Brian Hales the Amateur–––Revisited

He doesn’t have a cult of anonymous redditors following him, you say? How good of a scholar could he even be?

Readers of my blog will recall that some time ago Jeremy Runnells amusingly accused Brian C. Hales (undoubtedly one of the finest living authorities on the topic of the history of Mormon plural marriage) of being a “Mormon amateur apologist.” At the time I responded by mentioning the number of respected academic peer reviewed venues Brian’s work had appeared in, including Mormon Historical Studies, Journal of Mormon History, and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. This of course was in addition to his three-volume work Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology published by the respectable Greg Kofford Books.

This morning I received my copy of the brand new volume The Persistence of Polygamy: Fundamentalist Mormon Polygamy from 1890 to the Present, edited by Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster and published by John Whitmer Books. This rounds out the “Persistence of Polygamy” series that covers the three stages of Mormon polygamy: Joseph Smith’s plural marriage, plural marriage from 1852–1890, and post-manifesto polygamy and Mormon fundamentalism. Brian has an article on the topic of “John Taylor’s 1886 Revelation” in this new volume. It’s not surprising to see this, after all, since Brian has published an award-winning book on the topic of Mormon fundamentalism.

Keep in mind that Brian has articles on plural marriage in the first two anthologies of the “Persistence of Polygamy” series as well .

Oh, and also a number of articles in the peer reviewed Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture.

Oh, and also a new piece on John C. Bennett’s status as an alleged Nauvoo polygamy insider in the April 2015 issue of the Journal of Mormon History.

Oh, and also he’s now the president of the John Whitmer Historical Association.

So . . . remind me again which peer reviewed, academic venues Jeremy’s work on the history of plural marriage has appeared in, and which historical associations he is affiliated with.

That’s what I thought.

Not to worry, though. I’m sure that if Jeremy ever decides to take a sabbatical from teaching at the prestigious University of Reddit (I hear UoR is almost as high as the University of Phoenix in Princeton’s ranking) and venture forth into academia he can be invited by Brian to present his work at next year’s JWHA conference.

The saga is complete.

11 thoughts on “Brian Hales the Amateur–––Revisited”

    • Thanks for sharing this review.

      "This is a very well researched and presented volume, and should be considered as a serious piece of scholarship that enlightens neglected areas of of Mormon past."

  1. The only inaccurate descriptor Runnells used for Hales is 'amateur'. He is simply a mormon apologist, nothing less, nothing more. I guess someone who would refer to venues that Hales has published in with a straight face as "peer reviewed" would have no problem calling Hales an "expert" rather than an apologist. One can have a vast reservoir of information with little to no expertise due simply to their own limited understanding of said reservoir.

    • Are you denying that the Journal of Mormon History, Mormon Historical Studies, Interpreter, and Dialogue are peer reviewed?

      How odd.

      This notion that Brian is not an "expert" on the topic of Mormon plural marriage is silly on its face. His decade of publication on this topic in top tier journals and other respectable venues more than proves he's an expert on the top whose work is taken seriously by other scholars.

      Jeremy Runnells? Not so much.

      Finally, is Brian an apologist as well? Sure he is, in that he is defending a specific interpretation of the historical data. Scholars do this all the time, and the rhetorical tricks of Runnells and his followers notwithstanding, there's nothing inherently shameful in being an "apologist" for a position or idea if you're being such in good faith.

    • Oh, I'm well aware that they're peer reviewed by other mormons with very much the same vested interests as Hales. But to suggest this is akin to peer review in a reputable journal is….well….odd.

      Top tier journals? It's ironic that you would use the phrase "silly on it's face" immediately before describing the journals in question as top tier. Top tier by who's standards? What non-mormon scholars take his work seriously? What non-mormon's consider any of these journals as top tier?

      Reputable scholars attempt to use sound logic to defend their interpretation of the data, Hales..Not so much. He allows wild assumptions where they serve his purpose and is highly irregular when considering the quality of a source which also seems to align itself with what best fits the narrative that he favors.

    • I have no idea what Unknown's experience with the various Mormon journals is, but while they vary in quality and rigor (as, in fact, all academic journals do), they are all subject to peer-review. In the case of at least one journal, I know this first hand. And Brian Hales has published across the spectrum (in terms of both quality/rigor and also ideology) of Mormon journals–something few others have actually done. Scoffing at calling them "peer-reviewed" can only be done with a straight face by the absolutely (and probably willfully) ignorant.

      And yes, Brian Hales is an expert, even the leading expert on Joseph Smith's polygamy, and among the leading experts on fundamentalist polygamy. And being an apologist or not has no bearing on that pretty much indisputable fact.

      I consider Dan Vogel an expert on early Mormonism, and among the leading experts, even. And this is despite the fact that he lacks any advanced degree in history (or anything), does not hold (and I do not believe he has ever held) a job in academia, publishes primarily through a trade (rather than an academic) press, has virtually no standing in the wider, non-Mormon-themed, world of academic history, and is clearly a critic of Mormonism. I disagree with him quite a lot, but have no trouble recognizing him as an expert. And I could say the same of at least a handful of others whom I would dub critics of Mormonism.

      So why is it that ex-Mormons have such a hard time even acknowledging the expertise of those they brand apologists? Even when they have so clearly cultivated that expertise and reputation? Denying Hales is an expert simply makes y'all look petty, really.

    • Anon,

      "Oh, I'm well aware that they're peer reviewed by other mormons with very much the same vested interests as Hales."

      You seriously believe that Dialogue is aligned with Brian's conservative approach (or "interest") when it comes to Mormon history, especially plural marriage?

      "Top tier by who's standards?"

      By the standard of every single reputable Mormon and non-Mormon scholar of Mormon history and/or theology.

      "What non-mormon scholars take his work seriously?"

      You mean Brian's work? Well, for one, disaffected or ex- or liberal Mormons such as Todd Compton, Dan Vogel, D. Michael Quinn, etc. They have strong disagreements with him, but they take his work very seriously. Then there are the scholars associated with the John Whitmer Historical Association of the Community of Christ (RLDS) who, you know, publish his stuff and made him president of the association.

      "What non-mormon's consider any of these journals as top tier?"

      All of the non-Mormons that publish in them, such as the Jewish scholar Joshua Berman of Bar Ilan University of Israel, who just last week published with Interpreter, or the Methodist historian Jan Shipps, who has been a longtime contributor with the Journal of Mormon History.

      Seriously, the fact that you're asking these silly rhetorical questions indicates to me that you probably haven't even read any of these journals in any meaningful manner, if at all.

      "He allows wild assumptions where they serve his purpose and is highly irregular when considering the quality of a source which also seems to align itself with what best fits the narrative that he favors."

      Wait, are you sure you're not talking about Jeremy Runnells here?

      But really, if this is the case with Brian's work, I'm sure you should have no problem publishing a rebuttal in any of the venues Brian's work has appeared in. I once asked Jeremy to stop talking trash and do this, but I guess he's been too busy on reddit to do so. If or when you do, please send me the article. You can access my email on this blog's front page.


    • Anonymous, I understand why you would write as anonymous. Why let your name out and be publicly embarrassed?

      Dialogue includes non-Mormon scholars as well as Mormon scholars who I personally know do not agree with Brian's conclusions.

      Journal of Mormon History includes ex-Mormons and non-Mormons, as well as people who have been outspoken in their disagreement with Brian's conclusions but who have been extremely complimentary of his works and his research skills.

      As one of those on the board of editors for the JWHA Journal, I know how rigorous the peer review is and I also know that most of the members of JWHA do not agree with all that Brian has written but have a deep respect for his skills and publications.

      Finally, both Newell Bringhurst and I have a great respect for Brian hales and his work. Newell Bringhurst is not an active and certainly not a believing LDS. I am, but I assume your response will be that I'm just another amateur historian apologist who has no idea what I'm talking about. If so, feel free to have us compare our publications on the subject of plural marriage.

      Craig L. Foster,
      co-editor of The Persistence of Polygamy series

    • While Hales has a fairly extensive knowledge of the source documents concerning polygamy in early mormonism, this in no way constitutes him as an expert. I would consider an expert to have authoritative knowledge of which he does not. His writings and research revolve around the a priori assumption that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that God was the author and arbiter of plural marriage at this time. This colors and discounts every conclusion he draws which substantially detracts from any claim to unbiased and authoritative knowledge. Of course you'll disagree with me because you share the same irrational a priori assumptions and desperately seek a narrative that supports a faith based view of history rather than it's much uglier counterpart.

      Hales is not a scholar writing in his discipline in which he would face peer review that could affect his career, he is simply a hobbyist historian who had a very good assistant helping him to research source documents in an attempt to build a faith affirming narrative and pass it off as history. His writings have not faced the type of peer review that a PHD dissertation would face and quite frankly, would not stand up to such.

      So while I can understand your need to criticize Jeremy and the threat he presents to your church which was established and directed to this day by God himself…….maybe you should deal with the substantive issues he has put forth rather than worry about his assessment of your friend, Mr. Hales.

      Craig, embarrassment is hardly the reason an person who lives with mormons, works with and for mormons, is married to a semi active mormon would hide their identity when posting criticisms of mormonism on the internet. But keep propping that straw man up whenever you feel the need.

    • The same stuff spouted out. Every single point you made has been responded to.(talking about your complaints of Hale, not specifically polygamy).

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