Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Early Mormonism and the Magic World View

Response to "Early Mormonism and the Magic World View"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Early Mormonism and the Magic World View
A work by author: D. Michael Quinn

Early Mormonism and the Magic World View by D. Michael Quinn

This is an index of claims made in this work with links to corresponding responses within the FAIRwiki.

Chapter 1

Summary: Responses to critical claims made in "Chapter 1: Early America's Heritage of Religion and Magic"

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Chapter 2

Summary: Responses to critical claims made in "Chapter 2: Divining Rods, Treasure-Digging, and Seer Stones"

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Chapter 3

Summary: Responses to critical claims made in "Chapter 3: Ritual Magic, Astrology, Amulets, and Talismans"

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Chapter 4

Summary: Responses to critical claims made in "Chapter 4: Magic Parchments and Occult Mentors"
  • We do not currently respond to any claims in this chapter.

Chapter 5

Summary: Responses to critical claims made in "Chapter 5: Visions and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon"
  • We do not currently respond to any claims in this chapter.

Chapter 6

Summary: Responses to critical claims made in "Chapter 6: Mormon Scriptures, the Magic World View, and Rural New York's Intellectual Life"

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Chapter 7

Summary: Responses to critical claims made in "Chapter 7: The Persistence and Decline of Magic After 1830"

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Use of sources

Summary: An examination and response to how the author of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View interprets the sources used to support this work, indexed by page number.


Summary: Throughout the revised edition, the author often refers to the efforts of LDS apologetics related to his own works. He appears to have a particular issue with a review of the first edition of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View written by LDS scholar Bill Hamblin. This page addresses specific claims made by the author related to LDS apologetics.

About this work

Quinn must have begun his research when he still had the Hofmann letters and the salamander to serve as the rock of his hypotheses. It was those solid, indisputable historical documents that would give credibility to the rest of his data and make his case come together....With the salamander letter and other Hofmann materials, Quinn had a respectable argument; without them he had a handful of fragmented and highly speculative research notes.
—Stephen E. Robinson, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, by D. Michael Quinn," Brigham Young University Studies 27 no. 4 (1987), 94–95.
...writers are certainly "dishonest or bad historians" if they fail to acknowledge the existence of even one piece of evidence they know challenges or contradicts the rest of their evidence. If this omission of relevant evidence is inadvertent, the author is careless. If the omission is an intentional effort to conceal or avoid presenting the reader with evidence that contradicts the preferred view of the writer, that is fraud, whether by a scholar or non-scholar, historian or other specialist. If authors write in scholarly style, they are equally dishonest if they fail to acknowledge any significant work whose interpretations differ from their own.
— D. Michael Quinn, "Editor's Introduction," in The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past, ed. D. Michael Quinn (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), xiii, n. 5
I have not checked every reference in Quinn's book, but every reference that I have checked has been inaccurate in some way. In some cases Quinn has misinterpreted the source. In some cases he proof texts the quotation, and a fuller reading of the text undermines his case. And sometimes he is just plain wrong.
—John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site] (footnote 23)

Reviews of this work

John Gee, ""An Obstacle to Deeper Understanding""

John Gee,  FARMS Review of Books, (2000)
With the publication of the second edition of this work, therefore, the tone of Michael Quinn's writing takes on a distinctly defensive quality. He uses the opportunity to settle any scores with anyone he feels may have slighted,32 misrepresented, or criticized him in the past, particularly anyone who has ever viewed his work negatively. His hubris in this is, at times, breathtaking. Oddly, for a self-proclaimed "Mormon apologist," Quinn chose not to take issue with any of the anti-Mormons who have recognized his work as an attack on Joseph Smith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Does he agree with them?) On the other hand, anyone who has the temerity to question his infallibility is, in Quinn's view, ipso facto a "polemicist." To Quinn, accordingly, those who criticize him "don't mince words—they mince the truth" (p. x). They engage in "astonishing misreadings" (p. 334 n. 31; cf. 59), "distortions" (p. 337 n. 52), "dishonest polemics" (p. 341 n. 20), "intentional misrepresentation" (p. 334 n. 31), and a "religiously polemical campaign, not scholarly discourse" (p. 334 n. 31). (Ironically, these terms give a good description of Quinn's own work.) Quinn admits that if one of the reviewers whom he vociferously attacks had agreed with him, "I could regard him with compassion" (p. 403 n. 248). Thus those of us who do not subscribe to the dictum "When Michael Quinn speaks, the thinking has been done" will have to settle for being dismissed as "polemicists." He seems much like a soldier who, dazed in the battle, insists on attacking his comrades and is surprised that they consider him a traitor to the cause and treat him as such. Thus, in his second edition, if Quinn comes across as an apologist for anything, it is as an apologist for himself.

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William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic"

William J. Hamblin,  FARMS Review of Books, (2000)
Quinn's overall thesis is that Joseph Smith and other early Latter-day Saint leaders were fundamentally influenced by occult and magical thought, books, and practices in the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is unmitigated nonsense. Yet the fact that Quinn could not discover a single primary source written by Latter-day Saints that makes any positive statement about magic is hardly dissuasive to a historian of Quinn's inventive capacity.4 As we shall see, Quinn is quite capable of surmounting this dearth of evidence by sheer invention.

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Rhett S. James, "Writing History Must Not Be an Act of "Magic""

Rhett S. James,  FARMS Review of Books, (2000)
D Michael Quinn's revised and enlarged 1998 edition of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View makes its finest contribution as a resource about how selected Americans believed in "magic" within the complex of cultural varieties found in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Quinn shows himself an energetic collector of information, and his magic corpus will be of interest to anthropologists and folklorists. Quinn's new 600-page edition includes 217 pages of notes, covering nearly as many pages as the main text and notes combined in his first 228-page edition. He increases the main body of his text by nearly one hundred pages and his introductory comments by more than a dozen pages. The 44 pages illustrating Mormon relics remain much the same but with improved reproduction. Quinn's style of presentation is tight, sometimes even compressed, and his tone is businesslike and sometimes to the point. Parts of some chapters read like essays, many of which can stand by themselves. His treatment of information is occasionally uneven and given to sweeping generalizations and speculations not supported by documentation. Sometimes his research is not thorough, which leads him into errors that could easily have been avoided.

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BYU Studies

Stephen E. Robinson,"Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, by D. Michael Quinn", BYU Studies, 27/4 (1987)

In the past several years there has been a noticeably growing interest in alternative explanations for Mormon origins. Perhaps this is due to a certain lingering uneasiness that the present theories of cause are inadequate to explain the magnitude of the effects. At any rate, the most recent attempt to find a more satisfying explanation for Joseph Smith and the religion he founded is D. Michael Quinn's Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. The major strength of Quinn's book is the incredible breadth of its research. The bibliography appended to the main text is no less than sixty-seven pages in length and lists a multitude of arcane and often inaccessible volumes, including even rare medieval manuscripts. A second strength of the book for the non-Mormon reader is a total lack of any pro-Mormon bias. Although he is a Latter-day Saint, and despite his modest statement of faith in the introduction (xviii–xix), Quinn is clearly no LDS apologist. There is not a single page of the main text that would appear to be motivated by loyalty to the LDS church or its doctrines or to be apologetic of the Church's interests.

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BYU Studies

Benson Whittle,"Review of Michael Quinn, Mormonism and the Magic World View, 1st ed.", BYU Studies, 27/4 (Fall 1984)

Magic is real; it works. Readers of Michael Quinn's new book must be prepared to accept this or never understand the argument. In the absence of direct experience, or of a scientific appreciation of magic, a kind of imaginative leap is probably advisable. We would need to walk into hilly, heavily wooded country interspersed with fields and roads, with head and heart wide open, trying in a most receptive way to realize that everything seen is materially connected to things invisible, and by these latter intermediaries to each other. It would be necessary to befriend and be befriended by witches, soothsayers, and magi and to take them seriously as friends and as divines. In so doing we might get glimpses of Joseph Smith, the young treasure-seer, his face buried in a hat which he holds upside-down in his hands, a stone in the bottom of it. We accept his seership, which eventually yields a treasure. We see the Smiths take up the hearthstones in their living room, enabling Joseph to conceal his find there. We watch as one disgruntled treasure-hunting colleague, Alva Beaman, demands to see or share the trove: taking up his divining rod, the resolute rustic promptly "witches" the whereabouts of the "golden plates." Everyone present shares something that Michael Quinn calls "the magic world view." All know that magic is real.

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BYU Studies

William A. Wilson,"Review of Michael Quinn, Mormonism and the Magic World View, 1st ed.", BYU Studies, 27/4 (Fall 1987)

Because I know the circumstances surrounding the establishment of Mormonism only in a general way, I shall leave to the professional historian the task of commenting on those circumstances as they are presented by D. Michael Quinn in Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. In what follows, I shall discuss the book from the point of view of the general reader for whom Quinn says he intended the work and from the point of view of my own discipline, folklore.

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  • Stephen D. Ricks and Daniel C. Peterson, “Joseph Smith and ‘Magic’: Methodological Reflections on the Use of a Term,” in Robert L. Millet, ed., To Be Learned Is Good If . . . (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987), 129–147.
  • Matthew Roper, "Unanswered Mormon Scholars (Review of Answering Mormon Scholars: A Response to Criticism Raised by Mormon Defenders)," FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997): 87–145. [ off-site] (page 87–145; see especially section "Joseph Smith and 'Magic'")