Question: What effect did the Hofmann forgeries have upon the study of early Latter-day Saint history?

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Question: What effect did the Hofmann forgeries have upon the study of early Latter-day Saint history?

D. Michael Quinn wrote his first edition of Mormonism and the Magic World View while still believing that Hofmann's forged "Salamander letter"

One difficulty of assessing the issue of "magic" versus a religious belief in the supernatural is the fact that D. Michael Quinn wrote his first edition of Mormonism and the Magic World View while still believing that Hofmann's forged "Salamander letter" was genuine. He chose to publish his work essentially unaltered, believing nothing needed to be changed,[1] when the truth of the forgeries became known:

Quinn must have begun his research when he still had the Hofmann letters and the salamander to serve as the rock of his hypotheses. It was those solid, indisputable historical documents that would give credibility to the rest of his data and make his case come together. Quinn's speculative notes would merely hang like decorations on the solid mass provided by the Hofmann documents, and the greater would justify the lesser. However, as Quinn approached publication, the Hofmann materials were pulled out from under him, leaving a huge salamander-shaped hole in the center of his theory. . . .

With the salamander letter and other Hofmann materials, Quinn had a respectable argument; without them he had a handful of fragmented and highly speculative research notes. It appears to me that when he was faced with the choice of seeing months of research go down the drain for lack of a credible context to put it in or of putting the best face on it and publishing anyway, Quinn simply made the wrong choice. This would explain why his remaining arguments are so strained and the scanty evidence so overworked. This would explain why the book is such a methodological nightmare. Having lost the turkey at the last minute, Quinn has served us the gravy and trimmings, hoping we won't notice the difference.[2]

Notes

  1. See footnote 29 in John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  2. Stephen E. Robinson, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, by D. Michael Quinn," Brigham Young University Studies 27 no. 4 (1987), 94–95.