Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “Joseph Smith’s Last Dream”: Evaluation — UPDATED
 


“Joseph Smith’s Last Dream”: Evaluation — UPDATED

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 30, 2011

Updates: After reading this post, please read the Addendum, especially if you don’t plow through all the comments on this post. Readers need to be aware of how quickly and how well Seth Adam Smith worked to revise his blog and video to reflect his growing understanding of the complexities of history. Also, perhaps partly in response to my unfamiliarity with Paul Thomas Smith, who had kindly offered his assistance to Seth, Seth has posted a short biography of Paul Thomas Smith which should also be a part of this whole story. Although I have edited my own attempt in this post to identify Brother Smith and his work, I have left some of those original lines intact; had I removed them completely, too much discussion by commenters would have been unintelligible. Thanks to all of you who have made positive contributions to the discussion, and especially to Seth for, well, everything he has done and said since this post was published.

[This post, originally published on the morning of 27 June 2011, is being republished on 30 June 2011 in an effort to draw attention to the above updates. Other than the addition of these update paragraphs and the deletion of a few lines regarding Paul Thomas Smith, nothing has been changed since that original posting.]

Seth Adam Smith’s devotional video entitled “Joseph Smith’s Last Dream” has been consuming considerable bandwidth since it was posted last week. Since the video’s launch, it has been promoted through countless Facebook links, in last Friday’s Today in the Bloggernacle feature, by LDS Media Talk, at Meridian Magazine, and on who-knows-how-many other blogs. Links to the videographer’s YouTube posting have reached my email box through mass email forwards.

Without exception, comments are enthusiastic, almost adulatory. LDS viewers are touched, and some repeat Seth’s own experience: “The first time I read it, I wept.”

This is not the sort of production I would ordinarily review. However, the unreserved comments, combined with a brief exchange between Seth and me on a friend’s Facebook link to the video, pushed my historian’s button. The reported dream that is narrated and illustrated on Seth’s video serves as an excellent lesson in how we evaluate historical documents. That evaluation – not the undisputed quality of Seth’s video, or its devotional purpose – is the subject of this post.

The sole historical source for the reported dream of Joseph Smith is a brief article in an 1863 almanac published (in 1862) by William W. Phelps. You can read the full text for yourself on pp. 26-27 of the almanac, scanned and posted here on the Internet Archives site. William W. Phelps, longtime associate of Joseph Smith, printer of many of the Church’s earliest texts, and author of some of our favorite early anthems, wrote that

In June, 1844, when Joseph Smith went to Carthage and delivered himself up to Gov. Ford, I accompanied him, and while on the way thither, he related to me and his brother Hyrum the following dream: … I will say that Joseph never told this dream again, as he was martyred about two days after. I relate from recollection as nearly as I can.

Seth writes that “While working for Church Historian Paul Thomas Smith in the summer of 2007, I came across this little-known dream of Joseph Smith. Few pieces of literature have ever touched my mind and soul as deeply as this has and I’ve longed to share this dream with others.” His preparation included discussing the dream with Paul Thomas Smith, commissioning a painting of the event from Jon McNaughton, and arranging for suitable music and professional narration, which he has combined to make his video.

That video is supplemented by a second video entitled “The Validity of the Dream.” Seth’s comment to me during our Facebook exchange was, “If you go to my blog you’ll see I took great pains to confirm the validity of the dream.”

Validity.

That’s a problematic word, at least in the way it is used here.

Strictly speaking, “validity” has no meaning in the context of the 1863 document or the 2011 video. “Validity” means legal authenticity or force, or that conclusions follow logically from given premises. Neither applies here. I suppose that by “validity,” Seth means accuracy, or authenticity, or historical reality, or truth, or genuineness, and I proceed on that assumption.

But what could it mean to confirm the authenticity or truth of a dream?

1. It might mean confirming the authenticity of the report of the dream.

2. It might mean confirming the historical reality of the event (i.e.,, that Joseph Smith did have such a dream).

3. Or it might mean confirming that the dream had an authentic, prophetic content, that it was spiritually meaningful, a dream given by God to his prophet to convey spiritual truth or reveal future events.

Option 3 is entirely outside the realm of what can be established by human effort. Absent a divine revelation, nothing of the kind can be known. Even then, I could bear my testimony of that revelation to you, but unless you receive a confirming authentic witness of the Spirit, there’s really nothing more to discuss. You can’t validate my spiritual experience, Seth can’t validate Joseph Smith’s.

Option 2 is likewise outside the scope of consideration. Only Joseph Smith knows whether he did in fact have such a dream. You and I can neither confirm nor disprove a secondhand report.

Option 1 is the only practical meaning of confirming the “validity of the dream,” and historical skills are very much called for in this case. Historical evaluation is pertinent to establishing the authenticity of the document (that is, demonstrating that it really did come from its purported author and is not a forgery); to evaluating the document’s accuracy by considering the reliability of the author (was he in fact in Joseph’s company during his last days; was he a competent witness in other ways); to considering the reception of the document by others  qualified to judge the report’s reliability; and perhaps to subjecting the claim to other tests common to historical scholarship.

On the surface, at least, Option 1 seems to be what Seth intends by establishing validity: he interviews a trusted mentor for that man’s opinion of the dream’s authenticity, and he makes a stab at confirming that Phelps was with Joseph at the time Phelps claims to have heard Joseph relate the dream. Both of these efforts fall within the bounds of historical evaluation.

So let’s evaluate:

There is no question that the 1863 almanac is genuine: Phelps published a series of almanacs over many years; multiple copies of this one exist and have been continuously known to history. In that sense, at least, the dream is “valid” – it appears in a printed document that is what it (the document, if not necessarily its content) claims to be.

Historians can also evaluate the known events of the hours around the reported dream, to evaluate Phelps’ claim to having been present to have heard Joseph describe a dream. Seth doesn’t cite his source for his reconstruction of that day; however, he seems to be relying on History of the Church. Period I, 6:547-48. Between 9 and 10 p.m., June 22, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum, waiting on the banks of the Mississippi for a boat to take them across, “sent for William W. Phelps” and gave him instructions concerning their families. It does not appear from that source, however, that Phelps spent the night with the Smiths or that he was present the next morning – Joseph’s instructions sent Phelps away from them:

Joseph then said: “Go to our wives, and tell them what we have concluded to do, and [carry further messages to Emma]. If you ascertain by tomorrow morning that there is anything wrong, come over the river to Montrose, to the house of Captain John Killien, and there you will learn where we are.”

I’m no expert on the details of these hours and am taking the HC account at face value. If Phelps followed Joseph’s instructions, he was not present at William Jordan’s house while Joseph was there between sunrise and 9 o’clock the following morning (the brief window which Seth describes as “enough time to sleep and have the dream”). Phelps may very well have tracked down the Smith party at Jordan’s house sometime that morning and accompanied Joseph to Carthage. Although Phelps is not named in the HC as a member of the accompanying party (that source gives the names of eight men who traveled to Carthage with Joseph and Hyrum, not including Phelps),  it is possible that Phelps was one of the unnamed “several other brethren” mentioned in that account. (I haven’t invested serious research time into this point – perhaps a reader can cite a source that would confirm definitively that Phelps was with Joseph on that occasion, or that he was elsewhere. [Update: See this comment by Justin providing links to the HC pages confirming that Phelps did indeed accompany Joseph to Carthage.) And although I cannot confirm at the moment that Phelps was indeed there, neither do I have any particular reason to doubt his claim. I merely point this out as one of the questions which historians can investigate and contribute to an evaluation of the “validity” of the dream.

Seth’s chief evidence for having authenticated the dream is a brief recorded interview with Paul Thomas Smith.

Point of order: Seth describes him as “Church Historian Paul Thomas Smith.” “Church Historian,” capitalized and immediately preceding a personal name this way, is a title that belongs to Elder Marlin K. Jensen. Every time I see the title applied to Seth’s beloved mentor, I find it jarring. I cannot account for the misuse of that institutional title other than by choosing between ignorance or a deliberate attempt to mislead. Either way, it lends a false authority to the man’s opinion.

Second point of order: Brother Smith (I don’t know his academic title and would use that title as a courtesy if I knew it) was unknown to me before this video was posted. From what I can find from searching for his publications and other appearances in the press, I would choose a term other than “historian” to describe his scholarship – except for a few short pieces of John Taylor biography, his published work seems focused on New Testament themes and on devotional aspects of Mormonism (symbolism, prophecy) rather than on history. I do not mean to disparage Brother Smith by questioning the applicability of the label “historian” – I do so only because I’m evaluating this video with different tools than those seemingly used by him.

Brother Smith first identifies Phelps for viewers who may be unfamiliar with him: he lists several of Phelps’ contributions to the Church during Joseph’s lifetime, which also serves to establish that Phelps was in fact an intimate of Joseph, someone to whom he might well have felt comfortable telling his dreams. In evaluating the reliability of Phelps’ account, he says:

How reliable are memories? Well, it is what it is. People sometimes are dismissive of the memories of individuals who say, well, they heard the prophet Joseph say thus and so. I am inclined, though, to believe that the essence of what William Phelps said about this experience in part because there is another dream that has been recorded elsewhere that has some similarities involving a steamboat, involving people who were not obedient, involving Samuel Smith. There is nothing in the dream in the experience that does not ring true with Joseph and Hyrum being in a position of great danger, having to flee that danger, having their enemies destroyed and the walking on water resonates so beautifully. It is not strange to me at all this idea. [He then gives his devotional interpretation of elements of the dream.] It’s all in harmony with things we understand and know. So if Phelps got some minutiae wrong, it doesn’t invalidate the story at all for me. I think the essence is truth.

It is difficult for me to evaluate the usefulness of his testimony – and [religious] testimony it is. Brother Smith mentions another dream by which he measures this one, but does not reference it in a way that any viewer could identify and compare it to the dream under discussion to judge its merits as a yardstick. He does not analyze why he believes Phelps’ report to be accurate other than that it doesn’t not “ring true” to him, that it “resonates beautifully.” This testimony cannot be evaluated by any historian. It crosses over into my Option 3 – it asserts a truthfulness that is entirely dependent upon a spiritual impression. His audience is dependent upon receiving their own spiritual witnesses of the truthfulness of this dream to confirm Brother Smith’s testimony, and that is outside the realm of an historian.

(Please don’t misunderstand me. I am a believing Mormon who believes in the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith and in the witness of the Holy Ghost. I am not at all disparaging testimony in the spiritual sense. I simply note that the tools for evaluating spiritual testimony – a spiritual witness of one’s own, primarily – are entirely different from the tools of scholarship. I have received no such spiritual witness of my own in this case, and even if I had, it wouldn’t go far toward proving the “validity” of this dream to you, unless you sought and received your own witness.)

These two pieces of evidence – a partially supported presumption that Phelps was in Joseph’s company just prior to his imprisonment, and a devotional testimony by Seth’s professor that the dream “resonates beautifully” for him – are the sum total of Seth’s reported “great pains to confirm the validity of the dream.”

I suggest two ideas that should also be considered in the evaluation of the credibility of Phelps’ report:

First is the credibility of Phelps himself in 1862.

This means in part the reliability of his memory. He reports a dream that he heard once only, some 18 years before he published it, presumably while jogging along a rough road on horseback. As quoted above, Phelps writes from recollection only, not with the aid of any diary or other writing to prompt his memory and keep it on the right path. No living witness can confirm or correct his account. Paul Thomas Smith mentions people who are dismissive of very old memories, but he gives no reason why we shouldn’t question memory. People’s memories do fade, people unintentionally create false or wishful memories, or interpret earlier memories in light of later events, and memory plays tricks in other ways, causing people to “remember” things in ways that don’t jibe with reality.

I would have far more confidence in Phelps’ reported memory if his account were not so explicit, if he had sketched the general outline of the dream without relating so very many precise details, and especially if he hadn’t couched his report as if it were in the words of Joseph Smith himself (although to be fair to Phelps, it was a common 19th century practice to recast one’s own words as the direct quotations of people involved in the events). I can easily believe that Phelps could remember broad outlines of an impressive dream; pretending to recall any of Joseph’s actual dialogue, though, under these conditions and after so many years have passed, seriously damages my capacity to accept his account at face value. Any of us can recall the gist of a conversation we had at lunch today, but if our report could be compared to a verbatim recording of the conversation, we would be startled by how little of the dialogue was accurately recalled (this is a standard memory test and a well-known phenomenon). Multiply that effect by the passage of 18 years.  Can we legitimately limit the veritable certainty of errors to mere “minutiae”?

Another aspect of Phelps’ credibility is his state of mind in the 1860s. Phelps was 70 at the time he wrote this report, aging poorly, and his grasp on reality was not always strong. His letters, although still brilliantly poetic in their language, are barely coherent. In an 1863 letter to Brigham Young, for example, Phelps reminded Brigham that he (Phelps) had been appointed printer to the church in 1831 (D&C 57:11), and he wondered when the Utah paper mills would finally turn out enough paper that he could resume his office; presumably he felt himself qualified to take over printing of the Deseret News or the book publication work being done in Liverpool, neither of which he was in any way capable of undertaking at that point.

In the same letter (Phelps to Young, 12 October 1863, Brigham Young Papers, Box 40, Folder 28, Church History Library), he claimed to have been anointed and ordained by Joseph Smith as “King’s Jester and Devil”  and to be the successor to AEsop in the writing of fables.

A sample of his fables:

A lion, one beautiful morning, saw a honey bee, buzzing among the flowers, and inquired of the bee, how he knew which flower had bee bread and which had honey? The honey bee wisely asked the lion if he knew why a bar of iron or steel, lying horizontally on the ground would rust away and never gather any magnetism, while a bar of iron or steel, or even the shovel and tongs, standing perpendicular would soon gather magnetic power enough to attract a compass, or lift a needle? The lion, studying a while, answered, No. The honey bee then asked the lion, why a honey bee was better than a lion. The lion said he did not know, and asked the bee if he could tell. Says the bee very cautiously, Can you keep a secret? O most sacredly, re[s]ponded the lion. So can I says the bee.

And the “simple, philosophic answer” to that fable, Phelps wrote, was this:

Like a pair of shears that’s very keen,
Will never cut ourselves – but what’s between.

Any number of examples of Phelps’ failing mental capacity could be given, and should be considered in an evaluation of anything he wrote during his declining years.

A second idea relevant to evaluating the credibility of Phelps’ report is its reception by others at the time of its publication. Others, after all, were then living who had known Joseph Smith, and who knew Phelps. They surely were aware of the published account – it was the only locally- (Utah-) produced almanac, and copies have been part of the Church Historian’s collection from its publication (the copy scanned at Internet Archives comes from the Church’s library). How did witnesses of Joseph Smith, and historians of the Church, greet Phelps’ account?

I don’t know. They should have expressed some interest in it if they considered it authentic. They didn’t notice it, officially.

I say that they should have expressed some interest in it because the Church Historian’s Office was collecting and soliciting memories of Joseph Smith and recollections of early Church events. The letterpress copybooks of the Historian’s Office, available for research to anyone who visits the Church History Library, preserve letter after letter written by George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff and others, to early Latter-day Saints (some still connected with the Church, others long gone) and to non-Mormons who had interacted with the Saints. These men were explicitly acting in their offices as Church historians and were soliciting facts and memories to be included in the history of Joseph Smith that had long been in preparation (parts of which were published by Phelps himself in the 1830s) and which would eventually appear as the History of the Church. Period I.

These men included reports of dreams in their history – they even included a dream reported by Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail. (I am writing this at home over the weekend without resources to check the original source of the dream recorded in HC 6:609-610, but whatever the source, its presence in the HC conclusively proves that the compilers believed it to be authentic.)

These historians were actively working on Joseph Smith’s history at the time Phelps published his almanac. Yet these men who were scouring the continent for memories and facts concerning Joseph Smith didn’t make Phelps’ published record part of their history. That to me is very telling. I cannot know exactly why they discounted this report, but that is what they evidently did.

So why have I spent so much time today on a long (and quite possibly very boring) post evaluating a pleasant, 3-1/2 minute video? Not because I bear any ill will toward Seth, or toward his video. It is professionally done. Seth found something that interested him, and he explored the dream’s authenticity to the best of his ability.

What does concern me, though, is the way in which this reported dream  is being received. Without exception, the comments I have seen are filled with uncritical acceptance. Comments are highly emotional, without the evident use of reason or even measured spiritual reflection. Tears are taken as proof of the divinity of the dream, and no one is concerned about provenance. (That word again.)

I am wary of appeals to emotion (as Seth’s video, with its powerful music and dramatic narration, certainly is) that replace rational thought and prayerful consideration. I am wary of people’s uncritical acceptance of old documents produced as the latest new thing and presented without adequate study. I am wary of ambiguous, nebulous claims of “validity” that seem to be based on one thing (scholarly study and authoritative opinion) but which blatantly appeal to another thing (spiritual credulity). I am wary of long-delayed reports of Joseph Smith’s words – after more than a century, we’re still dealing with the ridicule and charges of false prophecy that arose from Oliver B. Huntington’s assertion of Joseph’s belief in six-foot tall men dressed as Quakers who lived for a thousand years and inhabited Earth’s moon.

We need to be careful of what we accept and don’t accept as having come from Joseph Smith. Too many people are responding emotionally first, and thoughtfully later, if at all. That’s what makes me wary of “Joseph Smith’s Last Dream,” and hasty, exaggerated assertions of “validity.”



68 Comments »

  1. Thanks for a very insightful and carefully worded commentary. I’m glad you wrote what you did.

    Comment by James L. Tanner — June 27, 2011 @ 7:20 am

  2. Ardis: Thank you for this “grain of salt”. I appreciate the care you took in discussing this video. Now I can go watch, and enjoy it without worrying about it.
    (I hadn’t heard about the six-foot Quakers either.But I do know, with validity, that Jimmy Stewart had a six-foot rabbit as a friend.)

    Comment by middle-aged Mormon Man — June 27, 2011 @ 8:34 am

  3. Good questions, Ardis. GAS and co struggled over those few days, far more than any other. A mass of conflicting data to sift.

    Comment by WVS — June 27, 2011 @ 8:35 am

  4. Thanks, James. Reviews always touch sensitive points and I tried to be candid without being offensive.

    I dunno, MMM, I never actually saw that rabbit — did you?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 8:37 am

  5. I haven’t seen the video yet, but I read “Joseph’s Last Dream” 9-11 years ago on David Stewarts’ Cumorah website.

    http://www.cumorah.com/etexts/phelpslastdream.txt

    I always thought it was weird, with the vengeful tone toward the laws etc. Is that part in the video?

    Comment by Matt W. — June 27, 2011 @ 8:49 am

  6. WVS, I’m not surprised by conflicting data about an event that had so much significance to the Saints.

    Thanks for the link, Matt. I knew the “Dream” appeared on other sites, but that is one I hadn’t been aware of. Seth edited the dream “for the sake of timing,” as he puts it, but also, I think, to keep the focus tightly on Joseph Smith and the devotional purpose of returning Joseph to the presence of God, so the closing bit about the Laws, etc., isn’t included — that part sounds more than ever like Phelps, not Joseph, and would have left a sour taste for viewers had Seth included it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 9:13 am

  7. Ardis, thank you SO much for doing this. Someone sent this to me recently and something felt off about it. I was bothered in the credits when Bro. Smith’s name is mentioned and he’s listed as “LDS Church Archives” as if he were an employee, which I understand he is not and has not been, though he has been something of a service missionary there. I’m open to correction there, but his identification there seems to offer an incorrect sense of authority as well as the “Church Historian” title as you point out. All of which is unnecessary and unfortunate and only serves to feel like there’s a need to appeal to authority so that this can be believed. He’s a good man, though, and I’d classify him more as a “history buff” than a “historian.”

    Yeah, “the story most Mormons have never heard of” about Joseph Smith that’s printed in an almanac decades after his death. As you say, this has been around for quite some time and if it’s not in the mainstream, there’s a reason for it. But I suppose now we’ll be dealing with stories of Thomas B. Marsh’s Cain-Bigfoot and WWP’s Last Dream for years to come. Is there still time for a second edition of Between Pulpit and Pew?

    Comment by Watcher — June 27, 2011 @ 9:13 am

  8. Excellent, and needed.

    Let’s also not forget that Phelps had a history of creating documents and ascribing the content to JS (sometimes in an official capacity).

    Also thanks for that excerpt from the correspondence. When I went through the Almanacs when they were digitized, I couldn’t figure out why Phelps was calling himself the King’s Jester (often K.J.).

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 27, 2011 @ 9:15 am

  9. …also, I think I prefer Speckled Bird.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 27, 2011 @ 9:23 am

  10. Thanks, Watcher. None of us — especially me — wants to offend Paul Thomas Smith. His comments about the dream are appropriate in their sphere, and I have no reason to believe that he would ever choose to mislead anyone with a title he didn’t own. I’m getting private comments from others who agree with you that he is a good man, and a favorite teacher.

    J., it looks like Phelps had been calling himself a jester so long and so publicly that non-Mormons (Harris? Ferris? I can never remember which one was which or whose book contained what) in the 1850s referred to his using that title. I don’t know what the background of that is. Without knowing, I hesitated to call his claim that Joseph had “anointed and ordained” him to that role as the balderdash I think it is, but that idea is so bizarre that I would require independent, confirming evidence before I could ever believe that came from Joseph and not from Phelps’ addled imagination.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 9:29 am

  11. This is a good reminder about how careful we need to be when evaluating sources. In my own work recently I learned my lesson the hard way (again!) about relying too much on the memory of a man who was writing based on his memory of events which took place decades earlier.

    Comment by Mark Brown — June 27, 2011 @ 9:46 am

  12. [...] I’ve written elsewhere about complaints regarding the historical accuracy of church art. I appreciate Knaupp’s attention to detail, and his somewhat unique style. I also thought Seth Adam Smith did a nice job on the videos on these paintings, so I highlight them here. See Ardis’s careful response to another of Smith’s videos here. [...]

    Pingback by Faith-Promoting Rumor » the mARTyrdom of joseph smith — June 27, 2011 @ 10:16 am

  13. Thoughtful, careful analysis, Ardis. Thank you. It is always tricky navigating deep waters like this, and your review serves as a model for us all in how to approach historical research.

    Comment by kevinf — June 27, 2011 @ 10:22 am

  14. [...] about what is purported to be Joseph Smith’s last dream. I just want to direct readers to Ardis’ excellent review of the video, it’s story, and the potential problems with how the historical account and the video’s [...]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Joseph Smith’s Last Dream[?]–A Lesson in Historical Processes & Representation — June 27, 2011 @ 10:33 am

  15. Thanks for this, Ardis.

    Comment by Jared T. — June 27, 2011 @ 10:40 am

  16. Great post again as always Ardis. I’m glad that when these sorts of things get going there are a few blogs willing to look up and see the facts.

    Comment by Clark — June 27, 2011 @ 10:47 am

  17. Thanks, Mark. Perhaps having been burned by a report based on badly distorted memory myself is one thing that makes me so reluctant to trust Phelps.

    kevinf, while we all tell ourselves that we know we can’t believe everything that’s in print, it *is* tricky to walk the line between suitable caution for the spurious and too hasty rejection of the authentic. I’m aware of two posts up here at Keepa now from years past that need some serious revision after I’ve learned that I didn’t navigate well enough. When I’m able to do the heavy research it will take to correct them adequately, I’ll pick apart my own earlier writings and use them as examples of what goes wrong when you don’t use due diligence.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 10:48 am

  18. Thanks, Jared and Clark. I appreciate your support and your recognition that some things deserve a closer look.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  19. Ardis,

    Thank-you for this excellent critique of my video (and I mean that sincerely). I will include it in my video info section and on my blog posts (I will go back and edit them to include this link). I found this article very useful and interesting. I’m no historian (probably evident). I am trying to include balance in my presentation.

    Perhaps we are battling a bit over semantics. When I say “validity” I mean that it is not some mormon myth (in the sense that its something someone told me but there is no source of an actual account). That’s why I went through great pains to confirm that the account itself (the documnet) was real. I honestly didn’t consider how others might misinterpret that. I will strive to clarify it as I rewrite some of my blog. I was not intending to mislead anyone. I read a great story, was touched by it, and tried to share it to the best of my ability.

    Thank you for your fair and balanced blog. I will make corrections to my own blog later tonight (I’m at a charity event and typing this on my phone….shhh….don’t tell anyone. ;)

    Thank you again! You’re great at what you do!

    Comment by seth adam smith — June 27, 2011 @ 11:25 am

  20. Additionally, in the credits when I list Paul Thomas Smith and LDS Church Archives, I’m listing them seperately. I’m thanking brother smith for his help and then I’m thanking the LDS archives for letting me look at the original document.

    Comment by seth adam smith — June 27, 2011 @ 11:30 am

  21. Ardis I love this response. Clearly I am going to put this on facebook in response to some of my friends who forwarded me the original.

    Comment by Jon W. — June 27, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  22. Thanks for taking it so well, Seth. Please believe what I said about the professional quality of your video. I am very certain of your love for Joseph Smith and your desire to share a tribute with all of us who share that love. Like you, I am a believer in Joseph’s prophetic calling and in his role in restoring the gospel in this dispensation.

    I’m glad, too, to know more clearly what you intended by confirming the validity of the document. Some people are too quick to accept anything that comes along and wouldn’t have taken the step you took to be sure that you had a solid source and weren’t relying on something somebody’s grandmother told after hearing it from a neighbor’s cousin’s barber’s dogwalker.

    My hope is that beyond pinning down a paper-and-ink source, we go one step more and evaluate the reliability of that paper-and-ink source. Most folklore is created in the anonymous, roundabout way — but folklore can also be created by a known individual who exaggerates or is mistaken or lies or is serving some personal purpose in publishing a story. Historians are always having to evaluate the credibility of sources, even of such famous ones as William W. Phelps.

    I think we have an added responsibility to take that step when it involves people’s testimonies, as an effective medium like your video surely does. Most of us have known people whose testimonies were built on fluffy, sweet, wonderful things they heard in Sunday School or inspirational-but-not-quite-true stories told in seminary, only to be disillusioned when they learned otherwise later — they can’t separate the baby from the bathwater and throw it all out. That’s why I’m so cautious where inspirational stories are concerned.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 11:51 am

  23. Love the analysis, Ardis, serves as a nice moment to pause and consider method and rhetorical strategy.

    Comment by BHodges — June 27, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

  24. Thanks, Jon. I hope being able to link to this gives anybody a safe way to question elements of a friend’s enthusiasm without seeming to attack the friend’s faith.

    BHodges, thanks (and thanks for the term “rhetorical strategy” — I was grasping for a succinct way to put that concept).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

  25. A small point: I wonder about the claim that this was Joseph Smith’s “last dream.” It seems to me that the “Kirtland farm” dream related by J.S. on the morning of June 27 (HC 6:609-10) would be a better candidate for this claim.

    Although Phelps is not named in the HC as a member of the accompanying party (that source gives the names of eight men who traveled to Carthage with Joseph and Hyrum, not including Phelps), it is possible that Phelps was one of the unnamed “several other brethren” mentioned in that account.

    It seems that Phelps did travel to Carthage. HC 6:553, 563, 568, 602.

    Comment by Justin — June 27, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

  26. Thanks, Ardis! I really appreciate you sharing the depth of your historical knowledge and respectful critiquing techniques. Not having all those skills, I often rely on my internal skepticism, which I think is close to what St. Paul was talking about as in “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” I just try to make sure they’re “good” and “true” rather than just “feel good” and that’s not always easy to do – especially when Faith is such a test we can’t really apply scientifically or historically. So, we still have to trust our best sources and apply all our charity in the process (St. Paul talked about that too.)

    And, Seth, good job in taking constructive criticism! We’ve had some brief exchanges before and it is so important to be able to connect and appreciate others with different approaches and viewpoints on important matters. And so hard to do without offending or taking offense. Thanks!

    Comment by Grant — June 27, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

  27. Thanks, Justin. I was using an old fashioned dead-tree copy of the HC, and Phelps doesn’t appear in the index beyond 553 (which mentions his being included among the men named in Higbee’s writ but doesn’t say whether or not he went to Carthage. You’ve shown that he did, which clears up any hesitancy about that detail.

    The “Kirtland farm” dream is the one I mentioned in the OP as the one the historians evidently did regard as genuine. Phelps must not have known about that one when he titled his piece — it surely has a claim to being “later” than the one he reports.

    Grant, thanks. No, it’s not always easy to apply satisfactory tests to history (we can’t really prove that anything happened the way we think it did, even with the best of records), and certainly tests for faith seem different from scholarly ones. And I agree that charity is never out of place!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

  28. Ardis, thanks so much for this.

    I am one who, for years, just accepted the round- robin type emails containing ‘faith promoting rumours’ without looking into them. However, a couple of years ago I started to do just that, and when I find something which (invariably, I must regretfully say) shows the inaccuracy of said email, I now send the ‘evidence’ to the person who sent the email/posted on my facebook wall. It’s time consuming (and sometimes disheartening ) stuff though, as few bother to inform the person who sent it to them- and so on. As yourself, I don’t see this as any sort of dissenting spiritual act, but I do see preserving truth and historical accuracy to be the more important concern.

    I’ve lost count of the number of times this particular video has been sent to me in recent days, but with the old default now sent to ‘treat suspiciously until proven otherwise’ :-) I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post. We are, after all, exhorted to study things out in our own mind; to neglect to do so is to deny the gifts and intelligence with which we have been bestowed.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — June 27, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

  29. Good, careful work, as usual, Ardis. Thanks.

    Of course, nobody ever sends me nothin’, so I wouldn’t have even known of this dream video without your post.

    The whole story does conjure up a line from a pop song from my childhood–“all you have to do, is dreeeeeeeeeam.”

    Of course, that song, prophetically*, goes on to include the line “I’m dreamin’ my life away.”

    *No inference is to be drawn from my use of “prophetically” that any Latter-day Saint prophet has ever uttered those words. Determining whether any has I’ll leave to the ferreting historians among us.

    Comment by Mark B. — June 27, 2011 @ 1:12 pm

  30. Anne, I think my challenging of email forwards has been sufficiently pedantic that I’ve scared away most such … but I’d hate to alienate them all because several of my best posts have sprung from fact-checking the ones that looked like they might have some kernel of truth.

    Mark B., is it safe to say that no prophets were harmed in the writing of your comment? Then, dreamer or not, all is well!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

  31. “…several of my best posts have sprung from fact-checking the ones that looked like they might have some kernel of truth”

    And this is no exception. Very good.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — June 27, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

  32. Ardis, thank you for tackling this in the right way. I really think what you said needed to be said, and I also think it needed to be said in the way you said it.

    Comment by Martin — June 27, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

  33. Great post, Ardis, but you gotta be nicer to my man, Billy “Thunderbird” Phelps. I suspect, without any review of any relevant documents, that this was WWP’s amplification of a kernel of an image or a conversation, perhaps with JSJ. The walking on water motif has been recently reviewed by Stan Thayne, and the image of the communal nature of resurrection and Judgment is well attested in Smith’s oeuvre. Steamboats were a notorious source of death and image of destruction. JSJ’s anger at the Laws is also well attested, and my vague memory suggests that Smith had a few such desperate dreams in the 1840s. So I think it’s a reasonably pleasant pastiche of images from the relevant period that may or may not be a somewhat accurate statement of a conversation in June 1844.

    Comment by smb — June 27, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

  34. Thanks for the post, Ardis. For some people, the mention of McNaughton was enough to move the credibility meter to zero.

    Comment by Dave — June 27, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

  35. Thanks, Bruce, and Martin, thanks for expressing approval for the way I said it. I’ve really struggled to curb my natural tendencies toward smart-aleckiness.

    smb, “amplification … perhaps … pastiche … may or may not be” — I certainly can’t quarrel with such unqualified support for your old friend’s words! I have absolutely no reason to doubt Phelps’ absolute sincerity — I can’t think of any justification for accusing him of anything less than doing his best to preserve what was in his mind an important recollection.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 3:16 pm

  36. I can barely keep up with comments. Dave, you have no idea the battle I fought with myself not to embed a haiku in this post.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

  37. Ardis: You have been bursting a number of inspirational bubbles of late–17 Miracles and now this! :-)
    Thanks for reminding us the importance of critically evaluating source materials. I have often been suspicious of full accounts of conversations recorded many years later.

    Comment by Steve C. — June 27, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

  38. Ardis,

    This comment is basically a copy from the comment I posted on Juvenile Instructor. Thank you for your help, Ardis!

    I updated the Paul Thomas Smith to be more accurate. When I wrote “Paul Thomas Smith Author & Church Historian” I did not mean to imply that Paul Thomas Smith is THE Church Historian. It is simply how I’ve recognized him: as a church historian; someone who has studied church history for forty years of his life.

    Me writing “Church Historian” was not an attempt to mislead. It was what I thought was the best, and easiest way to credit Brother Smith. As it turns out, Brother Smith was not able to see the final videos until AFTER they were published. I will make the necessary corrections on my blog and within the videos.

    As I will correct my videos and my blog to reflect what i’ve learned about the historical process, I hope that you’ll update your blog post to include my comments about it, and that I’ve tried to make corrections to the video to reflect that.

    http://youtu.be/wtcuM11prtg

    Thank you.

    Comment by Seth Adam Smith — June 27, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  39. After seeing the interchange on my wall, Ardis, I confess that I was nervous to read this. But I thought you presented your ideas very fairly and thoroughly, and I think careful analysis like this is important.

    The only quibble I have is that a lot of the records we have, even in the BoM, come from memory years after the fact. I think the fact that the BoM is heralded as scripture obviously gives another layer of validity, but I think that such records also indicate that having something come from memory is not in and of itself a reason to dismiss it. (And I know you are exploring more than that reason alone here, but still I think it’s interesting to remember that.)

    Comment by michelle — June 27, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

  40. Steve C., yeah, that’s me, burster of bubbles. Can’t help it.

    Michelle, I’m glad you recognized that I was trying to be careful and fair in my assessment. Note, though, that absolutely nothing in this post calls for dismissing the account of the dream, not even because of the time lag between the event and publishing it. I champion the need for evaluation of the account, which necessarily includes a recognition of the problems inherent with memory after such a long time. Responses to the video granting instant credibility to the dream with no questions asked, some even claiming a prophetic quality for the dream that “strengthens my testimony that Joseph Smith is on the right hand of God today,” show no awareness of the need for evaluation.

    I don’t call for automatic dismissal; I do maintain that people who aren’t more careful about what they accept as truth are in danger of being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, and build their houses on what too often turns out to be sand.

    Seth, thanks for your comment. I’m impressed that you have jumped so immediately to address my concerns. I’ll want to take time to view your updated presentation and consider it — evaluate it, as I’ve called for others to do — before I respond. Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

  41. michelle, to go to the original post, what do you think of Huntington’s reminiscences of JS’s teachings regarding moon Quakers?

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 27, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

  42. I realize that this is a bit off topic, but the whole Moon Quakers thing has never bothered me, in fact I often wonder why Church Members are so quick to dismiss it as being an error on Huntington’s

    Joseph Smith siad that a prophet is only a prophet when he speaks as a prophet, or something thereabouts. He was a prophet, not a scientist. So what if he believed in moon men, or if Brigham believed that people lived on the sun or that adobe bricks if used in the SL Temple would harden into stone, or closer to our day, that Jos. Fielding Smith said that men would never land on the moon. Again, so what, they were prophets, not scientists, they could err in personal ideas and still be prophets.

    Again, sorry to be a bit off topic, won’t happen again.

    Comment by andrew h — June 27, 2011 @ 6:46 pm

  43. One idea I’m not seeing addressed here (and I really have no idea what the real answer is) is that this “dream” presents a very positive view of Emma, apparently published at a time when Emma was being very seriously bad-mouthed by others. How or if does this play into your evaluation?

    Comment by MARJORIE CONDER — June 27, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

  44. Also a vote for Paul as one of the better CES instructors I have encountered. He also was (maybe still is) a long time volunteer at the Church Museum. I always enjoyed talking Church History with him. I can’t imagine that he would do anything to deliberately mislead.

    Comment by MARJORIE CONDER — June 27, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

  45. Ardis,

    Thank you for your consideration. Should take me a day or two to make all of the necessary corrections. Again, thanks for keeping me on my toes. :)

    -Seth

    Comment by Seth Adam Smith — June 27, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

  46. andrew h, it’s not at all off-topic when the point is evaluating the evidence. Although Huntington’s account gets by far the most attention and is more detailed than some, he wasn’t the only one to report a belief in moon men that very well could have come from Joseph Smith — curiously enough, one of Phelps’ almanacs contains a description of men on the moon (not their physical description, like Huntington’s, but a description of what the earth must look like to them, and how the inhabitants of the far side of the moon probably travel to the near side to visit their friends and gaze at the earth). But even if such a thing did originate with Joseph Smith, and even though multiple people were aware of the idea, it has never occupied a prominent place in Mormon thought. It is an untrue thought, it is a distraction, and it’s an easy target for uncharitable people — no matter how easy it is for people like you and me to dismiss, it would be easier for everybody if such false ideas had never been expressed. So anyway, that’s my purpose for mentioning it in the first place, not because it necessarily reflects poorly on Joseph Smith, but because it would just be easier not to have to deal with it at all.

    Marjorie, I think you must have clicked on the video related to Seth’s newest project, a dream reportedly dreamt by Emma Smith, the memory of which has been preserved in some form in her own family. In that case, it isn’t surprising that Emma appears favorably, even in the era of that dream’s first reported public appearance in 1903. The “Joseph Smith’s Last Dream” under discussion doesn’t mention Emma at all.

    And once again, I did and do not mean to disparage Paul Thomas Smith. I don’t suppose at all that misleading anyone is on his agenda. I don’t even know that he had anything to do with how Seth refers to him, or that he saw or approved his designation on the video, or that he was aware of the impression it might create if he did know. I am not attacking Seth or PTSmith. I am only trying to show readers the value of not blindly accepting everything they see in print or on the screen as the literal truth, and showing how the skills of a historian can be useful in evaluating historic accounts.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 8:51 pm

  47. Seth, I know you’re taking heat elsewhere — it was not my intention to provoke that. I have no doubt that your intention with your video was to honor Joseph Smith and share what inspired you. It’s just that in this case the project goes beyond videography — which, IMO, you do very, very effectively for your audience — and crosses into history where I have something to offer. I hope you don’t feel too badly misused here. It is not my intent to go beyond illustrating the importance of exercising good historical judgment where historical documents are concerned. I apologize to you if I’ve gone beyond that, and to Brother PTSmith, too, if I’ve offended him. I’ve tried very hard, spending hours polishing this post in an effort to say what I intended without causing unnecessarily hurt feelings, and I hope I succeeded.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

  48. Ardis I suppose I am the only one reading this wondering what you have added?
    I saw the video and thought well its likely been embellished like crazy but in any case its a nice allegory and its not like anyone is holdi g this up ad claim that ‘see he was a prophet!’ or something…

    So what dis you offer? An exceptionally long long winded version in which you get to impress us all by showing how much of a true researcher and historian you are by saying what we already know… which is we cant twll if its true and we want to be careful taking an accout given many years later. I’m in awe at how Christlike Seth responded to yoir passive aggressive fisking. Its extremely difficult to put your self out there and then be so thoroughly deconstructed in such a way that basically passively refutes everything you’ve done and then doean’t even have the courage to do it at all anyway… so again your post has added what we already knew… we just can’t be sure. Oh and I see a bit of sour grapes at someone aappropriating ‘your’ role as the gatekeeper of LDS story and folklore. It’s a bit of a disappointment to see you cant just offer your two cents but your ten thousand cents… so I will do the same here for you. Hopefully you take it with as much grace as Seth.

    Comment by chris — June 27, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

  49. chris is in the moderation queue after his last tirade. I decided to let this one through because, well, I’m mean that way. I haven’t changed a single letter — this is chris, and nothing but chris.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 10:36 pm

  50. LOLZ. There’s a reason he’s the only one wondering.

    Comment by nobodyputsjohndenverinacorner — June 27, 2011 @ 10:57 pm

  51. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbiP2B6xyzY&feature=youtu.be

    Behold, people of color take a place in the Book of Mormon art world. ;-)

    Comment by Tod Robbins — June 27, 2011 @ 11:41 pm

  52. I don’t call for automatic dismissal; I do maintain that people who aren’t more careful about what they accept as truth are in danger of being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, and build their houses on what too often turns out to be sand.

    I know. Nor do I call for automatic acceptance. I think your underlying purpose here is wise. It’s one of the reasons I think your analysis is definitely worth reading.

    I also appreciate how you are repeating your intentions as being general in purpose. I think your 47 is particularly important for anyone to read as they analyze your post.

    For the record, my comment was also meant to be general, and not specifically related to this video. My only point is that people can also use some of the tools you present here to try to dismiss sacred writ. The interesting thing about that is that if they used all the tools you are presenting, which include personal revelation and institutional authority via repetition, they would be less apt to do so.

    While I’m here, I also want to give Seth a public pat on the back for responding with grace and a willingness to respond to your thoughts. It’s gotta be hard to have a project under the magnifying glass like this, and I think he’s handled it remarkably well (and again, I think you have done a good job trying to communicate your intentions, and I applaud your care in doing that).

    Comment by michelle — June 27, 2011 @ 11:59 pm

  53. Maybe that fine line we walk between the DAMUs in the large and spacious building on one side and the mists of darkness of schmaltzy dishonesty and unrighteous dominion on the other is that iron rod we have to cling to. Hang in there Ardis! And Seth!

    Comment by Grant — June 28, 2011 @ 12:01 am

  54. Just read Seth’s updated post. He’s made several edits, and I particularly liked that he added what the video meant to him. After sharing some of your thoughts and linking to your article, he writes:

    So whether fact or fiction, “Joseph Smith’s Last Dream” is a beautiful and symbolic story. For me, it represents a marvelous bookend to his mission as a Prophet. It symbolically tells the story of his martyrdom not as a horrifying tragedy but as a beautiful triumph. The story first came to me during a difficult time—when I felt as though I was treading through deep water—and it symbolically pointed me back to the Savior. As I exercised more faith in Him, I found that I was soon “able to walk upon the water.”

    My intent in creating the video, was to share this beautiful story with you, and hopefully inspire you (on your troubled waters) to seek out the Savior.

    Comment by michelle — June 28, 2011 @ 12:34 am

  55. Yikes. Surely there are better ways of inspiring people than gussying up an old yarn in an almanac, posting a defense of it’s “validity” then backtracking on it’s “validity”. Bother, what a fiasco-genies and bottles and all that.

    Thank you, Ardis for the excellent sleuthing, as always.

    Comment by Joe B. — June 28, 2011 @ 1:22 am

  56. Thanks Ardis. I really appreciate the time you took to show me how a faithful historian would look at this video. It is well made. Seth is obviously well intentioned and incredibly graceful under fire.

    This post is also a good reminder to me of specificity. When I feel the spirit I may find things true by association when really they just happened to be there at the time I felt the spirit. The more emotional the moment, the more inclusive and far reaching is the truth by association.

    I find I sometimes make assumptions based on when I felt the spirit and what I think it means. Surprisingly ;) these assumptions frequently favor things as I’d like them rather than things as they really are.

    Comment by britt k — June 28, 2011 @ 6:20 am

  57. Thanks, britt. I really like what you write — you have put into a few words what I’ve been grasping toward explaining when I mention my hesitations about emotional and spiritual connections.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 28, 2011 @ 7:30 am

  58. To all: Mid-morning today another post will go up called “Joseph Smith’s Last Dream”: Addendum. I hope everyone with an interest in the current post will read that one.

    Once it goes up — and once I’m back in touch with the internet — I’ll add a link to that new post at the top of this one. I decided to post that separately in a bid to draw the attention of all of you who have read this original post, rather than burying that in a comment here.

    Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 28, 2011 @ 7:32 am

  59. Awesome! Thanks, Ardis. I made a few more edits to my blog post evaluating the dream: I added a link to your blog post about properly evaluating it, added a section on “Controversy” and put large quotes of yours in the article. I also rounded it off with a better conclusion.

    I also added my conclusion to the ‘video info’ section and added a video annotation to the video itself (at the end) strongly encouraging people to read about the historical context and controversy surrounding this account by clicking on the links provided in the ‘video info’ section.

    I’ve added video annotations to the Paul Thomas Smith videos to serve as disclaimers and to clarify his position and I’m going through my blog to make sure that the references there are correct.

    All in all, I haven’t slept too much…but I’m feeling a lot better knowing that I’m getting things right. I’ve felt a little like a first grader showing off his first science project…I’ve tried my hardest to make it my best work, but I’ve fallen short in many ways.

    Thank you (and Jared T from Juvenile Instructor) for your help and patience and willingness to work with me.

    Comment by Seth Adam Smith — June 28, 2011 @ 8:43 am

  60. Ardis, after Justin’s comments I hope you are seriously considering removing the three paragraphs where you call into question whether Phelps was even at the right place or right time to hear the dream. That is one of the biggest lynch pins of doubt that you cast on the whole story. I understand a person can’t recall all copies of newspapers or magazine articles, but you can very easily make an edit to a digital article. As a graduate of history, if I had seriously called into doubt something that I honestly should have researched better than trusting a book index, then I would and should remove it. To leave a historical path you can place a comment in its place that it was removed due to greater knowledge that you had obtained afterwards. Leaving it out there is in my opinion irresponsible and misleading. Most people will read the entire 5 screens of your article but not all 12 screens of comments. Do us a favor and show you are as willing as Seth to admit and reconcile your errors.

    Comment by Scott — June 28, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

  61. Scott: You have misunderstood both of these posts from top to bottom.

    This was never — NEVER — about maligning Seth (or Phelps) or about “casting doubt” over the dream. I did not set out to prove the dream a fake; I set out to test its credibility, and that is what you completely misunderstand. This was a study in how historians check the background and context of a “new” document to estimate its credibility before weaving it into previously accepted history. It’s not so different from what lawyers do with a witness in determining his credibility before basing their case on his testimony.

    One of the questions — not doubts, but questions — that a historian asks is “was this person in the right place at the right time to have witnessed these events?” If he was there, that’s a point toward his credibility. If he was not there, then he is a false witness and his testimony is discounted.

    Nothing I wrote has the effect you claim — not to any critical reader. With the materials I had at hand, I was able to show that Phelps was at the right place at almost the right time, and could possibly have been at the right place at exactly the right time, although I did not have the materials on hand to demonstrate that conclusively. I invited readers to help fill in the chronology if they knew of relevant sources. Justin found those sources. That historical test — a perfectly normal, common, essential test, by the way — came out fully in favor of Phelps, and I not only acknowledged that, but I also pointed out to Seth that he had not (as of early this morning, at least) taken full advantage of that evidence by drawing attention to it on his blog.

    There is no reason to remove that discussion from the first post and every reason to preserve it. The discussion addresses a relevant historical question, an obvious historical test. Deleting the discussion would only ignore and leave open a question that had to be examined.

    I can hardly believe anyone with training or practice in history, as you claim for yourself, could be so ignorant of historical investigation that you can’t appreciate the necessity for examining such an obvious matter — was the witness where he claimed to be when he claimed to be? Only the most incompetent of historians, like the most incompetent of lawyers, would fail to ask that question.

    Go away. You’re not bright enough to participate at Keepa, and no future comments of yours will be posted.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 28, 2011 @ 10:06 pm

  62. Thank you, Ardis! When I saw the video, my “urban legend meter” went off. The first thing I thought was it sounded like it was invented. It just seemed too pat, or something. I appreciate your efforts in giving us more context for the account. I’m also glad for the opportunity to double-check the calibration on my ULM, and happy to see it’s in full working order.

    Comment by Tatiana — June 30, 2011 @ 10:16 am

  63. Thanks, Tatiana. I love your metaphor!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 30, 2011 @ 10:47 am

  64. I spent a delightful day in Ulm in summer 1970, including some time watching a festival on the Danube, the high point of which was the inspiring “Fischerstechen”–sort of a cross between jousting and the Henley Regatta–and then a climb to the top of the tower of the Cathedral, including passing the bells just as they began their evening concert.

    [Was that a threadjack? I did include "inspiring" just to try to keep it close.]

    Comment by Mark B. — June 30, 2011 @ 11:20 am

  65. You are always an inspiration to me, Mark, even when you leave me speechless. Keep up the good work.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 30, 2011 @ 11:39 am

  66. Ardis,

    I’ve made a few (slight) edits to my blog post (including some of the History of the Church sources). I think I’ll do a separate post which reconstructs the timeline using historical sources.

    Apart from that, I wrote a post on Paul Thomas Smith’s credentials. If I could ask a small favor, it would be to include the link to it somewhere within this blog post you’ve written. He was kind enough to do the interview and I did him a disservice by giving him the wrong title in the video. http://sethadamsmith.blogspot.com/2011/06/paul-thomas-smith.html

    Anyway, hope you’re doing well. Thanks for sending me the email with all of the stories! I’m excited to check them out!

    -Seth

    Post Script – I have a video of “Emma Smith’s Last Dream” coming out next week. I’ll be sure to do my homework on the video and on the article. ;)

    Comment by Seth Adam Smith — June 30, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

  67. Seth, I’ve added your link to the top of both this post and the follow-up “Addendum” post, and I’ve republished this with the “UPDATE” signal so that it will appear at the top of Keepa’s page this afternoon and appear again on the aggregators, in an effort to draw attention to your biography of Paul Thomas Smith.

    Please let me repeat again that I meant no disrespect to Brother Smith through my unfamiliarity with his career until a week ago, or by my noting that “Church Historian” was a formal title belonging to someone else. I realize he did not apply that title to himself.

    Also, I’d like you to know that more than one reader contacted me privately, appreciating the historical evaluation of Phelps’ record, but also saying that they would not comment publicly for fear that saying anything — even something academic about Phelps or historical practices — might be misinterpreted as reflecting badly in some way on Brother Smith. Their friendship with and respect for Brother Smith meant too much to risk misunderstanding. He should know how loyal some of his former students are!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 30, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

  68. Ardis,

    You’ve done a wonderful job–both in your initial evaluation and in your subsequent updates. You’ve gone above and beyond even what I had hoped. Thank you for all that you’ve done on my behalf. I was, and continue to be, a big supporter of what you do.

    -Seth

    Comment by Seth Adam Smith — June 30, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

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