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A Faith-Promoting Book
on June 8, 2014
Richard Bushman identifies himself as a practicing Mormon in his introduction of Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism. Naturally, this would tip the reader off to expect Bushman's work to be bias towards Mormonism. Indeed, Bushman's bias leads him to incorporate Mormon apologetics, blunt omission of facts, and deceitful implications into his work.
An example of Bushman's use of Mormon apologetics is his depiction of the First Vision. Joseph Smith recorded four versions of the First Vision, one in 1832, '35, '38, and '42. Each version differed from the other and some differences were on very significant points. In his presentation of the First Vision, Bushman rationalizes the variance among the versions saying: "In 1832 he [Joseph Smith] explained the vision as he must have first understood it ... [i]n actuality there was more in the vision than he first understood ... certain aspects took on an importance they did not possess at first" Here Bushman indirectly acknowledges the differences in the versions but implies that the information added on to later versions were actually present but not written down because Joseph Smith did not understand their importance at that time. Bushman deceptively presents Smith's First Vision as harmonious when in actuality it is four versions that do not agree with each other on significant points.
An example of Bushman's blunt omission of facts and deceitful implications can be found in his narrative of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon. Bushman's description leads the reader to believe that Joseph Smith translated the plates by some logical process of translation: "There was no problem with the plates because Joseph looked in the seerstone or the interpreters, and the plates lay covered on the table." Bushman omits the fact that Joseph Smith had his head in a hat during the entire translating process. Indeed, Bushman's depiction of the translation of the text tells the reader almost nothing about the actual translation process at all.
Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism is a whitewashed presentation of Mormon history. Although Bushman does not avoid the unsightly happenings of Mormonism's origins, he processes and frames them to minimize their aversive nature to Mormonism. This book is a faith-promoting work askew from objectivity.