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Why did early critics of Joseph Smith consider him a “blockhead” but later critics consider him a “myth maker of prodigious talents”? If the Book of Mormon is a fraud, then which extreme view of Joseph is true?

Dan Peterson remarks how Joseph Smith was first seen as a “blockhead” when the Book of Mormon was published:

At first, Joseph Smith was regarded as wholly responsible for the production of the Book of Mormon. This was the explanation that completely dominated skeptical discourse until roughly four years after the publication of the book. But it arose before the book even appeared. Since Joseph was a superstitious and ignorant peasant, the Book of Mormon would naturally be beneath serious notice. He was “an ignoramus,” said The Gem of Rochester for 15 May 1830. “That spindle shanked ignoramus Jo Smith,” echoed the Palmyra Reflector for 30 June 1830. An “ignoramus” who “can neither read nor write,” said Obediah Dogberry in the same newspaper, on 7 July 1830. As the Palmyra Freeman noted in 1829, “The subject was almost invariably treated as it should have been-with contempt.” “This most clumsy of all impositions,” Dogberry characterized the Book of Mormon in January 1831.

Dan Peterson – The Protean Joseph Smith

Then more recently Joseph Smith was seen as a genius:

The famous Yale literary critic Harold Bloom, failing to notice that Joseph Smith was nothing more than a typical “blunderhead,” calls him a religious genius and places him in the American pantheon alongside Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. 

Dan Peterson – The Protean Joseph Smith

If Joseph Smith was a “blockhead”, why do critics now see him as a genius? If he was a genius, why did his peers think he was “possessed of less than ordinary intellect”?


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