The "Book of Mormon"

The "Book of Mormon": A Biography

Paul C. Gutjahr
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s5sf
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The "Book of Mormon"
    Book Description:

    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 theBook 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 theBook of Mormonemerged 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4161-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. A NOTE ON USAGE
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. PART I Germination
    • Prologue
      (pp. 3-10)

      In 1828, the directors of the twelve-year-old American Bible Society (ABS) set forth the audacious plan to provide every American household with a Bible. In a nation where only twenty years earlier publishers had been hard-pressed to produce two thousand copies of any given book, the ABS exerted its formidable will to undertake a breathtaking mission it named “The General Supply.”¹ Between 1829 and 1831 the ABS published and distributed an astounding half million copies of the scriptures in an attempt to touch the lives of each and every American with the word of God. In this way, the Bible...

    • CHAPTER 1 Joseph’s Gold Bible
      (pp. 11-37)

      The story of theBook of Mormoncannot be separated from its self-proclaimed “author and proprietor,” Joseph Smith Jr.¹ The fifth child born into the farming family of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Jr. entered the world two days before Christmas, 1805, in the small town of Sharon, Vermont. In an era when children provided critical labor for a farm’s viability, the Smith family eventually grew to include six sons and three daughters. By the time Joseph was ten, his family had already moved several times, a tortuous migratory pattern that began after Joseph’s father sold his long-established Vermont...

    • CHAPTER 2 Holy Writ or Humbug?
      (pp. 38-58)

      More than sixty years after he set the type for the first edition of theBook of Mormon, John Gilbert granted an interview to theNew York Heraldconcerning his views on the book and the man who had translated it. Gilbert was not a religious man and never believed that Joseph had found “any plates, unless [he] secured a few of the archaeological plates at a museum to show on extraordinary occasions to doubting friends.”¹ He recounted having once met Brigham Young’s son, Brigham Young Jr., who asked him whether he thought “our Mormon Bible a humbug.”² Gilbert replied...

  7. PART II Budding
    • CHAPTER 3 Multiplying Prophets
      (pp. 61-85)

      While controversy surrounded theBook of Mormonfrom its inception, the fact remained that perhaps the book’s greatest attraction was how it provided the ever-growing number of Mormon converts a tangible testimony that God was once again speaking to humanity. Absolutely central to any understanding of the religious power and influence of the book is the prophetic figure who ushered it into the world. The book and the Prophet functioned in a symbiotic relationship of mutual credentialing. The presence of a new sacred text testified to the special status and powers of Joseph, who had translated it, and in turn...

    • CHAPTER 4 Great Basin Saints and the Book
      (pp. 86-110)

      While Mormonism splintered in the wake of Joseph’s death, Brigham Young worked heroically to not only keep the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) together, but give it a vision for its future. Most immediately, that future involved moving the Saints westward so that they might be able to practice their religion without the fear of persecution from either their neighbors or the government. The need was particularly urgent because by 1845 non-Mormons neighboring Nauvoo made it clear that the Saints must move, threatening military action if they did not leave the state. They disliked the Mormon practice...

  8. PART III Flowering
    • CHAPTER 5 Missionary Work and the Book
      (pp. 113-136)

      While theBook of Mormonhas occupied different rungs of importance over the years on the ladder of the LDS Church’s religious educational programming, there is one area of practice where, setting aside a brief period of de-emphasis in the early twentieth century, it has long retained preeminence: missions work. The three witnesses to the golden plates expressed the desire that the book’s truth might be “known unto all nations, kindred, tongues, and people,” a desire that set a tone of missionary zeal that has never wavered among the Saints.¹ By the beginning of the twenty-first century, more than fifty...

    • CHAPTER 6 Scholars and the Book
      (pp. 137-152)

      Mormon missionaries are not the only people who desire readers of theBook of Mormonto take Moroni’s words seriously by asking “God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ,” whether the contents of the book are true.¹ Mormon children are encouraged at a young age to do the same, as are older Mormons whose faith may waver as they age. This emphasis on seeking divine confirmation to help guide one’s religious convictions lies at the heart of Mormon belief and practice. Yet, while LDS Church leaders concentrate on a faith-based relationship with the text, the Church does have...

    • CHAPTER 7 Illustrating the Book
      (pp. 153-177)

      Ezra Taft Benson’s clarion call to place theBook of Mormonfront and center in Mormon life bespoke, among other things, his desire to see more emphasis placed on vivifying the great themes and characters of the book in art, film, drama, literature, and music.¹ To be sure, the book had not been entirely absent in the arts. For example, the Saints already enjoyed a century-long tradition of its painters’ representing various scenes from the book. Such representations often found their greatest popularity as they were reproduced to illustrate books on theBook of Mormonand even editions of the...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Book on Screen and Stage
      (pp. 178-195)

      Artistic renderings of theBook of Mormonhave not been confined to the pages of books and artists’ oil paintings. Various dramatic representations of the book have been produced over the years, on both the screen and the stage. As early as 1915, the Church embraced the new technology of film to tell the book’s story. In that year, the First Presidency granted permission to William A. Morton, an active member of the Church’s General Board of Religion Classes, to make the first feature film based on theBook of Mormon.¹ Morton saw film as a great tool to educate...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 196-200)

    Sacred texts are also sacred trusts. In this spirit, Mormons have a long tradition of treating their founding religious text with tremendous care. The leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) feels a weighty responsibility to reproduce accurately and distribute passionately a record they believe was passed down through a long line of scribes until it was buried and then recovered by Joseph Smith Jr. in the late 1820s. The book itself testifies to this sacred history of transmission in telling its readers that the ancient prophet Mormon took only “a hundredth part” of the plates...

  10. APPENDIX 1 Notable Book of Mormon Editions in English
    (pp. 201-204)
  11. APPENDIX 2 Book of Mormon Translations
    (pp. 205-208)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 209-240)
  13. FURTHER READING
    (pp. 241-246)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 247-255)