The "Book of Mormon": A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books)
Paul C. Gutjahr
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Late one night in 1823 Joseph Smith, Jr., was reportedly visited in his family's farmhouse in upstate New York by an angel named Moroni. According to Smith, Moroni told him of a buried stack of gold plates that were inscribed with a history of the Americas' ancient peoples, and which would restore the pure Gospel message as Jesus had delivered it to them. Thus began the unlikely career of the Book of Mormon, the founding text of the Mormon religion, and perhaps the most important sacred text ever to originate in the United States. Here Paul Gutjahr traces the life of this book as it has formed and fractured different strains of Mormonism and transformed religious expression around the world.
Gutjahr looks at how the Book of Mormon emerged from the burned-over district of upstate New York, where revivalist preachers, missionaries, and spiritual entrepreneurs of every stripe vied for the loyalty of settlers desperate to scratch a living from the land. He examines how a book that has long been the subject of ridicule--Mark Twain called it "chloroform in print"--has more than 150 million copies in print in more than a hundred languages worldwide. Gutjahr shows how Smith's influential book launched one of the fastest growing new religions on the planet, and has featured in everything from comic books and action figures to feature-length films and an award-winning Broadway musical.
compartment.16 As Joseph established their new Zion in Illinois, his neighbors once again grew uneasy with his political power. His creation of a formidable militia called the Nauvoo Legion did not allay their fears. Matters were further complicated by his increasingly unorthodox revelations. Some scholars have noted that had Mormonism adhered to the teachings found in the Book of Mormon, it would have differed little on central doctrinal issues from the country’s other Protestant
could bring “a person nearer to God . . . than any other book.”49 He wished all Saints to recommit themselves to reading the book and spreading its message, so that the Church might not face “God’s condemnation for having treated it lightly.”50 Benson carried his emphasis on the book to all the educational institutions of the Church, where again and again he sought to place the Book of Mormon at “the center of all gospel study.”51 He encouraged scholars at BYU not only to teach the book with
as much as possible the archaic English forms of the words contained in the book, as well as the sentence structure itself. For example, translators are taught to pay close attention to the chiasmic sentence structures found throughout the Book of Mormon. A chiasm (referring to the cross shape of the Greek letter chi, ) is a structure that works on the principles of inversion, reflection, and focus. A passage from 1 Nephi 1:2–3 provides an example of chiasm used to train translators: A. Having
certain that a book containing eternal truths was being bound for eternity as well. As concerned as the Church is with the quality of translating, printing, and binding the Book of Mormon, it pays an equal amount of attention to how the book is disseminated by its missionaries around the world. Each Mormon male in good standing between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six is expected to serve a two-year mission. Women may also go on missions, but their tenure is eighteen months in the field,
alone a reality that has marked every subsequent film adaptation of the book: namely, the Book of Mormon is too large and complex a story to be captured in a single motion picture. The Life of Nephi covered only the initial stories found in the Book of Mormon concerning Lehi and his family fleeing Jerusalem and arriving in their new home across the ocean.4 Beginning with Sorensen and Burns, filmmakers have been forced to make a decision when attempting to bring the book to the silver screen: they