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TitleTheir Portrait of a Prophet
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsNibley, Hugh W.
Book TitleNibley on the Timely and the Timeless
PublisherReligious Studies Center, Brigham Young University
CityProvo, UT
KeywordsBiography; Early Church History; Prophet; Smith, Joseph, Jr.

In 1977 two full-length biographies of Joseph Smith appeared, both more of the same with a little more added. They all continue to miss the point: Why is Joseph Smith worth writing about? Only, apparently, be­cause the Mormons are still going strong. He was once thought interes­ting as a picturesque, even fantastic, frontier character; but now that it has become the fashion to explain him away as a perfectly ordinary guy, even that has been given up. But do ordinary guys do what Joseph Smith did ? It is as if the biographers of Shakespeare were to go on year after year digging up all the details of his rather ordinary life, omitting only that, incidentally, he was credited with writing some remarkable plays. The documents which Joseph Smith has placed in our hands are utterly unique; if you doubt it, please furnish an example to match the books of Moses, Abraham, any book of the Book o f Mormon, or for that matter, Joseph Smith's own story. No one since Eduard Meyer has pointed out how closely Joseph's productions match those of the prophets of Israel; no one but he and E. A. W. Budge have had the knowledge to detect fami­liar overtones from ancient apocryphal writings in Joseph Smith's rev­elations and his autobiography. From the first deriding of the Book of Mormon before 1830, to the latest attacks on the book of Abraham, the approach has always been the same: "Considering who Smith was and the methods he used, it is hardly worth the trouble to examine the writ­ings which he put forth as holy scriptures and ancient histories." And so his work remains unread by his critics, and the greatest of all literary anomalies remains not only unexplained but unexamined. But why should his critics not see in Joseph Smith only what they choose to see, since the Mormons themselves do the same?