John Dehlin Cites Forgery as if Authentic

On his Mormon Stories website, John Dehlin has recently begun releasing essays on the “truth claims” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, claiming that they “explore Mormon truth claims as accurately, succinctly, and objectively as possible.” The motive for them is because Dehlin and his acolytes think that the Church’s Gospel Topics essays are “excessively apologetic” and so the Mormon Stories essays are meant to represent “the essays that should have been released by the LDS Church.”

The truth is that accurate, succinct, and objective are not the adjectives I would use to describe any of these essays. Whatever one may say about the objectivity and historical rigor of the Church’s essays, there is little question that the essays Dehlin is publishing are hopelessly and demonstrably worse.1

While there is a lot that could be done to demonstrate this, for now let’s just stick with something that I hope we can all agree is egregiously irresponsible: one of the essays cites a known forgery as if it were an authentic historical source.

Here’s a screenshot from the “Printing the Book of Mormon” essay:

The source cited as Defense, Oliver Cowdery p. 229 is more properly known as Defence in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separing Myself from the Latter Day Saints, supposedly published in Ohio in 1839. Now here’s the rub—there isn’t a shred of evidence that this pamphlet ever existed before 1906, when it was first published by R. B. Neal, the leader of the American Anti-Mormon Association at the time. Investigators have searched in vain for an original 1839 tract, or any kind of reference to it—none can be found. Nor can the press it was supposedly printed on (Pressley Job Office) be located.

As if all that were not suspicious enough, in comparing the writing against other things written by Oliver Cowdery, researchers discovered that it draws phrases from Oliver’s eight letters in the Messenger and Advocate from 1834–1835, and none of his other writings, but then reworks and re-contextualizes them. The pamphlet also betrays influences from David Whitmer’s 1887 An Address to All Believers—which is obviously impossible for something truly written in 1839.

And lest you think that it’s just “Mopologists” who dismiss this, everything said above is based on the research of the Jerald and Sandra Tanner —notorious anti-Mormons of the late-20th century. Sandra’s even been on Dehlin’s podcast. In 1967, the Tanners published a study of the document, concluding: “The whole thing, we think, looks like the work of an impostor.”2 They go on to say:

After carefully examining the evidence, we have come to the conclusion that the “Defence” is probably a spurious work, written sometime after 1887—i.e., after David Whitmer’s pamphlet appeared.3

More recently, Ronald V. Huggins, another well-known anti-Mormon, concluded in 2008:

This makes it all but certain that the Defence was plagiarized from the Messenger and Advocate. The only way someone could make a case for its authenticity at this stage would be to prove that Cowdery was in the regular habit of plundering phrases and paragraphs from his earlier writings and dropping them without rhyme or reason into his later ones.4

He goes on to state that while there were some hold outs in the 1960s, such as Junita Brooks and Fawn Brodie, “With time, however, Jerald’s position has won out, leaving Brodie to be one of the very few historians to hold out for the authenticity of the Defence.” 5

And these are not the only sources that mention that this document is a forgery. Latter-day Saint historian Richard Lloyd Anderson was investigating this issue around the same time as the Tanners, and published similar conclusions in 1968.6 He addressed the topic again in the April 1987 Ensign, refering to it as a “historical forgery.”7 More recently, Roger Nicholson drew attention to this forgery in 2013.8 FairMormon also has a page on it.

To my knowledge, there is no recent analysis favoring the documents authenticity or rebutting the work of the Tanners, Huggins, or Anderson.9

Adding to the irony of all of this is that the Mormon Stories essays are said to “honor, stand beside, and build upon the incredible resources already created” by the likes of UT Lighthouse Ministry—the anti-Mormon organization founded by the Tanners, which published both the Tanners’ original 1967 assessment and Huggins’ 2008 piece. In Huggins’ view, exposing this forgery is one of Jerald Tanners’ lasting contributions to the study of Mormon history. As such, I think it’s safe to that by quoting from this forgery, Dehlin is actually dishonoring the Tanners’ legacy.

Furthermore, although this forgery may only be used to support a minor point, the bottom line is this gives us very little reason to have confidence in the integrity of the essays and their level of historical rigor.