Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Early Mormonism and the Magic World View/Chapter 6

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


A work by author: D. Michael Quinn

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Response to claim: 180 - "The British Museum's library has never had a 3-to-1 ratio of books to London's population, yet that was the book-resident ratio of a bookstore in rural New York state in 1815"

The author(s) of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View make(s) the following claim:
 Author's quote: The British Museum's library has never had a 3-to-1 ratio of books to London's population, yet that was the book-resident ratio of a bookstore in rural New York state in 1815.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author again exaggerates the availability of the occult books he insists—without evidence—were available to Joseph Smith in the early 1800s.

"In 1976, when the population of London proper was 2,700,000, the British Museum Library contained approximately eight million volumes, with a ratio of 2.96-to-1. But, is Quinn seriously claiming that frontier New York had a greater book-to-person ratio than contemporary London? Or that education, book reading, and scholarship were higher in Palmyra than London? Can anyone take this assertion seriously?"[1]

Response to claim: 182 - The author claims that the cost of books described in the advertisements in upstate New York in the 1820s ranged from "44 cents to a dollar each"

The author(s) of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View make(s) the following claim:
The author claims that the cost of books described in the advertisements in upstate New York in the 1820s ranged from "44 cents to a dollar each."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author grossly underestimates the cost of books in Joseph Smith's world, especially the esoteric and occult books which he claims were an influence.

Response to claim: 187 - "Antoine Faivre has also emphasized Barrett's book in the general European revival of magic during the first decades of the 1800s"

The author(s) of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View make(s) the following claim:
The book further claims that "Antoine Faivre has also emphasized Barrett's book in the general European revival of magic during the first decades of the 1800s."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author distorts his source, and neglects to mention that the influence of The Magus would come well after Joseph Smith's early years in New England. "In reality, rather than emphasizing it, Faivre mentions Barrett's book in one sentence, in passing: 'a compilation destined to be a great success heralds the occult literature to come: The Magus (1801) by Francis Barrett.'"[2]

Response to claim: 206 - It is claimed that Joseph gave Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball divining rods as a symbol of gratitude for their loyalty

The author(s) of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View make(s) the following claim:
It is claimed that Joseph gave Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball divining rods as a symbol of gratitude for their loyalty.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The source cited by the critics explicitly rejects the idea that the rods described were "divining sticks"

Question: Did Joseph Smith give Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball divining rods "as a symbol of gratitude for their loyalty"?

The passage describes Heber's dream in which Joseph gave him a rod, saying "the hand of God shall be with you"

Several authors cite Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer, to support a claim that Joseph Smith gave Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball divinig rods "as a symbol of gratitude for their loyalty." However, the authors distort the passage cited. It first describes Heber's dream in which Joseph gave him a rod, saying "the hand of God shall be with you." Thus, the critics hide the fact that Heber saw this in a religious, not a magical, context. The source then reads:

Later Joseph did give him and Brigham Young real rods, because "they were the only ones of the original twelve who had not lifted up their hearts against the Prophet." When Heber wanted to find out anything that was his right to know, "all he had to do was to kneel down with the rod in his hand, and . . . sometimes the Lord would answer his questions before he had time to ask them." At least twice in Nauvoo, for example, he had used this special rod. In September, 1844, he "went home and used the rod" to find out if Willard Richards would recover from an illness and if the church would overcome its enemies. In January, 1845, he inquired of the Lord "by the rod" whether the Nauvoo temple would be finished and if his sins were forgiven. All the answers were affirmative. Unlike the [p.249] cane, there are no family traditions regarding this unusual rod; it has completely disappeared. Perhaps it was an aid to guidance and revelation. There is no evidence that it was a divining stick or "water witch," popular at that time. (pp. 248-249, emphasis added)

The source cited by the critics explicitly rejects the idea that the rods described were "divining sticks"

Critical works provide this source for the claim that Brigham and Heber are provided with "diving rods"—yet, the source explicitly rejects the idea that they were 'divining sticks.' The rod's claimed ability was also clearly religious, not "magical"—the rod had no power except as an aide to revelation from God. There is ample biblical precedent for prophetic use of a rod (e.g., Numbers 17:6-10).
  1. William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  2. William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]