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Understanding the Book of Mormon


Daniel Peterson

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FYI. Here's something I just wrote about a book that has impressed me very much:

..."I want to demonstrate a mode of literary analysis," he explains, "by which all readers, regardless of their prior religious commitments or lack thereof, can discuss the book in useful and accurate ways. "I will leave it to others," he remarks, "to prove or disprove the historical and religious claims of the book; my goal is to help anyone interested in the Book of Mormon for whatever reason, become a better, more perceptive reader."...

http://www.mormontimes.com/article/15423/Daniel-C-Peterson-Understanding-the-Book-of-Mormon-A-Readers-Guide

An interesting way to put it, I suppose. Probably there will be a

few nibbles and an occasional bite from the non-LDS readership. But,

as is the fate of a great deal of the tomes crowding the shelves

of Deseret Books (and, after a bit of wear, Deseret Industries), I'm

fairly certain that the buying audience will be Mormons.

Why then, not craft a "readers' guide" directed specifically at

non-members, from this same non-proselyting viewpoint? The content

might be much the same, but the author's (or authors') viewpoint

would have to be altered somewhat.

When I read Virgil there is not one chance in a million that I'm

ever going to convert to Jupiter -- and the same can be said for

my reading of Homer: I'll never worship at the temple of Zeus. The

editors of these classical epics know in advance that practically

none of the modern readers will accept the underpinnings of

Hellenistic religion ---- and yet --- and yet, we readers might

discover great truths interwoven into classical mythology and great

poetry based upon an ostensible acceptance of olympian gods.

Why not craft the same thing for a non-LDS audience? A readership

which will never take a step toward a baptismal font and which

does not know Joseph Smith from Ethan Smith?

Such a volume would not be sold in Deseret Books. It might even

contain a Bloomian Foreword which discounts the content of things

Mormon, while admiring their structure and influence.

And, totally divorced from any claims to potential historicity or

hoped-for faith promotion, we non-Mormons might at last discover

something profound in General Moroni's war correspondence, or in

the ecosystem of The Land Northward and The Land Southward.

Just an idea.

I'd buy a copy -- and perhaps even write an endorsement.

UD

.

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FYI. Here's something I just wrote about a book that has impressed me very much:

http://www.mormontimes.com/article/15423/Daniel-C-Peterson-Understanding-the-Book-of-Mormon-A-Readers-Guide

A good review of an important book. Not the only important book, of course. I have some quibbles here and there. But I enjoyed his fresh insights when I read it a couple of months ago.

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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An interesting way to put it, I suppose. Probably there will be a

few nibbles and an occasional bite from the non-LDS readership. But,

as is the fate of a great deal of the tomes crowding the shelves

of Deseret Books (and, after a bit of wear, Deseret Industries), I'm

fairly certain that the buying audience will be Mormons.

Why then, not craft a "readers' guide" directed specifically at

non-members, from this same non-proselyting viewpoint? The content

might be much the same, but the author's (or authors') viewpoint

would have to be altered somewhat.

When I read Virgil there is not one chance in a million that I'm

ever going to convert to Jupiter -- and the same can be said for

my reading of Homer: I'll never worship at the temple of Zeus. The

editors of these classical epics know in advance that practically

none of the modern readers will accept the underpinnings of

Hellenistic religion ---- and yet --- and yet, we readers might

discover great truths interwoven into classical mythology and great

poetry based upon an ostensible acceptance of olympian gods.

Why not craft the same thing for a non-LDS audience? A readership

which will never take a step toward a baptismal font and which

does not know Joseph Smith from Ethan Smith?

Such a volume would not be sold in Deseret Books. It might even

contain a Bloomian Foreword which discounts the content of things

Mormon, while admiring their structure and influence.

And, totally divorced from any claims to potential historicity or

hoped-for faith promotion, we non-Mormons might at last discover

something profound in General Moroni's war correspondence, or in

the ecosystem of The Land Northward and The Land Southward.

Just an idea.

I'd buy a copy -- and perhaps even write an endorsement.

UD

.

Maybe you should write it.

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Maybe you should write it.

Better if it were written by a team of LDS and non-LDS,

and edited by an authority such as our own Doc.Peterson.

But, we can at least make a beginning...

"The Book of Mormon is not true: it is America's original foundation myth.

At least that is the conclusion of three out of the seven contributors to

this omnibus "Readers' Guide for Non-Believers." Any yet, even with that

acknowledgment in place, all of the writers of the following pages agree

that the Book of Mormon contains a story and a message which is profoundly

important to modern readers. You need not know a thing about religion to

appreciate the rich literary fabric and epic scope of a book first published

in 1830. You need not be impressed by President Romney's 2013 inauguration,

nor with the accomplishments of an administration headed by the most famous

reader of what he himself has called "the wonderful Record of the Nephites."

But, no matter your background and experience, you will come face to face

with timeless truths and new ways of looking at life, fully applicable to

today's complex world, if you take the time to read and understand the

'Nephite Record'..." etc. etc.

Uncle Dale

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Probably there will be a few nibbles and an occasional bite from the non-LDS readership. But, as is the fate of a great deal of the tomes crowding the shelves of Deseret Books (and, after a bit of wear, Deseret Industries), I'm fairly certain that the buying audience will be Mormons.

Very possibly. But it's clear that Oxford University Press expects to sell a fair number of copies. They're not a charity.

Why then, not craft a "readers' guide" directed specifically at non-members, from this same non-proselyting viewpoint? The content might be much the same, but the author's (or authors') viewpoint would have to be altered somewhat.

Hardy brackets the question of Book of Mormon historicity, expressly targets Mormon and non-Mormon readers, and has published his book with the largest and most prestigious academic press in the English-speaking world. I think he's done a reasonably good job of directing his work at non-members.

Why not craft the same thing for a non-LDS audience? A readership which will never take a step toward a baptismal font and which does not know Joseph Smith from Ethan Smith? . . .

And, totally divorced from any claims to potential historicity or hoped-for faith promotion, we non-Mormons might at last discover something profound in General Moroni's war correspondence, or in

the ecosystem of The Land Northward and The Land Southward.

?????

Have you read Grant Hardy's book?

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...

Have you read Grant Hardy's book?

Only what I've seen on the web so far.

But I'd be happy to borrow a copy.

No doubt part of the print-run has the library market

in mind, so I'll check back with Hilo Public later on.

But, it seems that you've turned down the idea of a

readers' guide aimed specifically at the audience

which begins by assuming that the BoM is a fraud.

Given a Romney presidency (not at all an impossibility)

there could be future interest in Mormons and non-Mormons

cooperating to produce quality information for a curious

public. A guide to the BoM, produced by believers and

non-believers could open a hitherto unexplored market.

Or, perhaps in the eyes of some it would be a bad idea.

UD

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..

a reasonably good job...

Perhaps so -- but that was not exactly what I was addressing.

If I were to hear of some new, scholarly, annotated edition of

Bulfinch's Mythology or Frazer's Golden Bough, I

would not mind at all if its editor or primary writer were a

professed believer in the Greek gods. But I would much rather

see the volume crafted by a non-believer. The point is not whether

either literary shepherd could better "set aside" matters of

historicity and evangelizing -- the point is, that I personally

would want to see the product of a non-believer, aimed at an

audience of non-believers. That is the crowd I "run with," when

it comes to Olympus, Apollo and Diana.

But I would be deeply intrigued by such a volume, coming forth

from a set of writers, each with a different "take" on the

meaning/validity of classical religion and myth-making. Again,

I'm not trying to justify my interest in terms of objectivity,

or in terms of how well a professing religionist can set aside

his testimony, when away from his associates -- but in terms of

an audience comprised of readers like myself.

Why not feed the goats, along with the sheep?

UD

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Only what I've seen on the web so far.

But I'd be happy to borrow a copy.

Maybe you can borrow mine when I'm done reading it, Unk!

I just ordered mine thanks to Dan's ringing endorsement.

I wouldn't have even known the book existed except for this thread, so I am particularly indebted to Prof. Peterson for bringing it to my attention.

It is a bit strange that it happens to have the same title as a recent book written by an evangelical Christian with what is likely a different take on the subject, as I linked to above.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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Hardy brackets the question of Book of Mormon historicity, expressly targets Mormon and non-Mormon readers, and has published his book with the largest and most prestigious academic press in the English-speaking world. I think he's done a reasonably good job of directing his work at non-members.

He claims he brackets it off, but that usually ends up in the endnotes, with the majority of the text assuming that Mormon, Nephi, and Moroni were real historical persons. Because of this, I think that most non-LDS readers will be a bit alienated by his style. I know Grant has toned it down a lot from the original manuscripts (according to him and a couple of his "blind" reviewers), but, IMO, he doesn't bring it down enough to reach a wider non-LDS audience.

To ask why Mormon wrote the text in a certain way, and to ask why Joseph Smith had Mormon write the text a certain way are asking two very different questions. Hardy attempts to squeeze those questions together (or at least assume the former while attempting to squeeze in the latter), and in doing so, I think he leaves both audiences wanting.

For the non-believers, he doesn't go far enough to allow the book to actually be a 19th century creation.

For the believers, he doesn't go far enough in allowing Mormon, Nephi, and Moroni to be real historical humans with biases, faults, and failings. Until we are willing the authors of the Book of Mormon to be as fallible and prone to being wrong as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie, Ezra Taft Benson, and Thomas S. Monsen, we are also treating them as fiction.

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Goats'll eat just about any old garbage.

After the dogs are finished with the crumbs falling from the

Master's table, perhaps we goats can be allowed next in line.

The problem with an "objective" treatment from an LDS on the

Book of Mormon (even with matters of historicity set aside)

is that the readers will understand that the writer has

already agreed that the words attributed to Jesus in 3rd Nephi

are authentic. And, very likely that same LDS writer has at

one time or another taken Moroni's challenge and received

what he (the book writer) testifies to be a God-given assurance

that the book "is true."

There is no way to disguise that religious baggage under a

dust-jacket blurb touting objectivity or non-evangelizing.

And so I offer the alternative of having a group of scholars,

LDS and non-LDS, explain what the Book of Mormon means to them,

and why a modern audience is well advised to read the 1830 tome.

I for one believe that there is some real merit in my suggestion:

so much so that I expect to see something along those lines

published within my lifetime. Not a faux cooperative effort

from Signature Books cultural Mormons and CoC pundits, but a

true examination of America's founding epic from a set of

serious scholars, both observant LDS and others.

The problem with "fraud" -- with either having to accept or

reject those Jesus attributions in 3rd Nephi -- will thus be

greatly meliorated, in our having in front of us multiple

(and in some cases contradictory) conclusions, offered by

writers who "know their stuff" regardless of affiliation.

Aim such a book at a modern non-LDS audience -- including

those whom Bushman calls "my hypothetical body of twenty-first

century readers," and I believe it can be a real accomplishment.

UD

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Maybe you can borrow mine when I'm done reading it, Unk!

...

Consiglieri

Offer accepted!

UD

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FYI. Here's something I just wrote about a book that has impressed me very much:

http://www.mormontim...A-Readers-Guide

The Book of Mormon as a work of literature? Here's a review that I liked very much:

Chloroform in Print: Does the Book of Mormon get a bad rap?

Hardy's heroic efforts to prove that there is literature somewhere buried in all those passages starting with "Behold" or "And so it came to pass" leave me, like Twain, gasping for air. Hardy does convince me that writing the Book of Mormon required an amazing amount of dedication. How else to explain its length and the fervent imagination clearly at work within it. He has not convinced me that what was written qualifies as great, or even good.

True history or not, most people (who aren't TBMs) agree it is overall a boring book (heh, not the Hardy's book, the other one).

Now back to the real question: so what if it's boring. It doesn't even have to be good literature, by liberal arts standards, to be fundamentally meaningful to Mormons. This probably isn't the hill you want to die on.

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...so what if it's boring.

...

I once heard the Ramayana recited (from memory), in Sanskrit,

in 24 consecutive evening orations by an Indian sadhu.

Boring as hell, I can assure all.

And yet, in the brief moments of translation and explanation

from the Nepalese teacher who invited me, one of the richest

and most fascinating experiences of my life (complete with

ancient space-ships mounted with laser weapons!).

Boring is as boring does.

UD

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The Book of Mormon as a work of literature? Here's a review that I liked very much:

Chloroform in Print: Does the Book of Mormon get a bad rap?

For a number of reasons, some of them having to do with my faith and his treatment of it over the past several years, I'm not a fan of Alan Wolfe.

True history or not, most people (who aren't TBMs) agree it is overall a boring book (heh, not the Hardy's book, the other one).

Now back to the real question: so what if it's boring. It doesn't even have to be good literature, by liberal arts standards, to be fundamentally meaningful to Mormons. This probably isn't the hill you want to die on.

I disagree that it's intrinsically boring. Certainly it's no more so than a great many works (e.g., the History of the Apostles and the Kings of al-Tabari and Slavonic Enoch and the Qur

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...

His book is very much worth reading.

What does he give as the number one reason why a gentile,

(not seeking any religious conversion), SHOULD read the BoM?

UD

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What does he give as the number one reason why a gentile,

(not seeking any religious conversion), SHOULD read the BoM?

He doesn't spend much time or effort on that question.

He notes that the Book of Mormon has been, undeniably, influential in American history and, increasingly, world wide, and assumes that some people who want to understand the history and religious background of the world in which they live will be curious enough to read it.

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ADVISORY WARNING: The following response is exceedingly long for a message board discussion. In a nutshell I argue that Unk seems to be asking for an analysis that does not assume there was a historical Nephi or Moroni. I respond to that position below.

An interesting way to put it, I suppose. Probably there will be a

few nibbles and an occasional bite from the non-LDS readership. But,

as is the fate of a great deal of the tomes crowding the shelves

of Deseret Books (and, after a bit of wear, Deseret Industries), I'm

fairly certain that the buying audience will be Mormons.

Why then, not craft a "readers' guide" directed specifically at

non-members, from this same non-proselyting viewpoint? The content

might be much the same, but the author's (or authors') viewpoint

would have to be altered somewhat.

I suggest you go ahead and read the book. Your suggestion is actually quite similar to Hardy's approach. Hardy is quite explicit with what he is trying to accomplish (provide an example of a literary reading of the BoM), and who he is trying to address (insiders and outsiders alike, each of whom will likely need to suspend some assumptions).

You seem concerned that Hardy rhetorically treats the Book of Mormon figures as historical, that is, as real people. Such an assumption will bother folks who giggle about visions in the age of railways and the Internet. But Hardy addresses this concern in his "Note on Methodology" on pp. 23-28. Hardy brings up the example of Shakespeare's Hamlet using 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 Hardy is still trying to convince people, assuring them that:

"My goal is not to move readers from one side [of disbelief] to the other [side of belief] 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, focusing more on the structure of the text, etc. (28).

Such a volume would not be sold in Deseret Books. It might even

contain a Bloomian Foreword which discounts the content of things

Mormon, while admiring their structure and influence.

I'm not sure what you mean by "things Mormon" but I'm not sure how one could assess the Book of Mormon as literature without including the elements of the story, which includes "things Mormon." That would sort of be like a literary reading of Milton's Paradise Lost without making any reference to the Bible or classical Greek and pagan stories. "Analyze Paradise Lost while discounting things Biblical or mythological..."

And, totally divorced from any claims to potential historicity or

hoped-for faith promotion, we non-Mormons might at last discover

something profound in General Moroni's war correspondence, or in

the ecosystem of The Land Northward and The Land Southward.

I see you may not be convinced yet. So I'll keep trying. Hardy's initial discussion on method isn't the only place he engages your concern (so far as I think your concern is viable): Hardy makes it clear quite often throughout the book and 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 talking to insiders and outsiders. A few examples should be sufficient.

The first comes in the introduction. Readers might think it strange that he chose to

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A good review of an important book. Not the only important book, of course. I have some quibbles here and there. But I enjoyed his fresh insights when I read it a couple of months ago.

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

Do tell! I am interested in alternate perspectives.

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...

I recommend reading the book. My review is

here.

Thank you for all the details.

There's no doubt that I will read the book.

I am a little disappointed though, that the author does not

give a compelling reason why we each should encounter the

Book of Mormon, on our own, to meet existential needs.

To the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere, at least, the

answer might be: "To know your national origins." That is,

to know the struggles of heroes against natural and

supernatural forces, in the same way that The Aeneid serves

the national need of Rome, or Gilgamesh epitomizes the ANE.

The Popol Vuh is too limited and too ethnic in scope. The

Song of Hiawatha, too late. Moby Di*k, too far from the land.

Madoc, too Tudorish.

Where is the American Achilles and the preColumbian Hector?

Where is the Ossian of the West? Where is the Paradise Lost

of the Amazon and Mississippi valleys, of the Andes and Rockies?

So far as I can tell, only one epic fits that need -- but

controversy and persecution have kept it from its rightful

place, at the head of North American and South American

literary patriotism.

Then again, perhaps Hardy is writing for an international

audience and purposely avoids centering upon America.

???

UD

.

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I took a course @ USU from a member of the English faculty, The Bible as Literature. The prof. was a lapsed Mormon from Farmington who had long since learned to synthesize his secular humanist leanings with the beauty he saw in a life of faith, but couldn't himself live. A very kind man who loved every student, except for the obnoxious returned missionary who refused to "get it" and had signed up for an easy "A."

He didn't believe that David ever lived, yet wept when he heard The Song of the Bow chanted in Hebrew by a Jewish bibilical scholar at a conference.

The only problem with the recognition of the BoM as literature and, perhaps, English professors teaching it as literature, is this wretched time of antireligion in universities and the lingering [but I pray lessening] malice of the EV movement.

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I took a course @ USU from a member of the English faculty, The Bible as Literature. The prof. was a lapsed Mormon from Farmington who had long since learned to synthesize his secular humanist leanings with the beauty he saw in a life of faith, but couldn't himself live. A very kind man who loved every student, except for the obnoxious returned missionary who refused to "get it" and had signed up for an easy "A."

He didn't believe that David ever lived, yet wept when he heard The Song of the Bow chanted in Hebrew by a Jewish bibilical scholar at a conference.

The only problem with the recognition of the BoM as literature and, perhaps, English professors teaching it as literature, is this wretched time of antireligion in universities and the lingering [but I pray lessening] malice of the EV movement.

I've had similar classes -- and engaged in similar seminars (dare I say it?)

in Lamoni at what is now Graceland University.

There has long been a peculiar angst set in the pit of the CoC

stomach, over what to do with the "Nephite Record." How can we

tell the world what it meant to our ancestors and our foundation

story, without promulgating the 3rd Nephi Christophany as shewing

forth the literal words (and revelation) of Jesus?

A hard nut to crack and many a Graceland term paper has gone

unpublished in attempts to find some way to share our experience

with the world. The best that the current CoC savants seem to

come up with is talking about how we held together as a people,

despite such preudo-scripture as the BoM and BoA in our heritage.

Presumably such a message would go out to disinterested Unitarians

who have already abandoned the Bible as the literal word of God.

My surmise is that the RLDS will never be up to the task, of telling

outsiders why they SHOULD read the Book of Mormon (but not believe

its ostensible revelation). So -- it's up to the Mormons to somehow

communicate to the world that there is a non-religious reason to

encounter the book. Not just "read" the book, but become immersed

in it, like a connoisseur of Shakespeare becomes immersed in Hamlet.

I keep coming back to the National Epic idea -- but if that is ever

to be seriously communicated, it cannot be done so by a writer who

is in danger of losing his/her TR and membership, over setting the

testimony of the book being "true" entirely to one side.

We simply cannot foist the descent of Jesus, down through the clouds

to the temple at Bountiful upon an audience who knows that the writer

of a "readers' guide" is compelled to testify to its "truth" in order

to remain among his chosen co-religionists. No -- such an author must

be replaced by a colloquy of multiple voices and multiple viewpoints;

before such a reader's guide is put upon the required reading list

in colleges and universities.

Or so it seems from my limited, unique perspective.

UD

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