Criticism of Mormonism/Books/The Lion of the Lord

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Response to The Lion of the Lord

A FairMormon Analysis of: The Lion of the Lord, a work by author: Stanley P. Hirshson

Response to claims made in The Lion of the Lord by Stanley P. Hirshon

Index of claims

Summary: Responses to specific critical or unsupported claims made in The Lion of the Lord indexed by page number.

About this work

But it is perhaps unfair to ignore the rule that the reviewer should not stray beyond the bounds set by the intentions of the author. Even by these limited standards, however, Hirshson does not come off very well. Claiming to be "one of the few non- Mormons of this century to deal seriously with Young's religion," he has adopted a tone of almost mocking condescension, standing in sharp contrast to those non-Mormon scholars like Thomas F. O'Dea, P.A.M. Taylor, Mario DePillis, and Jan Shipps, whose serious intent--obvious in the work itself--needs no reaffirmation in introductions. If Mr. Hirshson has read his anti-Mormon literature he cannot have missed the almost obligatory professions of serious and scholarly intent gracing the prefaces of even the most blatant diatribes and exposés….

…unfortunately Professor Hirshson has not yet learned that it takes more than clever phrases and a racy topic to write a lively book. As a result, Hirshson's book is not only poor history, but incredibly dull. If, as a reviewer, I had not had the obligation to read it to the bitter end, I don't believe I could have finished it for boredom.

— Klaus Hansen, "review of Lion of the Lord," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 5 no. 2, 109.
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The sources exploited by Professor Hirshson and his interpretation of them testify that The Lion of the Lord has failed to reach the flesh-and-blood Brigham Young, leaving us rather with a caricature of the man drawn from news accounts of the period; the founder of a new western empire is transformed into a paper lion….The Lion of the Lord provides precious little insight on the subject and leaves the reader to conclude that Professor Hirshson is inclined rather to perpetuate nineteenth-century myths than to search for an understanding

While space limitations preclude a full account of errors in historic fact, several should not go unmentioned….

Hirshson's indifference to accuracy is conspicuous….

The author's barely concealed antagonism to the Saints bleeds the cause of scholarship….

— Donald R. Moorman, "review of The Lion of the Lord," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 5 no. 1, 98-100. (non-LDS reviewer)
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Regretfully, it is clear in Lion of the Lord that Stanley P. Hirshson does not understand the nineteenth-century Mormon movement or Brigham Young….

Mr. Hirshson spent [only] half of one day in the Church Historian's Archives….

One non-Mormon scholar who has been using the Brigham Young material, informs me that he has been working in these materials for two years and feels that it would take another eight years to do them justice. From my own observations, this is not an exaggeration….

Mr. Hirshson also ignored some other vital collections. The Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California, which is probably the best library on Utah history outside the state, was never visited by Mr. Hirshson. Nor was the library at the University of Utah, which has many vital manuscripts, including those of George A. Smith, Brigham Young's confidant in later years. The library at Brigham Young University, which has a large diary collection and which now has the Brigham Young account books was also overlooked….

The author made another serious mistake in his seemingly unqualified acceptance of the newspaper articles from the New York Public Library. These articles are important, but they are important more for their distortion than for their accuracy. They show what was written in the East concerning Mormonism. Mr. Hirshson's statement that the authors of these articles were qualified journalists, is intriguing. The journalists were generally anonymous, and Mr. Hirshson makes little attempt to identify them. Had he done so he would have found that they were such men as Jesse Gove, using the pseudonym "Argus," and Randolph Marchy, a trooper in the Dragoons, men who both wrote for the anti-Mormon New York Herald. The articles are a curious mixture of truths, half-truths, and fantasy. To cite only one example: had Hirshson bothered to check at the Church Historian's Office, instead of relying on the anonymous correspondent for the New York Times, he would have found that Heber C. Kimball was quite literate, as an examination of his journal would attest….

The misfortune of Lion of the Lord is not only its mediocrity but its appearance of legitimacy.

—Chad J. Flake, "source review of The Lion of the Lord," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 5 no. 1, 105-107.

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What, then, is this "biography" based upon? "The key to understanding him [Brigham Young] is not in the Rocky Mountains but in the Midwest and along the Atlantic Coast," writes Mr. Hirshson. Great eastern newspapers, he wrote, sent "their best reporters to Salt Lake City for varying periods of time, and to interview leading Mormons who came East." The primary source materials in Utah, writes Mr. Hirshson without examining them, would probably yield "nothing startling," therefore the key is in New York newspapers. This is analogous to suggesting that the key to understanding Robert E. Lee is not in Virginia, but in the Yankee correspondents' reports about him in the Big City newspapers. Or, if it is more convenient to do one's research in London, then no doubt the key to Lee is in the British Museum!...

Obviously, it is a contribution to have combed New York and other eastern newspapers for interesting stories and quotable excerpts about Brigham Young and the Mormon Church. But to suppose that contemporary eastern reporters were sufficiently "in the know" that their stories can be used as substitutes for primary evidence when, as in this instance, such is available, is fatuous. How accurate were the stories filed by these correspondents about Western Indians? Western Outlaws? Or even Grenville Dodge? How far would a Ph.D. candidate get if he proposed to write a biography of Santa Anna, Pancho Villa, or Porfirio Diaz by spending one day in Mexico and the remainder combing through New York newspapers?...

In short, despite the impressive looking bibliography, this is biography based on hearsay, rather than on the kind of hard evidence that the scholar unearths by his diligence and insight in working through primary sources

—Leonard Arrington, "review of Lion of the Lord," Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Winter 1970), 240-245.