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Mormon Historians’ Community (Part 6 of 8)

Steve Pynakker, evangelical host of Mormon Book Reviews and I got together again on August 27 to celebrate his 50th video on his podcast.  Steve attended his first Mormon History Association meetings in June, and he discusses his experiences at the recent meetings in Park City, Utah.  Steve and Rick Bennett discussed the recent loss of Curt Bench, owner of Benchmark Books.  Curt was an unheralded giant in the Mormon historian’s community, and his death marks a great loss in the community.

Steve:  Rick, when you first started, what was it like, at the very beginning, approaching authors and getting guests on?  Did it come relatively easy?  Did it take some time for your channel to gain traction?

GT:  So, one of the differences between me and you is I’ve been attending Mormon History Association. I had made a few contacts.  I remember Paul Reeve and Margaret Young.  Margaret’s technically not [a historian.] She’s an [English] professor at BYU, but she’s not a history scholar or anything. I picked Margaret because I thought she would say yes. I picked Paul because I thought he would say yes. I picked Curt Bench because I thought he would say, [yes.]

GT:  By the way, I’m so sad. I don’t know if people know, but Curt Bench, owner of Benchmark Books, passed away about a week ago. Apparently he had an aneurysm and it was just sudden. It was awful, just totally awful.  My heart goes out to the family. The funeral was a day or two ago.  He is one of the unsung heroes, and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. You just say Curt Bench’s name and a smile comes to your face, because he’s such a friendly guy. He’s friendly to everybody. I don’t know anybody that didn’t like Curt Bench. I mean, he’s just [so friendly.] If you went to his bookstore, and you’d say, “Hey, I’m looking on a book for this subject or this author.”  He knew what you were talking about, and he would go right to the place, and he’d say, “I think this is what you want.” The knowledge that he had was just so vast. He’s been doing–his bookstore is 25 years old, 30 years old, something like that. Plus, he was at Deseret Book before that. The knowledge that we lost when Curt Bench died is just [immense.] I remember what was his name? Darren Parry said, “When a when a Native American elder dies, a library burns.”  That’s kind of what it is to lose Curt Bench. We’ve lost, and I think he’s kind of an unsung hero. Everybody knows him, but we’ve lost a giant in Mormon History, and I’m so sad for his family.

GT:  But, like I said, going back to your question, I picked Curt because I thought he would say yes. That was such a fun interview, because I knew that he had something to do with the Mark Hofmann saga, but I didn’t know what it was. Then, when I said, “Can you tell me what happened?”  Curt says, “Well, after the third bombing,” No, after the second bombing, “I called Mark” and said, “Mark, you’ve got to be careful. There’s a bomber out there.”

GT:  And I was like “You called?”  It was just so crazy. Those first few guests that I kind of had a personal acquaintance with, I thought they would say yes. Then I started reaching out to strangers.

Curt was a staple at the meetings and is one of the most friendly, funny, and cordial professionals you’ll ever meet.  The MHA also accepts all people; you don’t have to be a professional historian to attend!  All you have to do is like Mormon history. Check out our conversation….

Mormon Historians’ Community (Part 6 of 8)
Curt Bench is the owner of Benchmark Books. He passed away unexpectedly a few weeks ago.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Steve.

557: Future of Mormon History

556: Are Faith & Intellect Compatible?

555: Why Start Gospel Tangents?

554: Difference between Evangelicals & Protestants

553:  Background on Rick

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Should LDS Leaders Have Detected the Hofmann Fraud?

Let’s talk about the Mark Hofmann bombings & forgeries.  There are some critics of the LDS Church who ask the question, why weren’t church leaders able to discern, using the spirit of prophecy the Hofmann fraud?

Curt Bench:  I’ve heard that countless times.

GT:  How do respond to that?

Curt:  Well, the way I respond is that we’re all in good company, because we all got fooled.  His family got fooled, his own wife and his parents, his friends and neighbors, other family, experts that tested his materials.  He fooled everyone, including General Authorities.  So I guess I’m prone to grant them, or give them a lot of slack because they’re human just like we are.  As Dallin Oaks said later, unless we’re given a reason not to trust, we trust people.

Others note that it seems like Church bought anti-Mormon material, or material unflattering to the church’s narrative in order to hide them from the public and prevent discovery of them.  Is that a fair characterization?

Curt:  I mean that bothered people I think when that came to light.  From President Hinckley’s perspective if I were in his shoes I would understand better the motivation I think but like I said, everything is 20/20 now in our vision.  But I can understand why that would be a difficult thing for people because it does give people the impression of trying to hide things and put things in the best light possible so I can certainly understand that perspective.

Curt Bench goes into further detail on these questions.  We’ll also talk about how Mark’s family reacted, as well as the family of Steve Christensen, (Steve was killed in the first bombing.)  Check out our conversation…  (Don’t forget to check out (parts 1, 2, 34, and 5!)

Should LDS Leaders Have Detected Hofmann?



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Curt Bench’s Role in the Hofmann Bombings Court Case

We’re continuing our conversation about the Hofmann bombings.  This time we’ll talk about the short court case against Mark Hofmann.  It wasn’t much of a case, just a preliminary hearing.  Curt Bench tells us that he was initially skeptical about police reports that Hofmann was the bomber.

Yeah they were convinced but it took a long time to convince me and others that he was guilty.  He was our friend.  He was a guy we had known and done business with for years.  Your friends don’t kill people, and there was no talk then of forgery or nobody knew about the financial schemes or him being a con man or anything like that, so that was all to come.

Curt also tells how he became an unknowing participant in Hofmann’s fraud.

I showed Mark this Book of Common Prayer which was no big deal, but he said, ‘well I’ll give you 50 bucks for it.’  [I thought] I don’t have a customer, I might as well.  Later he said, ‘you know there was some writing in the back of that appears to be Martin Harris’ so I’ll give you a couple thousand dollars for it.’  [This was] after he had already given me $50 for it and that was fine because I didn’t know.  So I thought, ‘gosh that’s really quite fair.’  So what turned out that he’d done…

GT interrupts:  So you didn’t question that Martin Harris was in there.  You just thought you missed that?

Curt:  No, no.  In fact later and during the investigation and in the preliminary hearing I had been asked.  Well let me go back and say, what Mark did, we found out later was he wrote a little poem about returning this book which you’ve borrowed.  I don’t remember the text of it, in ‘Martin Harris’s handwriting.’  Because here you have a known Harris family item, and no examples of Martin Harris’s handwriting extant, and so Mark created Martin Harris’s handwriting which was used to establish the authenticity of the Salamander Letter.

Check out this episode!  You’ll hear Curt Bench will tell us about how he spoke at the Hofmann Bombings preliminary hearing. (Don’t forget to check out (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4!)  Check out our conversation…


Curt Bench’s Role in Hofmann’s Court Case