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Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide


ChristKnight

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Has anyone received this book yet? I thought that it was coming out in April, but it seems as if you can order it from Amazon and B&N, and it isn't saying "pre-order".

I received my copy from Amazon about 1/2 hour ago. I wish I could say that I have read it all in that time, but. . . .

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Has anyone received this book yet? I thought that it was coming out in April, but it seems as if you can order it from Amazon and B&N, and it isn't saying "pre-order".

From perusing overviews, this sounds like something that I might pick up (thank you). If it hadn't been for Hardy's Reader's Edition of the BoM, I doubt I ever would have read it from cover-to-cover.

In unrelated news; in looking it up on Amazon, I found this "used" listing:

$356.98

+ $3.99shipping Used - Good

Comments: Used but in nice shape with normal surface & edge wear.

Must be a really good book. :P

-----------------------------------------------

I usually just put books under my pillow and absorb overnight.

I put them in the blender, and drink them as a shake.

Makes it easier to discard the crap.

rim-shot-johnny-utah.thumbnail.jpg

(This daylight savings thing have anyone else slightly off?)

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Pre-orders from Amazon began arriving this week. I read the intro and 1st chapter several weeks ago and met with Grant Hardy to discuss it. For the most part, I agree with his overall project, though I don't think he is willing to take it far enough. I, however, doubt that he has succeeded in his goal of writing to both believers and non-believers, as I think he is ultimately alienating the latter by repeatedly assuming the historic reality of the characters of the Book of Mormon and quietly turning the book into a passive apologetic.

After spending several weeks in a course psycho-analyzing Hamlet, I do see value in asking a non-believer to take the characters of a fiction (in their eyes) seriously. However, I'm not sure if Hardy accomplishes this. Ultimately, Hardy asks the reader to choose between the Book of Mormon as a historic reality or as a fictional work of astounding genius.

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Stu

(This daylight savings thing have anyone else slightly off?)

3DOP

Oh, don't get me started. Yes I am "off"...slightly???How could it be otherwise...slightly off? No. Waaaaaayyyyy off!!!

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Pre-orders from Amazon began arriving this week. I read the intro and 1st chapter several weeks ago and met with Grant Hardy to discuss it. For the most part, I agree with his overall project, though I don't think he is willing to take it far enough. I, however, doubt that he has succeeded in his goal of writing to both believers and non-believers, as I think he is ultimately alienating the latter by repeatedly assuming the historic reality of the characters of the Book of Mormon and quietly turning the book into a passive apologetic.

After spending several weeks in a course psycho-analyzing Hamlet, I do see value in asking a non-believer to take the characters of a fiction (in their eyes) seriously. However, I'm not sure if Hardy accomplishes this. Ultimately, Hardy asks the reader to choose between the Book of Mormon as a historic reality or as a fictional work of astounding genius.

WARNING: This post is long. If you don't wish to read the whole thing, scroll to the bottom of my post and read the Cliff's Notes version.

I think Hardy accomplishes his task as best as is possible in trying to reach a Mormon and non-Mormon audience.

Hardy addresses your concern about rhetorically treating Book of Mormon people as real in his "Note on Methodology" on pp. 23-28. Speaking of Hamlet, he brings up another Shakespeare example from a paper called "How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?" He argues that "imagining the feelings and motivations of literary characters as if they were our friends or acquaintances has always played a large part in the enjoyment of fiction" (24). He goes on to describe his method throughout the book, similar to what you see as valuable, in analyzing structures, patterns, filling in gaps, etc. He asserts:

"I am not, however, making a claim about a historical Nephi; I am trying to make sense of a text. There may be other readings that connect data in different ways to provide a better explanation for why Nephi tells his story the way he does, but because this is something we can argue about, based on textual evidence, there is some truth-value to my proposition regardless of whether Nephi was a historical figure or a fictional construct. Although it may sometimes appear as if my analysis assumes the historicity of the text, the sorts of observations and inferences I put forward could just as readily be made about an intricately constructed, multivocal, narrated novel such as Nabokov's Pale Fire" (26).

On the next page he's still trying to convince people, assuring them that:

"My goal is not to move readers from one side to the other but rather to provide a way in which they can speak across religious boundaries and discuss a remarkable text with some degree of rigor and insight" (27).

Hardy says this requires a "willing suspension of disbelief," which he acknowledges "may seem like a surrender to fanciful naivete." Nevertheless, such an approach is "just as necessary for religious narratives as it is for novels" (27). Believers are also asked to willingly suspend their belief as well, focusing more on the structure etc. (28).

However, he doesn't just leave it at that; the initial discussion on method isn't the only place he engages the question which is the main reason I think your criticism is answerable: Hardy makes it clear quite often throughout the book and the footnotes that readers are free to read the book as fiction and still see the sort of parallels and patterns he points out. He seems well aware that he's walking a fine line trying to talk to insiders and outsiders. A few examples should be sufficient to demonstrate what I'm talking about.

The first comes in the introduction where he notes that readers are free to

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From what I've seen of it, and from conversations with Grant about it, I think this is going to be an important book.

And my Malevolent Stalker and his two or three disciples will like it, because it will demonstrate to them, once again, that "apologists" are abandoning the historicity of the Book of Mormon in favor of a more purely literary approach. (To a man with a hammer, everything tends to look like a nail.)

Haven't got my copy yet, though. And don't expect to, where I'm sitting at the moment.

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If my Malevolent Stalker could see where I'm living right now, he'd KNOW that the Maxwell Institute's ship had come in. Budget cuts? Hilarious. A ten million dollar donation? Chump change.

You must be living in a tent. Maybe you bought Gadafi's old one.

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the narrator worries that Hardy treats the BoM people as historical which will

alienate people who do not believe the BoM is historical.

LoaP responds that Hardy does well trying to reach a diverse audience.

*Hardy uses the rhetorical strategy of continual reminders that readers

need not believe historicity to benefit from his analysis.

*Hardy provides examples from historical works and fictional works while

making comparisons with the BoM and outside literature.

*Hardy places caveats in the main text and in footnotes

throughout the book (examples provided above).

I'm about halfway through the book and I feel even stronger about my earlier claims. While he does occasionally throw in critical viewpoints, his hermeneutics too often takes for granted that the authors were historical persons.

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While he does occasionally throw in critical viewpoints, his hermeneutics too often takes for granted that the authors were historical persons.

I'm not sure why this is a problem in his presentation since he explicitly states that this is what he is going to do. He defends that position as a prerequisite to discussing textual choices specific to the three "authors" he examines. Given his premise, there really is no other way to do it. It seemed to me that he brought in the critical viewpoints to temper that steady perceptions, but this is a literary analysis that is intended to stand apart from historicity. Reading it against arguments for and against historicity seem to be outside of the parameters he defined.

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I'm not sure why this is a problem in his presentation since he explicitly states that this is what he is going to do. He defends that position as a prerequisite to discussing textual choices specific to the three "authors" he examines. Given his premise, there really is no other way to do it. It seemed to me that he brought in the critical viewpoints to temper that steady perceptions, but this is a literary analysis that is intended to stand apart from historicity. Reading it against arguments for and against historicity seem to be outside of the parameters he defined.

The problem is that (based largely on conversation I had with Hardy) he wants his book to speak to both believers and non-believers. The question is whether or not Hardy implies too much that Nephi and Mormon had intents, desires, and thoughts outside of the creative mind of Joseph Smith. I think he does. While this is fine for me as a believer, I just don't think that non-believers will be able to read the book without being alienated by Hardy's methodology.

A few years ago, I spent a couple weeks in a class psychoanalyzing Hamlet. While it may be somewhat of an analogous process, a key difference was that nobody was assuming that Hamlet was a historical person. Rather, it was using Hamlet (and Freud) to explore the human psyche and whether or not Shakespeare and Freud were able to capture it.

Doing a literary analysis from the viewpoint of the stated author (Mormon) and the unstated author (Joseph) are two very different approaches to a text. By sticking with the former, Hardy alienates those who believe the latter.

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By sticking with the former, Hardy alienates those who believe the latter.

OK, I can see that. I think it is unfortunately inevitable. I can't imagine anything that bridges that gap well. Of course, you might take a completely neutral position and attempt to simply relate the opposing sides, but that is also very unsatisfying. Once you have taken a personal position, it will come through in your writing--and I suspect it should.

The problem with your idea of analyzing Hamlet is that you are absolutely correct that no one considers him historical. Therefore, when you treat him "historically" it is understood to be a literary approach. In Hardy's case, the very fact that there are those who assume historicity or ahistoricity adds a dimension to the reading that I suspect he hoped to avoid (and clearly couldn't).

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OK, I can see that. I think it is unfortunately inevitable. I can't imagine anything that bridges that gap well. Of course, you might take a completely neutral position and attempt to simply relate the opposing sides, but that is also very unsatisfying. Once you have taken a personal position, it will come through in your writing--and I suspect it should.

The problem with your idea of analyzing Hamlet is that you are absolutely correct that no one considers him historical. Therefore, when you treat him "historically" it is understood to be a literary approach. In Hardy's case, the very fact that there are those who assume historicity or ahistoricity adds a dimension to the reading that I suspect he hoped to avoid (and clearly couldn't).

Unfortunately, I think Hardy's attempt to forge a middle ground ends up shorting each side too much. On the non-believer's side I think he doesn't open enough room for non-believers to discuss Joseph Smith's literary genius.

On the other hand, I think he doesn't push the believer's side far enough in assuming that Mormon and Nephi were historical narrators. He wants them to be human, but not fully human. The authors of the BofM are always the good guys. For example, I just read the section on Zeniff. Hardy completely avoids the problems of Zeniff's account.

From the brute facts reported by Zeniff, it seems clear to me that his own account is not entirely honest. These brute facts are: Zeniff originally said that the Lamanites were good. Zeniff went into their land with a massive army. King Laman exiled his people from two lands to make room for Zeniff's people. The Lamanites and Zeniff's colonies lived in peace for 12 years. When the Lamanites did attack, they attacked some of Zeniff's people who had taken their herds beyond their own borders into Lamanite territory (aka expansionism). Zeniff responded by sending on a massive attack into Lamanite territory, slaughtering thousands of Lamanites. From these brute facts, it seems to be pretty clear that Laman gave up lands to Zeniff's people under threat of violence, and that the Lamanites only attacked after Zeniff's expansionism.

Zeniff, however, paints himself retrospectively as some poor victim of wicked Lamanites (which he already said were good) and their 12 year plan to oppress his people--which is not just completely ludicrous, but is never shown to be attempted. Hardy is unwilling to explore this possibility and instead takes Zeniff's word and constantly makes claims about Zeniff, as a historical person, being a good and just fellow.

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From these brute facts, it seems to be pretty clear that Laman gave up lands to Zeniff's people under threat of violence, and that the Lamanites only attacked after Zeniff's expansionism.

Zeniff, however, paints himself retrospectively as some poor victim of wicked Lamanites (which he already said were good) and their 12 year plan to oppress his people--which is not just completely ludicrous, but is never shown to be attempted. Hardy is unwilling to explore this possibility and instead takes Zeniff's word and constantly makes claims about Zeniff, as a historical person, being a good and just fellow.

I'm not too sure about the threat of violence, but I also don't think they gave up anything they really wanted, and didn't give up anything without hope of getting something in return (and you are quite correct that the account is completely silent on that point).

Since nothing about the conditions of Zeniff are related to literature, I guess Hardy is on safe enough ground. However, if we assume real humans, then the picture changes dramatically.

Of course, one thing Hardy missed that I find fascinating is that Mormon includes Zeniff's holograph and then wholly narrates (without quotation) the reign of Noah. Noah must have had a record and reading between the lines, isn't the bad guy that Mormon paints. So, from a human aspect, Mormon imposes his vision not only on the structure of the text, but the people of the text. Hardy got that for Captain Moroni, but not Noah.

Personally, I don't want to write anything under any pretense other than my approach as a believer. That initial assumption has to be made plain and unapologetically (pun intended--kind of....). Having said that, I owe it to scholarship to seriously consider contrary opinions (both from the faithful and the non-believers). I couldn't have come as close as Hardy has done to pulling it off.

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I'm not too sure about the threat of violence, but I also don't think they gave up anything they really wanted, and didn't give up anything without hope of getting something in return (and you are quite correct that the account is completely silent on that point).

Since nothing about the conditions of Zeniff are related to literature, I guess Hardy is on safe enough ground. However, if we assume real humans, then the picture changes dramatically.

Of course, one thing Hardy missed that I find fascinating is that Mormon includes Zeniff's holograph and then wholly narrates (without quotation) the reign of Noah. Noah must have had a record and reading between the lines, isn't the bad guy that Mormon paints. So, from a human aspect, Mormon imposes his vision not only on the structure of the text, but the people of the text. Hardy got that for Captain Moroni, but not Noah.

Personally, I don't want to write anything under any pretense other than my approach as a believer. That initial assumption has to be made plain and unapologetically (pun intended--kind of....). Having said that, I owe it to scholarship to seriously consider contrary opinions (both from the faithful and the non-believers). I couldn't have come as close as Hardy has done to pulling it off.

Part of my reading of Mormon is of a man attempting to justify his own failures as a military leader. Thus, the Mormon's emphasis of righteousness and prosperity, especially in war. Such a view places the blame of Mormon's losses on the perceived wickedness of his people and not on his own failings as a military leader. Zeniff's short account perfectly fits Mormon's military worldview (which are found again in Captain Moroni). Zeniff goes in peacefully, he only fights when being attacked, and because of his people's righteousness they are devastatingly successful. Because it perfectly (and quickly) fits the narrative that Mormon wants to share, there is no need to edit it.

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I'm about halfway through the book and I feel even stronger about my earlier claims. While he does occasionally throw in critical viewpoints, his hermeneutics too often takes for granted that the authors were historical persons.

Right, that's exactly what he promised he would do at the outset. At the same time, as I argue, he keeps other perspectives in mind and includes plenty of opportunities for other avenues in the footnotes. Given that he is doing a literary analysis of the book I don't see anything wrong with his decision to write it the way he did. Moreover, one could at least pick up interesting ways of analyzing and reading the text and perform the same sort of analysis assuming that Joseph Smith himself wrote it. I was disappointed that Hardy didn't go further in an analysis of King Benjamin's sermon and its influence on later portions of the BoM. Then I realized my disappointment was due partly to laziness (or at least lack of time.) Hardy gave me plenty to chew on and exemplified ways of reading and searching the text that I can turn around and apply in the ways I think most fruitful.

Of course his hermeneutics takes things for granted. Interpretations live and die by assumptions. A good response to Hardy would be to ask about how well his reading accounts for the information he presents as opposed to simply complaining about the outset assumptions, IMHO.

As I said before, most certainly there will be people who think Hardy's book is some veiled "apologetic," (I sense some derision in that term?). One reason is because it is an apologetic. It defends the position that the Book of Mormon is not a random pastiche of Bible quotes and Indian tales, or

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The problem is that (based largely on conversation I had with Hardy) he wants his book to speak to both believers and non-believers. The question is whether or not Hardy implies too much that Nephi and Mormon had intents, desires, and thoughts outside of the creative mind of Joseph Smith. I think he does. While this is fine for me as a believer, I just don't think that non-believers will be able to read the book without being alienated by Hardy's methodology.

Should we curtail all discussions of the works of Shakespeare on the grounds that we have to assume it is even meaningful to talk about fictional characters? You acknowledge such an exercise can yield interesting and worthwhile results. It seems to be you think Hardy hopes his book will appeal to people who disbelieve the historicity Book of Mormon, say someone like Dan Vogel. No doubt Hardy's book will not succeed with everyone, but the people who hear him out should have a good and profitable time nonetheless.

Doing a literary analysis from the viewpoint of the stated author (Mormon) and the unstated author (Joseph) are two very different approaches to a text. By sticking with the former, Hardy alienates those who believe the latter.

He openly calls for a "willing suspension of disbelief." People who don't want to make that suspension will miss out on what good Hardy's book has to offer. At the very least, they'll miss an interesting example of a method of reading.

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