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.
to repay. These three scholars are living testimonies to the precious gift of academic fellowship and friendship. In the course of my research, I was aided by countless members of the LDS Church in Utah. Rob Jex was a model of kindness and professionalism. Without his help, important sections of this book could not have been written. Others also offered invaluable aid: Gerald Argetsinger, Berne Broadbent, Tod Harris, Mark Jarman, Michael Landon, and Michael vonRosen. Jack Welch and David
with the hope that its pictures would draw young readers more deeply into the story. What is remarkable in the decades to follow is just how faithful later Book of Mormon storybooks remained to Reynolds’s Mesoamerican illustrative vision. Examples are too numerous to list here, but include such widely circulated works as Genet Bingham Dee’s A Voice from the Dust: A Sacred History of Ancient Americans (1939) and the sixteen-volume Illustrated Stories from the Book of Mormon by Clinton Larson that
Church’s evangelistic vision for the show.19 In the main, the pageant’s story is an intriguing mixture of intertwined narratives that alternate between Joseph’s discovery of the plates at the Hill Cumorah and the story he translates from those plates. The stage is largely Mesoamerican in design, and the primary messages of the pageant revolve around the Mormon belief that Jesus Christ once visited the Western Hemisphere, and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has restored the
that makes the Bible into a trilogy of sorts.23 Ultimately the play tries to teach its audience that religious “prophets ALWAYS speak in metaphors,” and their divinely inspired texts are most helpful when viewed in symbolic, not literal, ways.24 Elder Price (played by Andrew Rannells) stands in the middle alongside Elder Cunningham (played by Josh Gad) as they embark on their mission to Africa in the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon (2011). � Joan Marcus; courtesy of Joan Marcus Photography
1850–1852), 35–36, 48. 16. Orson Pratt, Masterful Discourses and Writings of Orson Pratt (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1962), 419. 17. Book of Mormon (1849), title page. 18. Stocks, “The Book of Mormon, 1830–1879,” 18–19, 109–110. 19. Book of Mormon (1879), 47, 53. 20. Book of Mormon (1920), 34, 393. 21. The specificity of Talmage’s time line would come back to haunt Mormons in later decades as they found themselves forced to reconcile such conundrums as Joseph’s declaration that the