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No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith

2 Ratings: 1.5
A 1945 book by Fawn McKay Brodie.

No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), by Fawn McKay Brodie, was the first important non-hagiographic biography of Joseph Smith, the founder of Latter Day Saint movement. The book has never gone out of print, … see full wiki

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1 review about No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph...

"I will be to this generation a second Mohammed": Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet

  • Dec 16, 2009
Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805 - 1844) was the first prophet and founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints aka the Mormon Faith. Fawn Macay Brodie (1915 - 1981), author of NO MAN KNOWS MY HISTORY: THE LIFE OF JOSEPH SMITH, grew up in a poor but eminent Mormon family. During her student days at the University of Chicago, however, she abandoned religion of every shape. A few years later, in 1945, she published her celebrated secular but sympathetic biography of Smith.   ***  

It was a bombshell. Faithful Mormons initially castigated it almost to a man. Lapsed Mormons hailed NO MAN KNOWS MY HISTORY as a revelation of the shaky foundations of Mormon theology and authenticity. Twenty-eight years later Fawn Brodie issued a second, rethought edition with very few substantive changes. By and large, it can be cautiously asserted, her biography has stood the test of time. It has also inspired new generations of historians, Mormon and non-Mormon, to face the facts of their founding years honestly and credibly.  ***  

What depths did Mrs Brodie stir up?   ***  

First, she used but was far from giving blind faith to Joseph Smith's own several autobiographical writings. He was raised in New England, came of age in New York and Pennsylvania and lived in Missouri and Illinois. In all those places he was remembered. And many eye witnesses, believers and non-believers, wrote up their recollections or contemporary observations. To some the Mormon Prophet was God's friend and a chosen channel for God's frequent and detailed revelations. His writings were infallible, on a level with Jewish and Greek Scriptures. In this respect, he was treated much as very many of the first Seventh-day Adventists treated a few years later their founding prophetess Ellen G. White. Their founders could do no wrong. They were saints of exemplary life.   ***  

But to others Smith was just Good Old Joe or Joe the lying, thieving rascal. He was known from early years to belong to a poor family and to have had little formal education but to be a voracious reader. He had the most vivid imagination the world was to know before Franz Kafka. He was the best, most spell-binding yarn spinner for hundreds of miles. He was a six-footer, good-looking, strong, a wrestler. He was fun-loving, easy going, not fond of manual labor. He used magic stones to seek for gold and buried treasure. He claimed to have had visions of God the Father and God the Son and to have received revelations from them and through angels. He said that he had discovered a Golden Bible. He had found sacred texts written in an ancient Egyptian dialect. He sat behind a screen separating him from his secretary and dictated translations read from texts that appeared at the bottom of his hat -- into which he sank his head to read.   ***  

Over time he abandoned magic for prophesying and for religion. He learned Hebrew. He founded and organized a church. Nothing, however, that was original with Smith in his writings, according to Dawn Brodie, ever approached the sublime level of Isaiah's Man of Sorrows or Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. His English  resonated with the King James Bible. Phrases such as "And it came to pass that..." were repeated scores of times. He became a Freemason and incorporated Masonic practices into his Church liturgies. And yet earlier on he had denounced Freemasonry.  He was always experimenting and trimming.  *** 

As time went by, Smith's view of his role in history expanded. In 1838 he told a large crowd of the faithful:  "If the people will let us alone ...we will preach the gospel in peace. But if they come on us to molest us, we will establish our religion by the sword. ... I will be to this generation a second Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was 'the Alcoran or the Sword.' So shall it eventually be with us -- 'Joseph Smith or the Sword'" (Chapter XVI).   ***

One attractive feature of Joseph Smith (shared with James Fenimore Cooper) was his respect for and good intentions toward American Indians not long after their Trail of Tears deportation to the west. Much of his BOOK OF MORMON explained the origin of these native Americans from a homeland in the Near East. He sent his earliest missionaries into Indian Territory to explain to them God's special plans for them.   ***  

I hope that I have given you a tiny taste for this very rich, beautifully crafted book. Enough for you to make up your mind whether to read it. In addition to text you will find photos and maps, reproductions of early publications by Smith and much else. Enjoy!   -OOO-

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December 16, 2009
I'm not a religious person, but I am very much interested in the history of religions and the people behind it, and this sounds like a really fascinating book!  If you're interested in these topics, you might want to check out the Religion Community for more related reviews.  Thanks so much for sharing! :)
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