Criticism of Mormonism/Books/An Insider's View of Mormon Origins

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    Response to "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins"


A FairMormon Analysis of: An Insider's View of Mormon Origins
A work by author: Grant Palmer

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In Insider's View of Mormon Origins was developed during a period of time that its author worked as a teacher in the Church Educational System (CES), and was published after the author's retirement from Church employment. The book attempts to explain many otherwise clearly described events of the restoration by reinterpreting them as spiritual rather than physical events. (Click here for full article)

  • Use of sources
    Brief Summary: An examination and response to how the author of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins interprets the sources used to support this work, indexed by page number. (Click here for full article)
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About this work

Lest there be any question, let me say that my intent is to increase faith, not to diminish it.
— Grant Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, p. ix.
Palmer's readers may well wonder what kind of faith he is trying to increase, for nothing in the book generates confidence in Joseph Smith or modern scripture.
— James B. Allen, "Asked and Answered: A Response to Grant Palmer (Review of: An Insider's View of Mormon Origins)," FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 235–286. off-site
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The bishop asked the stake president outright, “What does Grant need to remain a member of the Church. You know, not to get a temple recommend, not to hold a position…just to be on the records of the Church?” And that’s when he said, “He’s got to repudiate, essentially, every chapter in my book An Insider’s View, and ‘regain his testimony’ (and regain my testimony). And so I thought : well, that would simply emasculate me as a person, and no one’s ever come forward and says I’m wrong. They’ve attacked me, but they haven’t really gone into it. And I’ve always been…if I were wrong I would correct things. I’ve never had that offer, or anyone take me up on that offer.
—Grant Palmer, "324-326: Grant Palmer Returns to Discuss Sexual Allegations Against Joseph Smith, William and Jane Law, and His Resignation," Mormon Stories podcast, February 26, 2012.

An Insider's View of Mormon Origins was developed during a period of time that its author worked as a teacher in the Church Educational System (CES), and was published after the author's retirement from Church employment. Palmer was disfellowshipped and eventually resigned from the Church.

The book attempts to explain many otherwise clearly described events of the restoration by reinterpreting them as spiritual rather than physical events. The author was originally inspired by Mark Hofmann's Salamander Letter prior to the time that the letter was exposed as a forgery, and its influence was present in early drafts of this work. The Salamander Letter inspired the author to postulate that Joseph Smith plagiarized a book called The Golden Pot during the production of the Book of Mormon. The book heavily promotes and emphasizes the role of magic and treasure hunting in Joseph Smith, Jr.'s early life, and it concludes that Joseph deliberately enhanced and added fabricated detail to his later accounts of events such as the First Vision, the Priesthood restoration, the Three and Eight Witnesses, and the visit of the angel Moroni. Although the stated purpose of the book is to "increase faith," it is clearly intended to demonstrate the Joseph Smith employed dishonesty in order to secure his position as head of the church. The book's criticisms are not new, and its sole new contribution is the attempt to link "The Golden Pot" to the Book of Mormon, a theory based on the Hofmann forgeries.

Reviews of this work

The Neal A. Maxwell Institute responds to these questions

James B. Allen,"Asked and Answered: A Response to Grant H. Palmer", The FARMS Review, 16/1 (2004)


An Insider's View of Mormon Origins portrays Joseph Smith as a brilliant, though not formally educated, young man who made up the Book of Mormon, as well as other LDS scriptures, by drawing from various threads in his cultural environment. His early religious experiences (the first vision, the visits of Moroni, and priesthood restoration) were not real or physical, but only "spiritual." The stories evolved over time from "relatively simple experiences into more impressive spiritual manifestations, from metaphysical to physical events" and were "rewritten by Joseph and Oliver and other early church officials so that the church could survive and grow" (pp. 260-61). Even the witnesses of the gold plates never really saw them. They had only a spiritual experience. (Why Deity or gold plates seen with "spiritual eyes" could not also be physical realities is never satisfactorily explained.)

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The Neal A. Maxwell Institute responds to these questions

Davis Bitton,"The Charge of a Man with a Broken Lance (But Look What He Doesn't Tell Us)", The FARMS Review, 15/2 (2003)


Palmer wants us to see the Book of Mormon witnesses as living in a very different world from our own. But this gap can be overdrawn. After all, do we and they have nothing in common? Are the witnesses to be discredited on everything they ever said on any subject throughout their whole lives? And what about the sources Palmer uses to put the witnesses under an unflattering cloud? Is there any principle by which one can weigh such information? Determined to portray the witnesses as confused simpletons living in a daze and unable to tell the difference between what they saw and what they imagined, Palmer shows no ability to negotiate such pathways, or even to recognize them. Richard Anderson addresses some of these questions in his chapter "The Case against the Witnesses."20 Not using Palmer's jaundiced eyes, Anderson, who earned a law degree at Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. in ancient history at the University of California, Berkeley, sees the witnesses, even with their foibles, as having credibility on the key question. Palmer's snub of Anderson in a one-sentence dismissive footnote is shameful.

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FairMormon Perspectives offers answers to these questions

George E. Cobabe"A Summary of Five Reviews of Grant Palmer’s “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins” (with a Few Comments of My Own)," FairMormon Papers


No, Grant, that’s not history–and it was certainly not written with “…balanced scholarship and academic integrity.”


This pretty well sums up the central theme of five different scholarly reviews of Grant H. Palmer’s book, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins. The purpose of this article is not to duplicate the existing reviews and answer the many objections to Palmer’s book, but to summarize and point to the five reviews as a source for the answers.

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The Neal A. Maxwell Institute responds to these questions

Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History,"Statement regarding Grant Palmer’s Book An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins", The FARMS Review, 15/2 (2003)


In the preface to his book, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, Grant Palmer speaks approvingly of historical work done by the faculty of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History (pp. vii-viii). To some readers, this has suggested that Smith Institute faculty are among Palmer's category of "historians and religion teachers like myself" who share his views of Latter-day Saint origins (p. x). In subsequent remarks to audiences Palmer has encouraged this view.


Smith Institute scholars are unified in rejecting Palmer's argument that Mormon foundational stories are largely inaccurate myths and fictional accounts.

Palmer writes of a "near-consensus on many of the details" (p. ix) regarding early Church origins, as if most scholars see them in much the same way that he does. We and many other historians take issue with a substantial portion of Palmer's treatment of such details. We encourage and participate in rigorous scholarly investigation and discussion of the historical record, and from our perspective acceptance of Joseph Smith's foundational religious claims remains compatible with such investigation. Our publications, past and present, which are readily available to the public, speak for themselves on these matters.

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The Neal A. Maxwell Institute responds to these questions

Steven C. Harper,"Trustworthy History?", The FARMS Review, 15/2 (2003)


To support my claim that Palmer's book is polemical pseudohistory presented as a synthesis of "New Mormon History," I will examine his chapters on what he considers to be evidences of evangelical Protestantism identifying the Book of Mormon as a nineteenth-century text, on the testimonies of the Book of Mormon witnesses, on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery's assertion (or, in his opinion, their conspiratorial claim) that ministering angels restored the priesthood, and on Joseph Smith's 1838 history of his first vision. In each case Palmer can be shown to present a partisan polemical argument. In addition, he is guilty of censorship, and he repeatedly privileges late hearsay over early eyewitness accounts. As will be shown, the relevant texts support interpretations more affirming of Joseph Smith's integrity than Palmer claims.

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The Neal A. Maxwell Institute responds to these questions

Mark Ashurst-McGee,"A One-sided View of Mormon Origins", The FARMS Review, 15/2 (2003)


A straightforward statement of my position is likewise called for. As a historian, I find that the book fails to follow the basic standards of historical methodology. As a believing Latter-day Saint scholar, I perceive alternative interpretations of the founding events that Palmer neglects to consider or even acknowledge. Reviewing the entire book, chapter by chapter, an open-minded reader may find that, in most cases, interpretations favorable to the integrity of Joseph Smith and his revelations are as reasonable as or even more reasonable than those presented by Palmer. In this overview, I will not cover every single point of controversy but will address the central thesis of each chapter. I will also highlight some of the new ideas that Palmer has worked into this generally secondary study.

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The Neal A. Maxwell Institute responds to these questions

Louis Midgley,"Prying into Palmer", The FARMS Review, 15/2 (2003)


Sometime prior to August 1987, I acquired a copy of a rough manuscript entitled "New York Mormonism" that was circulating in what was then known as the "Mormon Underground." The author of this anti-Mormon propaganda identified himself merely as "Paul Pry Jr."2 Though not now a household label, the name Paul Pry once had considerable allusive power. By calling himself Paul Pry, the secretive author of "New York Mormonism" emphatically signaled his bias, at least for aficionados of anti-Mormon literature. Who or what was Paul Pry? And what might an enigmatic Paul Pry Jr. have to do with Grant H. Palmer's Insider's View of Mormon Origins? I believe that the answers to these questions are essential to a proper understanding of Palmer's book and are thus worthy of careful consideration.

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