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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mormonism Unvailed by Signature Books - Questions for Dan Vogel

by Seattle Jon:

Signature Books recently re-published Mormonism Unvailed, generally considered the very first anti-Mormon book, with critical comments by Dan Vogel, an independent researcher, writer, and author on a number of works that include Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet. Signature provides this summary:

Howe’s famous exposé was the first of its kind, with information woven together from previous news articles and some thirty affidavits he and others collected. He lived and worked in Painesville, Ohio, where, in 1829, he had published about Joseph Smith’s discovery of a “golden bible.” Smith’s decision to relocate in nearby Kirtland sparked Howe’s attention. Of even more concern was that Howe’s wife and other family members had joined the Mormon faith. Howe immediately began investigating the new Church and formed a coalition of like-minded reporters and detractors. By 1834, Howe had collected a large body of investigative material, including affidavits from Smith’s former neighbors in New York and from Smith’s father-inlaw in Pennsylvania. Howe learned about Smith’s early interest in pirate gold and use of a seer stone in treasure seeking and heard theories from Smith’s friends, followers, and family members about the Book of Mormon’s origin. Indulging in literary criticism, Howe joked that Smith, “evidently a man of learning,” was a student of “barrenness of style and expression.” Despite its critical tone, Howe’s exposé is valued by historians for its primary source material and account of the growth of Mormonism in northeastern Ohio.

I hope the following interview generates some interest in this new book. Visit Signature Books to purchase this and other important titles they've published.

Seattle Jon: Why reprint Mormonism Unvailed?

Dan Vogel: Published in 1834, Mormonism Unvailed is rare and for many years students of early Mormon history have relied on poor photocopies, and because of its significance as the first book-length response to Joseph Smith and the many valuable documents it contains a scholarly edition is not only justified but long overdue.

SJ: Did E.D. Howe misspell the title of his book?

DV: Contrary to what many people assume, unvailed was the preferred spelling at the time.

SJ: Why was Howe interested in Mormons?

DV: Howe published a newspaper in Painesville, Ohio, located about ten miles east of the Mormon capital in Kirtland, which made the topic of Mormonism unavoidable, and even more so when his wife and sister became converts.

SJ: Howe's tone is one of bitterness - why should we listen?

DV: Howe’s tone is definitely critical, and at times sarcastic and disdainful, but that was generally the style of newspaper editors in that day. There was no pretence of being objective. One should be equally suspicious of believers. Historians use multiple sources to cut through bias, which is what I try to do in the footnotes that accompany this volume.

SJ: I found that the first half of Mormonism Unvailed is about the Book of Mormon and the second half is about affidavits. Which part do you feel is more important?

DV: I would say the affidavits of former neighbors and relatives of Joseph Smith are probably Howe’s most important contribution to Mormon studies.

SJ: The woodcut cartoon at the front of the book depicts a disguised Moroni with a monkey (the gold plates) in a box. Is there any earlier mention of Moroni as the modern caretaker of the gold plates?

DV: This was apparently the earliest published reference to Moroni as the caretaker of the plates. Oliver Cowdery was next in April 1835 in the Messenger and Advocate. See page 134 note 17.

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Seattle Jon is a family man, little league coach, urban farmer and businessman living in Seattle. He currently gets up early with the markets to trade bonds for a living. In his spare time he enjoys movies, thrifting and is an avid reader. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University and the Japan Fukuoka mission field. 
He has one wife, four kids, two cats and four chickens.

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