new names.  BTW, in my post of yesterday I mentioned that Dr. Key thought the names of the various monetary units of the Nephites sounded made up.  I submit that the names of the units of *all* monetary systems at one time were "made up."

    "4.  Alma 11 declares that these units were all made of metal, not shells, feathers, etc.  Standardized metal objects for selling imply coins."

Well, between yesterday and today's posts I have provided you with enough evidence for you to see just how stupid that statement is.  Standardized pieces of metal were used for money long before coins were thought of, and such usage implies coins only if one can conceive of metal money strictly in terms of coins.  It would seem that this is the case for Dr. Key.

    "5.  Some Mormon scholars, when faced with the total absence of archaeological evidence of coins in the New World, claim that "coin" does not appear in the text.  But that is just their opinion.  The Mormon prophets considered the coins to be literal.  Their prophets are the experts."

The word "coin" does not appear in the Book of Mormon text.  This is not an opinion.  It is a fact.  The word "coin" only appears in the chapter heading, which is *not* part of the Book of Mormon text.  I challenge Dr. Key to find the word "coin" in the first edition of the Book of Mormon.  I'll even provide a little help.  The material in Alma 11 of present editions appears in Alma VIII (p. 251-252) of the first edition.

Also, thank you, Dr. Key, for correcting Joseph Smith, who said that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.  I submit that we LDS are in a better position to know what statements from the LDS General Authorities are prophetic statements and which are not, than any non-LDS critic.  But, then, with a single possible exception, Dr. Key has provided no such General Authority statements for us to consider.  To the best of my knowledge, the only General Authority to identify Nephite money with coins, in anything that comes close to what might be considered an official capacity, was Orson Pratt in the chapter heading he wrote for Alma 11.  And we LDS simply do not regard the chapter headings as necessarily inspired.

    "6.  The Hebrews of Judea produced literal coins, and certainly their skills would have been brought along."

Again, as for the Jews of Zedekiah's time producing coins, let Dr. Key provide the evidence that they did.  Bald assertions do not constitute shining the light of science anywhere, let alone on the Book of Mormon.

Also, I wonder if Dr. Key could go to any remote area on the Earth that had abundant gold or silver, and if HE could use the skills HE brought along to make coins.  How about you, Rev. Wright?  Making coins is a skill possessed by very few in modern society, let alone those in ancient societies.  I have enough understanding of the minting process so that, after considerable effort, involving figuring out how to make the tools to make the tools, I just *might* be able to *eventually* mint some crude coins if I had to.  But I would certainly prefer spending my time on other things, like trying to grow food to stay alive.  Why spend the time learning to make coins when perfectly good monetary systems can be devised without them?

    "7.  It is evasive to argue that Native Americans used gold filled quills, seed bead necklaces, small pieces of colored cotton, pieces of tin or copper, shells, cacao, etc.  The clear fact is that Alma 11 is describing monetary units, and as such were most impractical for their economy."

I have personally never heard any LDS "argue" (evasively or otherwise) based on the items Dr. Key mentions.  How could such an argument proceed?  I see no connection with the items mentioned in the first sentence and Alma 11. In judging the monetary units of Alma 11 as "most impractical for their economy," Dr. key implies he knows something about the Nephite economy.  If so, he has certainly failed to demonstrate that in his discussion of Alma 11.

In my post of last night I neglected to mention another piece of evidence relevant to Dr. Key's point #3 on p. 44.  Here Dr. Key is pooh-poohing the idea that non-metallic items (like grain) might be used for money.

The FARMS publication, Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992) has an interesting discussion about royally decreed monetary equivalents that parallel what is discussed in Alma 11.  Specifically mentioned are the Mesopotamian laws of Eshnunna which "established fixed silver values for oil, salt, wool, copper, sesame oil, and land, as well as prices for the services of harvesters, boatmen, and other workers." (p. 160)

Rev. Wright, it seems to me that, at least as far as the Book of Mormon monetary system and "coins" are concerned, Dr. Key doesn't have a clue when it comes to applying science to the Book of Mormon.

Do you really want to continue to try and discredit the Book of Mormon using such ridiculously poor materials?  Do you, or anybody connected with the SBC, really believe that, when confronted with this kind of nonsense we LDS will look up in stunned surprise and run to the nearest evangelical church to answer an alter call?

And if you don't think the material I have been discussing is very good, and is less than convincing to the LDS, what are the ethics of using this type of material to "inoculate" others against LDS missionaries?  Do the ends justify the means?

I'm Looking forward to your views of this material.


Malin Jacobs

P.S., I don't remember seeing any comments from you to Dr. Peterson concerning his discussion of Dr. Key's "godly grooves" argument against the Book of Mormon.  I would really like to know what you think about this.


Letter Eight

From: "Malin Jacobs" <>
To: "Dennis A Wright" <>
Subject: My e-mail about No Man Knows My History
Date: Tue, 17 Mar 1998 09:17:12

Dear Rev. Wright,

It has been about a week since you promised to reply to my post about Fawn Brodie's use of evidence in No Man Knows My History.  I was under the impression that you intended to write the reply later that evening.  Perhaps you are still having computer problems.  I know from first-hand experience how those "labor-saving" devices can chew up time.

I Hope to hear from you soon.


Malin Jacobs

Letter Nine

From: Malin Jacobs <>
To: Dennis A Wright <>
Subject: More The Book of Mormon in the Light of Science
Date: Wednesday, March 18, 1998 11:11 PM

Dear Rev. Wright,

The biggest problem in discussing Dr. Key's book is the time it takes.  You will note the length of the two messages I sent you concerning Nephite "coins."  Nonetheless, it is possible to find things that can be dealt with without writing a long article.

For instance, on p. 62 Dr. Key discusses the "problem" of Delayed Aging.  He states that Enos began to be old 179 years after his father Lehi left Jerusalem, and asks "What kind of vitamins was he taking that delayed his aging?"

This "Delayed Aging" problem is spurious.  Enos 1:25 is referring to Lehi not as the literal father of Enos, but as his ancestral father.  "...and an hundred and seventy and nine years had passed away from the time that our father Lehi left Jerusalem."  

Note the "our father," meaning not only his father, but the father of his people.

Now Jacob turned the records over to his son, Enos (Jacob 7:27), but the person who wrote the book of Enos never identified his father as Jacob.  Referring to his father, this Enos only states that "he was a just man--for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord..." (Enos 1:1)

That is, as far as The Book of Mormon text is concerned, the Enos who wrote the Book of Enos may have been another generation or two removed from Lehi from the Enos who is stated to be Jacob's son.  In other words, just as there appear to be gaps in the Biblical genealogies, The Book of Mormon may not provide complete genealogical data.  Is this unreasonable?  Hardly.  My name is Malin.  I was named after my father, Malin.  Several times people who did not know us have confused us--one of these occasions involved the IRS, despite our having different birth dates and addresses.  

It is barely possible, without a miraculous lengthening of lives, that the Enos who was the son of Jacob was also the Enos who wrote the book of Enos, and who became old 179 years after Lehi left Jerusalem.  Jacob was born several years *after* Lehi left Jerusalem (1 Nephi 18:7).  Both men would have had to live to a very old age, approaching 100, and have fathered a child while in his mid-to-late seventies.  However, it is more likely that there is a gap of at least one generation, and the person who wrote the book of Enos was Lehi's great-grandson, or possibly great-great-grandson.  

In either case, a careful reading of The Book of Mormon eliminates Dr. Key's "problem."

Malin Jacobs

Letter Ten

From: "Malin Jacobs" <>
To: "Dennis A Wright" <>
Subject: SKINNY: More on Dr. key's Opus
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1998 06:32:52

Dear Rev. Wright,

On p. 62 of Dr. Key's wonderful book we find

    "NON-CASUALTY WAR:  Alma 56:56 describes a really vicious war in which none was killed!  We need that kind!"

Dr. key doesn't read very well.  This war was not casualty-less.  Verses 50-51 describe Nephite losses as the army of Antipas was in dire circumstances while fighting the Lamanites.  Helaman's army of 2000 *fresh* *young* *strong* soldiers arrived just in time and, with the aid of Antipas' army, defeated the Lamanites.  None of Helaman's 2000 were killed.  This is not surprising as the Lamanite troops were tired from their battle with the troops of Antipas, and Helaman's army was fresh and had the advantage of surprise.

It's just amazing how Dr. Key creates "problems" where there are none.

Malin Jacobs

Letter Eleven

From: Malin Jacobs <>
To: Dennis A Wright <>
Subject: Walter Martin - Honest?
Date: Friday, March 20, 1998 8:49 PM

Dear Rev. Wright,

Several months ago Dr. Midgley sent you several posts about Walter Martin.  I believe you might be interested in my story about him.

I have attended three separate lectures by Mr. Martin.  This story is about the second.  It occurred in Oct. 1978. Martin came to the Denver area and lectured at Bear Creek Baptist church.  He was there for three nights and devoted one of them to the LDS.  He was one of the best speakers I have ever heard.  He enjoyed doing what he did, and thought well on his feet.

However, in this particular lecture he falsified evidence.  As to how I remember all this verbatim for 19 years, I wrote it down when I got home.   I also reiterated it in a letter I wrote in Nov. 1978 to a Western Americana author who was writing an anti-Mormon book.  We corresponded for awhile.

In describing Joseph Smith's history, Martin combined two events that were 9 years apart (the Zion's Camp march and a review of the Nauvoo Legion in 1844), and presented them as if they were a single event.  Joseph Smith came off looking quite silly.  Martin got lots of laughs.  However, the more important falsification occurred when he discussed the 1826 trial.  He first stated:

    "Joseph Smith was convicted of being a glasslooker on Mar. 20, 1826, and for those Mormons in the audience, I have the proof right here."

He then held up an 8-1/2 x 11 inch sheet of paper.  I was close enough to see what it was, though not close enough to read it--nobody in the audience was that close.  What he held up was a photcopy of the page of Justice Neely's bills that appears on p. 31 of the Tanners' Mormonism: Shadow or Reality.  This paper is quite distinctive, which is why I recognized it even though I was not close enough to read it.  Martin then turned to the paper and appeared to read:

    "Joseph the Glasslooker.  Guilty.  Fined $2.68."

He next turned back to the audience and said:

    "He wasn't even a good enough fraud to get a decent fine!"

At which point there was much laughter.

Rev. Wright, if you don't have Shadow or Reality you will also find a copy of this paper on p. 37 of the 1978 printing of The Maze of Mormonism.  This page in Martin is not original research by him, but a photocopy of the page from the Tanners' book.  It does not say what Martin pretended to read.  It says:

    "same vs. Joseph the glasslooker Mar 20, 1826 Misdemeanor To [or For] my fees in examination of the above cause $2.68"

Justice Neeley's entry contains no charge and no verdict.  Walter Martin converted this entry into a guilty verdict, and the Justice's fee into a fine levied against Joseph Smith.

The paper Martin held up contained the entry in typewritten form towards the bottom of the page.  I could see this from my seat, though, again, I could not read it from there.  So, Walter Martin knew what the paper said, and consequently knew he was lying when he pretended to read it.

I am an eye-and-ear-witness to those procedings.

Malin Jacobs

Letter Twelve

From: "Malin Jacobs" <>
To: "Dennis A Wright" <>
Subject: Weekly Dose of Dr. Key's Book
Date: Sat, 28 Mar 1998 14:11:52

Dear Rev. Wright,

On p. 69-70 of Dr. Key's book appears the following.  My comments are in brackets [ ].


SILKWORM MOTHS:  Silk is erroneously mentioned as being produced in the Americas at that time (1 Nephi 13:7; Alma 1:29; Ether 9:17; and 10:24).  But silkworm moths had not yet arrived.  It was Hernando Cortez who, in 1522, introduced from Spain silkworm moths and the mulberry trees upon which their larvae feed.

[Most people think of "silk" not in terms of where it comes from or how it is made, but in terms of how it looks and feels.  Alma 1:29, Ether 9:17 and 10:24 would seem to use the word in this context.  1 Nephi 13:7 is part of a vision that Nephi had.  The use of the word "silk" here is irrelevant to Dr. Key's point because Nephi, being from the old world, knew about silk in the old world context.  Nonetheless, even Nephi's context suggests how the material looks and feels rather than where it comes from or how it is made.]

Modern Mormon scholars sometimes say that perhaps "silk" referred to certain plant fibers in Mesoamerica. This defense [sic] faces several problems:

[In the context of "look and feel," the term "silk" would seem to be an appropriate term whether or not the source was silkworms or some other plant or animal.

While Dr. Key is correct in stating that silkworms eating mulberry leaves were not found in the Americas until the Spanish introduced them, he is in error in thinking that the only possibilities were "certain plant fibers."  Anthropologist Dr. John Sorenson, in his critique of the Smithsonian letter on the Book of Mormon (FARMS, 1982 -- This paper was revised in 1995, but I do not have a copy of the revision) states:

    " It is simple-mindedness to suppose automatically that the Nephites must, like the east Asians, have had silkworms eating mulberry leaves.  The early Spaniards in the New World encountered precisely this problem.  There was in fact a wild silkworm in Mexico whose spinnings were gathered by the Indians to make a terribly expensive fabric, but also fine hair from the belly of rabbits was woven into a cloth which the Spanish considered the equivalent of silk.10
    10.  I. W. Johnson, "Basketry and textiles," Handook of Middle American Indians, Robert Wauchope, et al, eds. Vol. 10, Part 1. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971, p. 312."

I have attached a WordPerfect 6.1-format file about the "wild silkworm" referred to by Dr. Sorenson.  This article was published in 1993 by the Denver Museum of Natural History.  [Museum Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring, 1993): 10-11.]

1.  Mormon prophets always placed the lands of the Nephites and Lamanites in northeastern north America, not in Central America.

[Did they?  Although this is a red herring which Dr. Key uses many times in his book, the statement is simply not true, if the word "always" is taken at face value.  Joseph Smith, then editor of the Times and Seasons, wrote the following:

    "Since our 'Extract' was published from Mr. Stephens' 'Incidents of Travel,' &c., we have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon.  Central America, or Guatamala, is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south.  The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land as will be seen from the following words in the book of Alma: -- 'And now it was only the distance of a day and half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful, and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi, and the land of Zarahemla was nearly surrounded by water:  there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.'  (See Book of Mormon 3d edition, page 280-81.)"  (Times and Seasons III, 23 (October 1, 1842): 927)

The last time I looked, Joseph Smith was considered a Prophet of the LDS church.]

2.  It would be an incorrect translation in "the most correct book of any on Earth" to call plant fibers "silk".  After all, the Bible correctly calls flax fibers "linen", not silk.

[In light of my comments on item #1, Dr. Key's item #2 would seem to be irrelevant]

3.  It would be more easily understood to use illustrations familiar to the American natives rather than to speak of those from Judea.

[How so?  Joseph Smith was rendering the Book of Mormon into (then) contemporary American English, and its readers were, for the most part, people whose native language was American English.]


You will notice that all the material I quoted was available long before Dr. Key's 1997 revision of The Book Of Mormon In The Light Of Science.

I am still looking forward to your comments on my e-mail about Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History, as well as the other items I have pointed out to you.

Malin Jacobs

Letter Thirteen

From: Malin Jacobs <>
To: Dennis A Wright <>
Subject: Fawn Brodie and Asael Smith's Letter
Date: Monday, April 06, 1998 1:43 PM

Dear Rev. Wright,

This note is just a reminder.  It has now been nearly a month since you e-mailed me indicating that you would comment on Fawn Brodie's use of Asael Smith's letter in No Man Knows My History.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Malin Jacobs

Letter Fourteen

From: Malin Jacobs <>
To: Dennis A Wright <>
Subject: More Disengenousness by Fawn Brodie
Date: Monday, April 06, 1998 8:52 PM

Dear Rev. Wright,

I am beginning to wonder if you are ever going to comment on my post showing the misuse of evidence by Fawn Brodie in the case of Asael Smith's letter to his family.  Oh, well.  It appears you believe you have better things to do with your time than comment about the way your anti-Mormon sources make their cases.

In any case, here is another example of her use of evidence.

On p. 3 of No Man appears the following, describing the circumstances of Solomon Mack (Joseph Smith's maternal grandfather):

    "But when his daughter Lucy was married, Solomon was an impecunious and rheumatic old man..."

In his autobiography, Solomon Mack states that:

    "In the fall of the year 1810, in the 76th year of my age, I was taken with the rheumatism, and confined me all winter in the most extreme pain for most of the time."  (A Narraitve of the Life of Solomon Mack..., p. 18.  The text of this work appears in Anderson, Joseph Smith's New England Heratige, p. 50.  The entire text is reproduced on pp. 33-58.)

Concerning his financial circumstances, F. L. Stewart commented on Brodie's passage as follows (Exploding the Myth About joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, House of Stewart Publications, 1967, p. 4):

    "This information is supposedly from his autobiography, A Narrative, etc."

    "Solomon Mack was born in September, 1735, which would make him only sixty years of age at the time of his daughter Lucy's marriage in January of 1796...  Nor does available information indicate that he was 'impecunious' (penniless).  He owned property, and had collected a 'large amount of money' in England, according to Lucy.  He also owned the farm where Joseph Smith was born nine years later, and even in his late seventies, published his autobiography at his own expense."

So, to create an impression ("... the migration of his [Joseph Smith's -- MJ] grandparents into Vermont is a story of disintegration not only of a family but of a whole culture."  No Man p. 1), Mrs. Brodie has moved Solomon's rheumatism back 14 years, and made him destitute, when in fact he was not.

How would you grade a paper submitted by a student if you found out he had manipulated the evidence in this manner?

Still hoping to hear from you.


Malin Jacobs

Letter Fifteen

From: "Malin Jacobs" <>
To: "Dennis A Wright" <>
Cc: "skinny" <>, "Stan D Barker" <sdbarker@[]>
Subject: Weekly Dose of Dr. Key
Date: Fri, 10 Apr 1998 21:36:45

Dear Rev. Wright,

Your continued silence is disappointing.  I really would like to see your reaction to the contents of the posts I have been sending you, especially the Fawn Brodie items.  Oh, well.

On p. 32 of Dr. Key's book, The Book of Mormon in the Light of Science appears a "problem" titled "SPEEDY OCEAN TRIP."  In this section Dr. Key ridicules the idea that it took the Jaredites 344 days to cross the ocean in their barges when they were pushed by a "furious wind."  Dr. Key states:

    "1.  ...if they [the furious winds--MJ] blew them at only a mere 10 m.p.h. for the 5,000 miles from the middle of the Mediterranean Sea to the North American east coast, it would take only 21 days, not the 344 days that v. 11 says."

There are a number of assumptions in this statement, at least some of which are unreasonable.  Before looking at the answer below, as an exercise you might try to identify some of them.  I'll provide the first one:  The distance the Jaredites traveled is unknown, because their route is unknown.  And, of course, Dr. Key insists on having them land in New England, when there is no evidence for that being their landing-place.

    "2.  In 344 days they could have made the trip 10 times."

Math isn't Dr. Key's strong suit. If the trip would only take 20.8 days (from point #1 -- Dr. Keys rounded up), then ten trips would take 208 days, not 344 days.  In 344 days the trip could have been made 16.5 times.  Perhaps those who would "shine the light of Science" on the Book of Mormon should become better acquainted with Mathematics, the King of Science.  Mathematical mistakes involving multiplications or divisions by 10 are inexcusable in any educated person, but especially in someone claiming to be a scientist.  Why didn't the proof-reader catch such an obvious mistake?  Or, was there, perhaps, no proof-reader?

    "3.  In fact, if it were possible to go around the Earth's equater of 24,902 miles at a casual 10 m.p.h., it would only require slightly under 104 days."

So?  What is there about the problem of a hypothetical circumnavigation of the globe at a constant 10 m.p.h. that has any bearing on the question of the Jaredite's trip to Southern Mexico/Central America?

    "4.  And traveling 5,000 miles in 344 days is 14.5 miles per day, hardly a furious speed.  They could have paddled faster than that!

There's that assumed 5,000 mile journey again.  Could they (including the women) have actually paddled faster than that, constantly, hour after hour, day after day?  I would think that just possibly, even the stout-hearted men of these colonizers would tire once in a while.  And since when does a "furious wind" translate into a "furious speed?"

Rev. Wright, Dr. Key here displays an abysmal ignorance of ocean travel in ancient times.  Furthermore, Dr. Key "borrowed" this issue (with slight wording changes and a couple of minor additions) without attribution, from Bob Witte, whose "42 Questions" (this is question #5 in Mr. Witte's list) were published as an appendix to Walter Martin's Maze of Mormonism.

Here is the answer Stan Barker and I wrote to this question.  It is taken from our web site,


"Furious Wind" and Jaredite Barges

This is a loaded question.  The reader is set up by the phrase "...only 10 miles per hour..."  In the late 20th century, ten miles per hour (mi/hr) seems quite slow.  Until the industrial revolution, however, ten mi/hr was quite fast, and could be achieved for only relatively short distances, by sprinters or by men on horseback, for example.

Very little is known of ship speeds in antiquity, but the following information is typical:

    "By the sixth century A.D., Arab entrepreneurs were sailing their dhows all the way from the Arabian peninsula to China.  Arab ships rode the monsoons to the Malibar coast of India, then on to Ceylon in time to catch the summer monsoon (June to September) and speed across the often treacherous Bay of Bengal, past the Nicobar Islands, through the Malacca Straits, and into the South China Sea.  From here they were able to make a quick, if risky, thirty-day run up to the main trading station at Canton in China."

    "The trip from the Arabian peninsula to China took approximately 120 days of straight sailing, or six months counting provisioning stops along the way."1

The above trip was approximately 5,000 miles in length.  If it took 120 days of sailing, the average speed was about 1.7 mi/hr.

In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl sailed a reed raft from Peru to the Tuamotu Archipelago.  The trip covered 4,300 miles in 101 days, for an average speed of about 1.7 mi/hr.2  In 1970 Heyerdahl's RA II expedition crossed 3,270 miles of the Atlantic in 55 days, for an average speed of 2.4 mi/hr.3  Heyerdahl's speeds are in general agreement with what little is known of ancient ship velocities.

The art of shipbuilding slowly improved over the centuries.  Christopher Columbus, utilizing some of the finest ships of his time, took 36 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to Watling Island in the Bahamas, a distance of just over 3,600 miles.4  His average speed was about 4.2 mi/hr.  The Mayflower took 63 days to make the approximately 3,500 miles from England to New England,5 for an average speed of about 2.3 mi/hr.

The fastest sail-power 24 hour average speed was set by the Yankee Clipper ship Lightning, which traveled 436 miles,6 for an average speed of 18.2 mi/hr.  The Yankee Clipper ship Andrew Jackson set a 15-day record for the crossing from Liverpool, England, for an average speed of 9.7 mi/hr.7  In 1973 an around-the-world racing yacht contest was held.  The winner traveled 27,120 miles in 144 days, for an average speed of about 7.9 mi/hr.8

The above examples show that while speeds of up to 18.2 mi/hr have been recorded for sailing ships, on multiple day sustained voyages even wind-power-only vessels specially designed to maximize speed have yet to reach an average speed of 10 mi/hr.

But what about the Jaredite barges?  The Book of Mormon states:

    "...and they were small, and they were light upon the water, even unto the likeness of a fowl upon the water.  And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish.9

From this description, it seems clear that the effective wind cross-section of the barges was relatively small.  This means that the barges had only a small area for the wind to push against.  Certainly they did not carry sail. Consequently, the main forces driving them were the ocean currents, which would also see a small cross-section.

Most of the time the barges would be propelled by surface currents, as light vessels could not be driven more than a few tens of feet deep under water (and that only for a relatively short time) even by hurricane-strength winds and violent seas.  The "furious" wind would generate surface water currents, which, because of inertia and friction, would move much slower than the wind.  These currents would drive the barges, which, also because of inertia and friction, would move considerably slower than the currents.

Because of the turbulence and stormy conditions of the sea, such a mode of propulsion would be extremely inefficient, with only a minute percentage of the energy expended by the wind and water going into propelling the barges toward the promised land.  In light of the long term sustained speeds of sailing vessels (both ancient and modern) discussed above, and the inherent inefficiencies associated with wind power without sails, Jaredite barge average speeds of between one and two mi/hr seem reasonable.  The ten mi/hr low-ball speed provided by the originator of the question is totally off-the-wall.

At two miles per hour, the barges would cover 16,500 miles in 344 days.  While we don't know where the Jaredites started their long voyage, and therefore don't know the distance they actually traveled by sea, we do know some possibly representative distances.  The great circle distance from China to southern Mexico is about 8,200 miles. The sum of great circles from Palestine through the Mediterranean to the Atlantic to southern Mexico yield about the same distance.  It is not reasonable to suppose that the wind and currents always flowed directly toward the promised land, as the barges would have to avoid land masses and other hazards.  Therefore, the distance traveled by the Jaredite barges would be greater than 8,200 miles, but probably less than 12,500 miles (halfway around the world on a great-circle route).

Given what is known of the speeds attained by both ancient and modern seafarers, and what we know of the construction of the Jaredite barges and their mode of propulsion, the Book of Mormon figure for the time of the Jaredite's crossing to the promised land is quite reasonable.

Earliest known Discussion:

This one.  Prior to the early 1900s the general population was sufficiently familiar with speeds of transportation to not make this an issue.  It is only in the late 20th century that many have forgotten how slow things were in earlier periods of history.


1.  Lynn and Hope Hilton, In Search of Lehi's Trail (Deseret Book, 1976), pp. 114-115.

2.  Exploration: 20th Century Triumphs, Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, 1997 ed. (Softkey Mulitmedia Corporation, 1996).

3.  Ra Expeditions, Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1997 ed. (Grolier Interactive, Inc., 1997).

4.  Richard Humble, The Explorers (Time-Life Books, 1979), p. 66.

5.  Melvin Maddocks, The Atlantic Crossing (Time-Life Books, 1981), p.20.

6.  Miles Hopkins Imlay, Rear Admiral (Ret.), Clipper Ships, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1968 Ed., Vol. 5, p. 931.

7.  Miles Hopkins Imlay, Ibid., p. 931.

8.  A. B. C. Whipple, The Racing Yachts (Time-Life Books, 1980), p. 168.

9.  Book of Mormon, Ether 2:16-17.


As I said at the beginning of my series of posts on Dr. Key's book, his formal credentials are irrelevant, as long as he spends the time and effort to learn what is necessary to deal with the problems he tackles.  Unfortunately, when it comes to science and the Book of Mormon, Dr. Key didn't.

Aren't you personally embarrassed that UMI sells this book?  As the director of UMI, whether you like it or not, Dr. Keys' poor scholarship reflects on you.


Malin Jacobs

Letter Sixteen

From: "Malin Jacobs" <>
To: "Dennis A Wright" <>
Cc: "skinny" <>, "Stan D Barker" <sdbarker@[]>
Subject: Shooting the Messenger
Date: Sun, 12 Apr 1998 12:40:03

Dear Rev. Wright,

First, let me again complement you on the tone of your letters to Dan Peterson and Louis Midgley.  I am just unhappy that I don't yet have any addressed to me that I can point to and tell my Mormon friends "See, critics (even those at the notorious UMI) can be quite pleasant and rational."

I hope you had a good Easter celebrating the resurrection of Christ and what that means for humanity.

In your message of Thursday, April 09, 1998, at 3:53 P.M. to Dr. Midgley you ended with something that appears to be a little bit of poking humor.  You commented:

    "Reminds me of Fawn McKay Brodie and the LDS Church.  Sometimes we shoot the messenger and ignore the message.  (Ouch!)."

While this statement seems to have been made in jest, perhaps it actually represents your views of Dan's, Lou's, and my posts to you about Mrs. Brodie.  Perhaps you feel that in our posts, reviews, analyses, etc. regarding No Man Knows My History we are shooting the messenger, but we have really said little or nothing about the message she was delivering -- Joseph Smith was a fraud, the Book of Mormon is fiction (likewise his other revelations and scriptural writings), and the church he founded is a false religion.  Brodie may have "humanized" Joseph Smith, and provided an explanation for his accomplishments (inadequate though it may be), but the message is that he was a fraud nonetheless.  If doesn't matter if he was a conscious fraud or not.

You would undoubtedly subscribe to that position whether or not No Man had ever been published.

I can't speak for the others, but in my case I don't expect you to reject Brodie's message -- that has not been the purpose of my posts.  That purpose has been to show you with specific examples that regardless of any accolades she may have received for her book, her work has major flaws, her scholarship is not what the non-Mormon world thinks it is, and honest and ethical critics (which you certainly seem to be), should have second (and maybe even third) thoughts about promoting it.

I have deliberately not brought up problems with how Brodie dealt historically with Joseph Smith for several reasons, the most important being that I wanted you to see how she dealt with issues not really central to her point, but which were important in setting the stage and getting her readers in the "right frame of mind" so to speak to accept her notion of Joseph Smith's background and character.  Unlike Dan and Lou, rather than deal with what other scholars think of her book, I wanted to provide you with concrete, specific examples of her methods.  I also wanted to provide you with material that would be relatively easy for you to check, if you chose to do so, which would run the minimum risk of predisposing you to reject the evidence.  I also wanted to impress on your mind just how soon in her book Mrs. Brodie started playing fast and loose with the evidence.

Yes, this is indeed shooting the messenger.  She most certainly needed shooting.  But since she is not only the messenger, but the *interpreter* of the evidence she brings to support the message, I feel it important that you understand her principles of interpretation.  If her principles of interpretation are questionable, then honest, ethical critics should not use her book to deliver the message.  To do so implies acceptance of the view that the ends justify the means.

I also wanted you to contemplate on the fact that, despite her poor scholarship and principles of evidence interpretation, she is the best the critics have got when it comes to Joseph Smith.  What (if anything) does it say about her case that she couldn't make it without resorting to outright dishonest representations of history?

I do indeed hope you are chewing on these things.


Malin Jacobs

Letter Seventeen

From: Dennis Wright <>
To: Malin Jacobs <>
Cc: skinny <>; Stan D Barker <sdbarker@[]>
Subject: RE: Shooting the Messenger
Date: Tuesday, April 14, 1998 7:08 AM

Dear Friend Malin:

I must admit that I have had little time to examine your specifics concerning Brodie.  This does not mean that I intend to ignore them --- rather I have had to put them on the back burner for a while.  In the past three weeks I have flown to Sedona Ariizona for a three day conference with our mission board, spoken in two or three other places, and preparing for an eight hour conference this weekend.  This is in addition to trying to get two newpapers to the printer by fast approaching deadlines.

In addition, I have assumed some new teaching responsibilities within my local church family due to our current lack of a pastor.  Rgis will likely continue for some period of time.  Teaching is my long suit, but preparation time is at a premium.

After this weekend, I shall attempt to look at all that you have suggested.

Question:  Since many LDS do not care for Brodie and her work on the Prophet, what is your opinion --- and current LDS opinion --- of Donna Hill and her biography?  I notice that it will soon be back in print.


Letter Eighteen

From: Malin Jacobs <>
To: Dennis Wright <>
Subject: Bodie and Hill
Date: Friday, April 17, 1998 11:50 AM

Dear Rev. Wright, or should I call you Dennis?

> Dear Friend Malin:

> I must admit that I have had little time to examine your specifics >
> concerning Brodie.

Thanks for responding.  After bugging you for a response, I'm a little embarrassed to have taken several days to respond to you.  I've been very busy this last week and this is the first chance I have had to respond since receiving your message several days ago.  While I know you'll be terribly disappointed, I might not even have time to send my weekly dose of Dr. key.  <grin>

> This does not mean that I intend to ignore them ---
> rather I have had to put them on the back burner for a while.  In the
> past three weeks I have flown to Sedona Ariizona for a three day
> conference with our mission board, spoken in two or three other
> places, and preparing for an eight hour conference this weekend.
> This is in addition to trying to get two newpapers to the printer by
> fast approaching deadlines.

> In addition, I have assumed some new teaching responsibilities
> within my local church family due to our current lack of a pastor.
> Rgis will likely continue for some period of time.  Teaching is my
> long suit, but preparation time is at a premium.

That's a pretty busy schedule.  Just remember, "All work and no play..."

> After this weekend, I shall attempt to look at all that you have 
> suggested.

I look forward to your comments.

> Question:  Since many LDS do not care for Brodie and her work on
> the Prophet, what is your opinion --- and current LDS opinion --- of
> Donna Hill and her biography?  I notice that it will soon be back in
> print.

I don't know that the LDS church leadership has a position on Hill's biography, though individual leaders might.  I'm pretty sure that Drs. Peterson and Midgley have opinions of her work.

Its been quite a few years since I read Hill, so I don't remember many specifics.  My opinion is that if one is going to have a secular history of Joseph Smith, hers is probably about as good as one is likely to get.  The key to that opinion is the word "secular."  Modern history writing, just as modern science, does not recognize the supernatural as an explanation for real phenomena.  While it is OK to discuss the faith claims of religious persons, and how such claims influenced the thought and behaviour of people, it is not OK for a "real" historian to actually posit God as the explanation for anything.  Someone's belief in God can be used as an explanation, but God himself cannot.  Yesterday Ron Helfrich made the following comment in an ongoing web discussion of what is and is not a proper perspective for historians, especially those dealing with the LDS church:

    " Since the historical enterprise is based on empirical evidence and the interpretation of that empirical evidence, faith propositions are outside the historical ken. That does not mean we can't discuss culture, in this case the faith beliefs of our subjects, it simply means we can't say that the Mormon Church is the one true Church, etc."

Likewise, such an approach cannot regard as an actual occurrance such a thing as Joseph Smith's First Vision.  There is no "empirical evidence" for such things.  Joseph Smith's own word cannot be taken as anything more than evidence for what he thought happened, which the proper historian is bound to explain is some other manner (if you believe, or can't find evidence that, he wasn't simply inventing the story).

Unlike Brodie, Hill did not strike me as "out to get" Joseph Smith, and that's a definite plus.

Since I accept that Joseph Smith did have his First Vision, Moroni did actually visit him, and the Book of Mormon is actual history, I view any attempt to explain the LDS church that refuses to consider these things as real possibilities as doomed to failure.  Modern scholarship removes the correct answer from the realm of possible answers before the question is asked.

In a way, and even though I do it myself, I find it amusing that those who do regard God as real and that if he wishes he can indeed provide direct input into the world through such things as visions and miracles, try so hard to explain everything naturalistically.


Letter Nineteen

From: Malin Jacobs <>
To: Dennis A Wright <>
Subject: Another Dose of Dr. Key
Date: Friday, May 01, 1998 9:59 PM

Dear Dennis,

On p. 76 of Dr. Key's book, The Book of Mormon in the Light of Science appears the following statement:

    "1. Many Bible scholars would find the Jaredites' (even though non-Hebrew) relishing of swine as "useful to Man" as being a serious problem."

Why would they, since, as Dr. Key acknowledges, the Jaredites were non-Hebrew?


If you are wondering where the rest of the correspondence is, Rev. Wright never responded.  Yet, UMI goes on publishing their newsletter with reckless abandon, giving the impression that they are building up strong evidence against The Book of Mormon, but they not really dealing with more than adequate responses.  We await in earnest Rev. Wright's responses to the above.