No Man Knows My History
|Author||Fawn McKay Brodie|
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|1945; revised ed. 1971|
|Pages||576 (1971 ed.)|
|289.3/092 B 20|
|LC Class||BX8695.S6 B7 1995|
No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith is a 1945 book by Fawn M. Brodie, one of the first significant non-hagiographic biographies of Joseph Smith, the progenitor of the Latter Day Saint movement.
No Man Knows My History has never been out of print, and 60 years after its first publication, its publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, continues to sell about a thousand copies annually. For a revised edition released in 1971, Brodie added a supplement incorporating psychohistorical commentary. In 1995, Utah State University (USU) marked the 50th anniversary of the book's first publication by hosting a symposium to re-examine the book, its author, and her methods, and in 1996 USU published the symposium papers as a book of essays.
No Man Knows My History was influential in the development of Mormon history as a scholarly field, though historians of Mormonism have since criticized the book for its methodological deficiencies, factual errors, and overt hostility to Smith.
Reared in Utah in a respected, if impoverished, family of Latter-day Saints, Brodie drifted away from religion during her graduate studies in literature at the University of Chicago. Having found temporary employment at the Harper Library, Brodie began researching the origins of Mormonism as a biographical study of Joseph Smith. The writing of the biography was slowed by the birth of her first child and by three rapid moves to follow her husband's career, but in 1943, Brodie entered a 300-page draft of her book in a contest for the Alfred A. Knopf literary fellowship; and in May, the publisher judged her application to be the best of the 44 entries.
Other scholars of Mormonism enlarged and critiqued Brodie's research, most notably Dale Morgan, who became a lifelong friend, mentor, and sounding board. Brodie finally completed her biography of Smith in 1944, and Knopf published it in 1945, when Brodie was 30 years old.
Perspective on Smith
In No Man Knows My History, Brodie presented the young Smith as a good-natured, lazy, extroverted, and unsuccessful treasure seeker, who, in an attempt to improve his family's fortunes, first developed the notion of golden plates and then the concept of a religious novel, the Book of Mormon. This book, she asserts, was based in part on an earlier work, View of the Hebrews, by a contemporary clergyman, Ethan Smith. While previous "naturalistic approaches to Joseph's visions had explained them through psychological analysis", regarding Smith as honest but deluded, Brodie instead interpreted him as having been deliberately deceptive. In No Man Knows My History, Brodie depicts Smith as having been a deliberate impostor, who at some point, in nearly untraceable steps, became convinced that he was indeed a prophet—though without ever escaping "the memory of the conscious artifice" that created the Book of Mormon. Jan Shipps, a preeminent non-LDS scholar of Mormonism who rejects this theory, nevertheless called No Man Knows My History a "beautifully written biography ... the work of a mature scholar [that] represented the first genuine effort to come to grips with the contradictory evidence about Smith's early life."
Although Brodie's analysis of Smith has sometimes been termed psychobiography or psychohistory, she did not gain a reputation as a psychohistorian until later in life, and she denied the presence of psychohistory in No Man Knows My History "except by inadvertence." In 1971, Brodie added a supplement to the book that engaged more directly—though still somewhat sparingly—in psychoanalysis, revising her earlier portrayal of Smith from a deliberate charlatan to a conflicted person torn by unconscious internal dissonance in a "personality disorder" that nevertheless defied clinical models.
Upon its publication, Dale Morgan called Brodie's first book the "finest job of scholarship yet done in Mormon history and perhaps the outstanding biography in several years—a book distinguished in the range and originality of its research, the informed and searching objectivity of its viewpoint, the richness and suppleness of its prose, and its narrative power." For decades afterward, No Man Knows My History enjoyed broad acceptance. In 1971, Latter-day Saint historian Marvin S. Hill observed that at the time, "most professional American historians" regarded the book "as the standard work on the life of Joseph Smith." By 1995, although four other book-length studies of Joseph Smith had been produced, none achieved as much prominence as No Man Knows My History.
In 1995, Utah State University sponsored a symposium to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of No Man Knows My History during which scholars reflected on the book's contributions to Mormon studies.
In his 2005 biography of Smith titled Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman noted that Brodie's "biography was acknowledged by non-Mormon scholars as the premier study of Joseph Smith," and he called Brodie "the most eminent of Joseph Smith's unbelieving biographers." In 2007, Bushman observed Knopf still sold about a thousand copies of No Man Knows My History annually and noted Brodie had "shaped the view of the Prophet for half a century. Nothing we have written has challenged her domination. I had hoped my book would displace hers, but at best it will only be a contender in the ring, whereas before she reigned unchallenged." However, historian Laurie Maffly-Kipp, who is not Mormon, described Brodie's No Man Knows My History as having been "the 'go to' book on Smith's life" for "most historians" until Rough Stone Rolling displaced it as a "definitive account" of Smith.
Upon its 1945 release, one of the book's earliest critics was Vardis Fisher, a prolific novelist and former Latter-day Saint. In his review for the New York Times, Fisher approved of Brodie's "painstaking" work and praised her "excellent analysis of the early appeal of Mormonism," but he was unconvinced of Brodie's theory that Smith was a self-interested fraud and accused her of pursuing the idea overzealously, writing, "she has a thesis, and she rides it hard." Fisher also criticized Brodie's willingness to "give the content of a mind or to explain motives which at best can only be surmised," making No Man Knows My History "almost more a novel than a biography."
Although scholars of American history for decades considered No Man Knows My History the quintessential biography of Joseph Smith, historians of Mormonism were more critical as early as 1945. A common criticism was that the book's portrayal of Smith as irreligious was fundamentally at odds with the spiritual nature of Smith's personal writings, public discourse, and scriptural production, including the Book of Mormon. Additionally, No Man Knows My History claimed people's interest in and conversion to Mormonism was the result of Smith's charisma and a conjectured "unconscious but positive talent at hypnosis." However, attributing conversions to hypnosis and charisma neglected the broader religious context of nineteenth-century America and failed to account for Mormons who converted or stayed committed in Smith's absence. Historian Marvin S. Hill hypothesized that "general cynicism toward religion among many intellectuals" in the 1940s may have prompted Brodie's characterization of Smith.
Brodie's handling of primary sources also drew criticism. For example, No Man Knows My History references Smith's official history as if it is a primary source written or dictated by him, but historians discovered that most of Smith's official history was actually adapted from other sources, such as the diaries of George A. Smith and Willard Richards, and only rendered by scribes as if it were in Smith's first-person voice. Historians also noted that Brodie had not used any material from the LDS Church archives.
Scholars also echoed Fisher's critique of No Man Knows My History's reliance on unsourced and speculative depictions of historical figures' inner thoughts. Although Brodie's literary style invited reader's to feel sympathy for and identify with people portrayed in the book, critics said it relied on guesswork and sometimes outright invention of what someone may have been thinking or feeling. According to psychologist Charles Cohen, this approach "undercut the history."
Brodie's use of psychoanalysis in her 1971 supplement has been criticized as incomplete and inconsistent with evidence of Smith's positive upbringing and healthy relationships with his parents. Additionally, as time passed scholars increasingly questioned psychohistory's legitimacy in general. Psychohistory has been called pseudoscientific, and Hugh Trevor-Roper criticized psychohistorians for deriving "their facts from their theories," thereby putting "facts... at the mercy of theory."
In No Man Knows My History, Brodie hypothesized that Smith had fathered five children through polygamous relationships: Oliver Buell, Orson Washington Hyde, Frank Henry Hyde, John Reed Hancock, and Moroni Pratt. In the 2000s, the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, using Y-DNA testing, excluded Smith as the father of Buell, Hancock, and Pratt. Frank Henry Hyde's recorded date of birth precludes Smith's paternity, and whether or not Smith fathered Orson Washington Hyde has neither been proved nor disproved.
At the 1995 USU symposium, scholars praised Brodie's work and accomplishments but generally agreed that No Man Knows My History made questionable interpretations, misused evidence, and had factual errors. According to one analysis, approximately 37% of the book's claims are erroneous and another 40% are questionable interpretations, the result of a mix of conjecture, statements made without citation, and uncritical use of hostile primary sources.
The significance and ground-breaking nature of Brodie's work is generally acknowledged within Mormon studies, and No Man Knows My History influenced the field in several lasting ways. For example, the book thoroughly disproved the hypothesis that the Book of Mormon was based on a novel manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding. Brodie also rejected earlier academic hypotheses that Smith was epileptic or paranoid and instead depicted Smith as rational and thoughtful. The interpretation of Smith as possessing all his faculties spread and persisted in scholarly studies of Mormonism. Also significantly, No Man Knows My History raised awareness of Smith's and Mormons' participation in politics and the resultant political dimension of both Mormon and anti-Mormon activities.
No Man Knows My History also contributed to the development of a more open-minded approach to church history among Mormon scholars. Historian Marvin S. Hill urged future scholars to avoid extremes in studies of Joseph Smith and instead find a middle ground between hagiography and cynicism. Some believed the book marked a turning point from "old" to "new" Mormon history, shifting the field away from polemical supports for or attacks on faith and toward objectively understanding events in a search for truth.
In 1971, Hill wrote:
[No Man Knows My History] has had tremendous influence upon informed Mormon thinking, as shown by the fact that whole issues of B.Y.U. Studies and Dialogue have been devoted to considering questions on the life of the Mormon prophet raised by Brodie. There is evidence that her book has had strong negative impact on popular Mormon thought as well, since to this day in certain circles in Utah to acknowledge that one has "read Fawn Brodie" is to create doubts as to one's loyalty to the Church.
Other scholars in the history of Mormonism have expressed concern over Brodie's long-lasting influence as unhealthy for the field of Mormon studies. In 1995, Roger D. Launius wrote, "The degree to which Mormon historiography has been shaped by the long shadow of Fawn Brodie since 1945 is both disturbing and unnecessary," and he worried that scholars' preoccupation with either disproving or supporting No Man Knows My History "stunt[ed]" the field by narrowing its focus to topics explored in the book. In 2005, Cohen echoed this concern.
In the years since No Man Knows My History, various historians of Mormonism have posited a range of interpretations of Smith, generally all affirming Smith's religiousness. In 1998, non-Mormon Dan Vogel agreed with Brodie that Smith deceived others but posited him as a "pious deceiver" who lied in order to impel people toward repentance and faith in God. In his 2005 book Rough Stone Rolling, historian Richard Bushman, a Mormon, sought to challenge the popularity of No Man Knows My History by studying Smith's cultural context and sympathetically understanding him as an accomplished but contradictory person. In 2014, religious studies scholar Ann Taves, who is not Mormon, proposed a naturalistic model of Smith that nevertheless rejected the idea of fraudulence, instead interpreting Smith as a "skilled perceiver" who, with the assistance of other believers, manifested a new religious reality they mutually and sincerely believed in. In 2020, William L. Davis similarly posed a naturalistic model while still interpreting Smith as sincerely religious without deception.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Although No Man Knows My History questioned many common Mormon beliefs and portrayals of Joseph Smith, the work was not immediately condemned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), even as the book went into a second printing. In 1946, the Improvement Era, an official periodical of the church, claimed that many of the book's citations arose from doubtful sources and that the biography was "of no interest to Latter-day Saints who have correct knowledge of the history of Joseph Smith." The Church News section of the Deseret News provided a lengthy critique that acknowledged the biography's "fine literary style" but denounced it as "a composite of all anti-Mormon books that have gone before." Brodie's most notable Mormon critic, BYU professor Hugh Nibley, published a scathing 62-page pamphlet entitled No, Ma'am, That's Not History, asserting that Brodie had cited sources supportive only of her conclusions while conveniently ignoring others. Brodie considered Nibley's pamphlet to be "a well-written, clever piece of Mormon propaganda" but dismissed it as "a flippant and shallow piece." The church formally excommunicated Brodie in June 1946 for apostasy, citing her publication of views "contrary to the beliefs, doctrines, and teachings of the Church."
Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Shortly after the release of No Man Knows My History, leaders of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS; now called Community of Christ) warned Brodie they would sue her, though the Standard-Examiner describes these as having been "empty threats." In 1966, RLDS scholar and member Robert B. Flanders disapproved of the book's uncritical use of 19th-century anti-Mormon literature and criticized Brodie's "zeal to create the grand and ultimate expose of Mormonism." Nevertheless, Flanders also recognized Brodie's "painstaking" research and considered the book "transitional" in the field shift from "old" to "new" Mormon history because it possessed elements of both.
- Kammen 1997, pp. 20–21.
- Bringhurst 1999, p. 80.
- Bringhurst 1999, pp. 80–86. Morgan twice critiqued Brodie's manuscript with "alarming frankness" convincing Brodie that what she had already written read too much like an exposé, and "in general, Morgan was much more incisive and penetrating in his critique than the Knopf panel had been in awarding Brodie her fellowship. The difference was that Morgan knew Mormon history and the Knopf readers did not." After publication of No Man Knows My History, Morgan (probably unwisely) wrote for Saturday Review of Literature a glowing review of a book in whose production he had played a central role.
- Bringhurst 1999, pp. 96–97.
- Turner, John G. (October 2021). "Sincerity, Imagination, and Mythmaking: Fawn Brodie and the First Vision". Journal of Mormon History. 47 (4): 95–109 – via JSTOR.
- Shipps 2000, p. 165.
- Shipps, Jan (September 2007). "Richard Lyman Bushman, the Story of Joseph Smith and Mormonism, and the New Mormon History". Journal of American History. 94 (2): 498–516 – via JSTOR.
- Stephenson, Shirley E. (Summer 1981). "Fawn McKay Brodie: An Oral History Interview". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 14 (3): 99–116.
- Cohen, Charles L. (January 2005). "No Man Knows My Psychology: Fawn Brodie, Joseph Smith, and Psychoanalysis". BYU Studies Quarterly. 44 (1) – via BYU ScholarsArchive.
- Saturday Review of Literature, 28 (November 28, 1945), 7-8.
- Hill, Marvin S. (Winter 1972). "Brodie Revisited: A Reappraisal". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 7 (4): 72–85.
- Bringhurst, Newell (1996). "Applause, Attack, and Ambivalence: Varied Responses to No Man Knows My History". In Bringhurst, Newell (ed.). Reconsidering No Man Knows My History: Fawn M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect. Logan: Utah State University. pp. 39–59. ISBN 0874212146 – via Internet Archive.
- Bringhurst, Newell G., ed. (1996). Reconsidering No Man Knows My History: Fawn M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect. Logan: Utah State University Press. ISBN 0874212146. JSTOR j.ctt46nwv5 – via Internet Archive.
- Bushman 2005, pp. 58, 91.
- Bushman 2005, p. 4, 102.
- Underwood, Grant; Stout, Harry S.; Wood, Gordon S.; Kelly, Catherine; Maffly-Kipp, Laurie; Bushman, Richard Lyman (Fall 2011). "A Retrospective on the Scholarship of Richard Bushman" (PDF). Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 44 (3): 1–43. "Fawn Brodie’s work, first published over sixty years ago, has until now [after the publication of Rough Stone Rolling] been the 'go to' book on Smith's life by most historians outside of the LDS Church" (31). Maffly-Kipp describes "Rough Stone Rolling as the definitive account... on Joseph Smith’s life and legacy" (29).CS1 maint: postscript (link)
- Fisher, Vardis (November 25, 1945). "Mormonism and Its Yankee Prophet". Book Review. New York Times. p. 5.
- Shipps, Jan (1974). "The Prophet Puzzle: Suggestions Leading Toward a More Comprehensive Interpretation of Joseph Smith". Journal of Mormon History. 1: 3–20. JSTOR 23285878 – via JSTOR.
- Arrington, Leonard (Spring 1966). "Scholarly Studies of Mormonism in the Twentieth Century". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 1 (1): 15–32.
- Hill, Marvin S. (March 1974). "Secular or Sectarian History? A Critique of No Man Knows My History". Church History. 43 (1): 78–96. doi:10.2307/3164082. JSTOR 3164082 – via JSTOR.
- Vogel, Dan (Fall 1998). "'The Prophet Puzzle' Revisited". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 31 (3): 125–140.
- Van Wagoner, Richard S. (July–August 1982). "Fawn M. Brodie: The Woman and Her History" (PDF). Sunstone.
- Anderson, Lavina Fielding (1996). "Literary Style in No Man Knows My History: An Analysis". In Bringhurst, Newell (ed.). Reconsidering No Man Knows My History: Fawn M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. pp. 127–153. ISBN 9780874212143.
- Lynn, Hunt (2002). "Psychology, Psychoanalysis, and Historical Thought". In Kramer, Lloyd; Maza, Sara (eds.). A Companion to Western Historical Thought. Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 337–356. ISBN 9780631217145.
- Shepherd, Michael (June 1978). "Clio and Psyche: the Lessons of Psychohistory". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 71 (6): 406–412. doi:10.1177/014107687807100604. PMC 1436484. PMID 359805.
- Trevor-Roper, Hugh (February 18, 1973). "Re-inventing Hitler". The Arts. The Sunday Times. p. 35.
- Brodie 1945, pp. 441, 460, 464, 484.
- Perego, Ugo A.; Ekins, Jayne E.; Woodward, Scott R. (2008). "Resolving the Paternities of Oliver N. Buell and Mosiah L. Hancock through DNA". John Whitmer Historical Association. 28: 128–136. JSTOR 43200447 – via JSTOR.
- De Groote, Michael (July 9, 2011). "DNA Solves a Joseph Smith Mystery". Deseret News. Retrieved April 22, 2021.
- Perego, Ugo A.; Myres, Natalie M.; Woodward, Scott R. (Fall 2005). "Reconstructing the Y-Chromosome of Joseph Smith: Genealogical Applications". Journal of Mormon History. 31 (2): 42–60. JSTOR 23289931 – via JSTOR.
- * For Oliver N. Buell, see Perego, Ugo A.; Ekins, Jayne E.; Woodward, Scott R. (2008). "Resolving the Paternities of Oliver N. Buell and Mosiah L. Hancock through DNA". John Whitmer Historical Association Journal. 28: 128–136. JSTOR 43200447 – via JSTOR.
- For John Reed Hancock, see De Groote, Michael (July 9, 2011). "DNA solves a Joseph Smith mystery". Deseret News. Retrieved April 22, 2021.
- For Moroni L. Pratt, see Perego, Ugo A.; Myers, Natalie M.; Woodward, Scott R. (Fall 2005). "Reconstructing the Y-Chromosome of Joseph Smith, Jr.: Genealogical Applications". Journal of Mormon History. 32 (2): 42–60. JSTOR 23289931.
- Gitschier, Jane (January 13, 2009). "Inferential Genotyping of Y Chromosomes in Latter-Day Saints Founders and Comparison to Utah Samples in the HapMap Project". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 84 (2): 251–258. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2009.01.018. PMC 2668019. PMID 19215731.
Of particular note, during revision of this manuscript, I was informed by Scott Woodward and Ugo Perego of SMGF that they had previously reported a haplotype, involving a subset of the markers described herein, for Joseph Smith [Jr.] in a Mormon historical journal; the haplotype they reported is identical to the consensus prediction herein.
- Hales, Brian; Hales, Laura Harris. "Allegations of Joseph's Paternity". Joseph Smith's Polygamy. Retrieved April 22, 2021.
- "No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith". FAIR Answers. FAIR. Retrieved April 22, 2021.
- Launius, Roger D. (1996). "From Old to New Mormon History: Fawn Brodie and the Legacy of Scholarly Analysis of Mormonism". Reconsidering No Man Knows My History: Fawn M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect. Logan: Utah State University Press. pp. 195–233. ISBN 9780874212051 – via Internet Archive.
- Quinn, D. Michael (Summer 2006). "Biographers and the Mormon "Prophet Puzzle": 1974 to 2004". Journal of Mormon History. 32 (2): 226–245 – via DigitalCommons@USU.
- Bushman 2005, pp. xxi–xxii.
- Taves, Ann (2014). "History and the Claims of Revelation: Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Golden Plates". Numen. 61 (2/3): 182–207. doi:10.1163/15685276-12341315 – via eScholarship.
- Davis, William L. (2020). Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9781469655659.
- Park, Benjamin E. (May 25, 2020). "Recasting the Origins of the Book of Mormon". Benjamin E. Park. Retrieved April 23, 2021.
- Bushman, Richard Lyman; Jessee, Dean C. "Joseph Smith and His Papers: An Introduction". The Joseph Smith Papers. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
- Bushman 2007, p. 102.
- Bringhurst 1999, p. 107. "Latter-day Saint spokesmen, official and otherwise, were extremely slow to comment publicly on No Man Knows My History. Various Mormon publications, most prominently the Deseret News, the Salt Lake City-based daily newspaper owned and operated by the LDS Church, declined to review, or even to acknowledge the book's existence for months after its release."
- Bringhurst 1999, p. 110. This review was soon reprinted as a pamphlet and missionary tract.
- Nibley, Hugh W., No, Ma'am, That's Not History, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, archived from the original on 2013-06-18, retrieved 2013-02-20
- Bringhurst 1999, p. 111.
- Gibson, Doug (April 20, 2014). "With Fawn McKay Brodie, There Was Little Neutrality Among Mormons". Standard-Examiner. Retrieved April 25, 2021.
- Flanders, Robert B. (Fall 1966). "Writing the Mormon Past". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 1 (3): 47–62.
- Flanders, Robert B. (Spring 1974). "Some Reflections on the New Mormon History". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 9 (1): 34–41.
- Bringhurst, Newell G. (1999). Fawn McKay Brodie: A Biographer's Life. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806131810.
- Brodie, Fawn M. (1945). No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet. New York: Alfred A. Knopf – via Internet Archive.
- Bushman, Richard Lyman (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 9781400077533 – via Internet Archive.
- Bushman, Richard Lyman (2007). On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Author's Diary. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books. ISBN 9781589581029.
- Kammen, Michael (1997). In the Past Lane: Historical Perspectives on American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195111117.
- Shipps, Jan (2000). Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252025903 – via Internet Archive.