Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet

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Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet
Author Dan Vogel
Subject Joseph Smith
Publisher Signature Books
Publication date
Pages 715 pp.
ISBN ISBN 978-1-56085-179-0
OCLC 54079485

Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet is a biography of the formative years of the founder of Mormonism written by Dan Vogel.[1] The book covers the period of Smith’s life up until 1831. Vogel casts Smith in the role of a magician, who perhaps believes in his own ability to perform magic while using fraud to support his position: a charlatan that came to believe that he was called of God. The author assumes Smith to be the author of the Book of Mormon and takes the position that the book may be used as a "primary source document" that represents a reflection of Smith’s own life. Events portrayed in the Book of Mormon are compared to specific events in Smith’s life to illustrate similarities and to deduce Smith’s thoughts and aspirations during these periods.

Overview of the book[edit]

Vogel’s stated purpose in the book is to integrate various pieces of information to explain Smith’s complex personality, particularly the opposing perceptions that Smith was a “man of God” and a “fraud who exploited his followers for his own purposes.”[2] The author proposes that Smith was a “pious deceiver” or “sincere fraud,” although the author states that he applies the term fraud when describing only some of Smith’s activities. Vogel states that “Smith believed he was called of God, yet occasionally engaged in fraudulent activities to preach God’s word as effectively as possible.” The portrayal of Smith as actually being religious is contrasted with the irreligious portrayal of him presented by Fawn Brodie in her 1945 biography of Smith No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet. Vogel states that previous authors who have attempted to describe Smith’s motives do not go far enough to “explore the inner moral conflicts of an individual who deceives in God’s name while holding sincere religious beliefs.” [3] The author states that “No biographer is completely free of bias. As is no doubt apparent, my inclination is to interpret any claim of the paranormal-precognition, clairvoyance, telekinesis, telepathy-as delusion or fraud.” [4] Regarding Smith’s role as a prophet, the author states that Smith was not acting in a malicious or selfish manner, but instead was attempting to elevate others in order to elevate himself.[5]

Smith as a treasure seeker[edit]

Vogel states that he believes that the significance of treasure seeking in Smith’s early life deserves greater emphasis than has been given in previous biographies, and presents Smith as “a leader among the treasure seers of Manchester, New York.” [6] Regarding these activities, it is suggested that “Smith was both convinced of his ability and also deceptive” and that [7] “Smith may have believed himself to be inspired and may have at times heard voices or experienced visions but still used some deception to convince others.” [8] In order to support the thesis of Smith’s primary focus in life being treasure hunting, the author makes extensive use of the Hurlbut affidavits originally published in E. D. Howe’s exposé Mormonism Unvailed and other early anti-Mormon publications.[9]

The Book of Mormon as a representation of Smith’s life[edit]

Vogel considers the Book of Mormon and Smith’s revelations as valid “primary sources” which may be used to deduce his state of mind, thoughts and dreams as a reflection of environmental and cultural influences.[10] Some specific comparisons are:

  • The rivalry between Nephi and his older brothers Laman and Lemuel represents a rivalry between Smith and his brothers. The author states that although “neither Joseph nor his mother spoke of this rivalry,” the description of sibling rivalry as a theme in the Book of Mormon makes the possibility of such a rivalry “impossible to ignore.”[11]
  • The incident in which Nephi breaks his steel bow and subsequently successfully locates food (1 Nephi 16:18-23) is stated to be a fantasy that Smith might have had in his own thoughts.[12]
  • The abduction of the Lamanites daughters by the wicked priests of King Noah (Mosiah 20:1-5) is said to represent Smith's elopement with his wife Emma.
  • Abinadi's absence from King Noah's domain for two years is said to represent Smith's absence from Harmony, Pennsylvania.[13]
  • Jacob’s criticism of the Nephites for having multiple wives (Jacob 2:31-35) is said to represent Smith criticizing his father, whom the author speculates was unfaithful.
  • Amalikiah’s poisoning of Lehonti in order to become the king of the Lamanites (Alma 47:18) is suggested to represent the death of Smith’s older brother Alvin, whom the author speculates died of poisoning.

LDS response[edit]

Response to the book from LDS reviewers has focused on the author’s methods of defining which source documents deserved consideration. Critics state that the author preferred second and third-hand sources over eye-witness sources, and that Smith’s own words were rarely used.[14] Also noted is the fact that a large number of interviews relied upon in the sources occurred fifty or more years after the events described.[15] Using the Lorenzo Saunders interview as an example, the author responds to this criticism by stating that his use of this source “was selective and limited to the most reliable parts of his testimony.”[16]

The author, in a detailed rebuttal to the LDS reviews, acknowledges that he is presenting his own version of Joseph Smith, just as other authors have presented their versions of Smith.[17]


  1. ^ Vogel was awarded the "Turner-Bergera Best Biography" award by the Mormon History Association in May 2005. The John Whitmer Historical Association awarded him its Best Book award in September 2004.
  2. ^ Vogel 2004, p. vii
  3. ^ Vogel 2004, p. viii
  4. ^ Vogel 2004, p. xii
  5. ^ Vogel 2004, p. 567 note 8
  6. ^ Vogel 2004, p. ix
  7. ^ Vogel 2004, p. xi
  8. ^ Vogel 2004, p. xii
  9. ^ Hedges Dawson, p. 219 Hedges and Dawson state that for “the vast majority of treasure-hunting expeditions Joseph is accused of having headed up, he is not—according to the person relating the story—even present!”
  10. ^ Vogel 2004, p. xviii
  11. ^ Vogel 2004, p. 575
  12. ^ Vogel 2004, p. 137 Vogel states "In fantasy, it was perhaps a role Joseph had played out in his own mind countless times.”
  13. ^ Goff 2005 Goff notes that in this instance that the author “fabricates his comparison out of a mistaken chronology—his mistake.”
  14. ^ Hedges Hedges, p. 206 “The subject’s own recitals and explanations of his experiences should be the foundation upon which the biographer reconstructs the person’s life and should carry far more weight with the historian trying to get inside his subject’s head than any secondhand account or, worse yet, any theory of interpretation.” “These other sources have their place, but to favor them over the subject’s personal statements—even though (or perhaps because) they agree with one’s own biases—is to obscure rather than to understand the individual whose life and thought is under scrutiny.”
  15. ^ Hedges Hedges “Lorenzo Saunders, for example, who was interviewed in 1884—more than fifty years after the fact…The same holds for interviews with a host of others…Vogel even uses an 1899 statement from George W. Schwiech, grandson of David Whitmer, to reconstruct the nature of the three witnesses’ experience!"
  16. ^ Vogel 2005
  17. ^ Vogel 2005 " True, it is Vogel's Joseph Smith. But it's also Bushman's Joseph Smith, Brodie's Joseph Smith, Donna Hill's Joseph Smith, and Robert Remini's Joseph Smith. There is no getting around it. A biographer can try to hide behind neutral language, but he is always present, even when quoting his subject.”


External links[edit]