Book Review: Shall Millions Now Know Brother Joseph Again? (Part 1)

By May 1, 2008

S. Michael Tracy. Millions Shall Know Brother Joseph Again: The Joseph Smith Photograph. Salt Lake City, Utah: Eborn Publishing, LLC, 2008. x + 264 pp. $39.99. Hardback, ISBN: 1-890718-61-0.

I have to say that from the time I first saw the Scannel image almost 5 years ago, I liked it. With a resurgence of interest in the Scannel daguerreotype in the last year, I grew excited at the possibility of a true image of the prophet Joseph Smith. When I found out there would be a book about it, I looked forward with anxious anticipation to its publication, which would lay out all the evidence and show convincingly that this was an authentic photo of Joseph Smith. I wanted to believe. As discussion increased around the bloggernacle, a number of questions were raised about the merits of the Scannel image as a true image of Joseph Smith. With regards to the Scannel image, I resolved that I would reserve judgment until I could evaluate the evidence for itself in the book.

I obtained a copy of the book on Monday. Both Bret Eborn and S. Michael Tracy were very gracious in providing it. I was very excited to read it. In reading this book and in writing this review, I have set out to read and write from the perspective of an academic audience. How would my colleagues feel about the way the material is presented and the strength of the evidence? My purpose has been to evaluate it the best I know how and to let the chips fall as they may, so to speak. Today I finished the book with many mixed feelings.

I first will lay out what the book outlines as its purpose. I will then discuss general issues with the book, and I will finish by evaluating how well the book fulfills its purpose.

The first paragraph of the Acknowledgments section gives a three-fold purpose to the book. First, “to determine the accurate physical appearance of the Prophet Joseph Smith using all of the primary historical and anatomical resources discovered through forensic research”. Second, “to determine if there are any artistic portraits that represents [sic] his true appearance”, and third, “to determine if there are any authentic photographic images that have been purported to have been taken of him and test them against the forensic evidence.” The end result would be to pull all of that information together and present a new “portrait” of Joseph Smith (p. ix). This portrait is presented on the front cover as a painting executed by Ken Corbett. My first difficulties arise in that the subtitle of the work is The Joseph Smith Photograph which led me to believe at the beginning that this book was written not to present a new painting of Joseph Smith, but to present the Scannel daguerreotype as an authentic photographic image of the Prophet. This is also how the book has been represented to me. So, I was at first a little surprised that perhaps the Scannel daguerreotype was to be only one piece in the puzzle toward a more faithful artistic representation of Joseph Smith.

There are a number of general concerns I have about the methodology employed in this study and the appropriateness of some of the material presented. Most superficially, the text has many typographical and stylistic errors. Grammatically and typographically, these include but are not limited to the following:

“…if there are any artistic portraits that represents…” (p. ix, quoted above)

“…the first photographic reproductions of the Oil Portrait was not done exactly square on…” (p. 165)

“Keeping the exact aspect ratios would be impossible with the use of modern instruments.” [should be “without”] (p. 166)

“Interestingly enough, there was a number of men…” (p. 194)

“A team of doctors were assembled…” (p. 221)

“Emily L. Smith…married William Orr Scannel on October 27, 1825…William’s estate was sold after his death in 1959″ [I guess it should be 1859] (p. 207)

Additionally, there are a number of errors in the footnotes, just a few of which are found on page 157, note 8. The correct subtitle of Richard Bushman’s book is simply Rough Stone Rolling. Additionally, there should not be a space between “Knopf” and the comma. I don’t think I’m nitpicking when I mention these errors. These may or may not seem like large issues, but what it represents to me is that the editing on this book was less than adequate. At the very least, they distract from the message the book is attempting to convey, and don’t do any favors by way of establishing credibility.

The book also contained a number of errors and extrapolations in content. During a discussion of the events leading up to the martyrdom at Carthage, Tracy notes that on the morning of the 27th, Hyrum read three accounts out of the Book of Mormon about divine deliverance to cheer the prophet. Tracy then goes on to note that “the stories of Nephi and Lehi, Alma and Amulek, and the Three Nephites did not enliven Joseph” (p. 62). The only footnote near this paragraph is found before the sentence just quoted and directs the reader to History of the Church 6:600. According to this reference, it is first evident that the events in question occurred the day before the martyrdom, not the day of. Additionally, though it is mentioned that Hyrum read from the Book of Mormon sections about divine deliverance, there is no mention of how many accounts were read or of the specific individuals referred to. Without any additional source citations, I am left to wonder where this information came from if not simply from the author’s mind.

This pattern of under citing material continues throughout the book. Other instances of difficulty with source material include footnote 6 on page 121, which leaves no clue as to where the letter cited may be found. Footnote 10 on page 134 seems incomplete. Some claims go uncited, such as the statement that Lucien Foster is “given credit for taking the well-published daguerreotype of the Nauvoo Temple, taken close to his studio down on the flats” (p. 147). On the margin of page 163, there appears a description of a mission by Joseph Smith III to Utah and his granting of permission to reproduce an image of Joseph Smith, however, there is no source reference to direct the reader, and there are others.

[To Be Continued…]


  1. I too was under the impression that the book was specificly about the photo and not a new painting for which the photo is just one factor. Weird.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — May 1, 2008 @ 9:42 pm

  2. You left it there… nooooo!!!!

    Comment by JonW — May 1, 2008 @ 10:20 pm

  3. I haven’t finished the book yet, but the tone of the book thus far feels less academic than should be expected. And I have a number of as-of-yet unanswered questions dealing with details of the story I’ve read or heard elsewhere. However, the source data alone is invaluable to anyone who is interested in studying the broader issue.

    Can’t wait for the remaining parts of the review, Jared!

    Comment by Me — May 1, 2008 @ 10:44 pm

  4. Excellent. Thanks for the review, Jared. I look forward to part II. I hate to be skeptical, but the fact that the book appears to have as its purpose (at least in part) to promote a new painting raises suspicion as to the motives of the book.

    Comment by Christopher — May 1, 2008 @ 10:50 pm

  5. #3, there are certainly positive things to talk about. It will take some time, but I’ll get to them.

    Comment by Jared T — May 1, 2008 @ 11:20 pm

  6. I am assuming that is the painting on the cover of the book, right? It certainly looks a lot more like the Scannel image than anything else. Apparently the artist has more faith in this than in any other artists’ renderings or pictures that have circulated. I’m looking forward to the rest of your review to find out why.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — May 2, 2008 @ 1:02 am

  7. #4, Thanks, Chris. I’m not prepared to comment at all on motivations. I don’t know what’s involved there. I know that I have known Bret Eborn for a few years and I feel he’s always dealt pretty fairly with me with books. I have only recently met Tracy, and I don’t get the sense from him that he’s anything but sincere in his intentions. Having read the book now, it just seems like the task is beyond what nonprofessionals can do justice to, and I just think it’s high time for those that haven’t to admit that.

    Comment by Jared T — May 2, 2008 @ 1:27 am

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  9. […] lengthy, and at times, agonizing review of the book.  You can read that review in five parts here: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 (If you’re really bored enough to read all that, you have to also be sure to […]

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