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.
influenced by early nineteenth-century cultural currents and events, as well as by various texts to which he was exposed. Grunder’s Mormon Parallels (2008), a remarkable work of more than two thousand pages, is largely bibliographic in nature. He cites hundreds of texts that resonate with the Book of Mormon. Grunder includes a wide range of possible intellectual influences on Joseph’s narrative of ancient Middle Easterners finding their way to America to become the rootstock of the American
Joseph’s early surgical traumas as only one part of the puzzle that made up the Prophet’s complex psychological profile. Anderson argues that an extreme dissociative disorder did not drive Joseph’s composition of the Book of Mormon, but instead a personality much more integrated and in control.47 In the end, Anderson sees Smith as a “narcissistic personality” and the Book of Mormon as the creative expression of his grandiose sense of self-importance and appetite for power, uniqueness, and
and distribute the majority of its printed materials aside from periodicals.4 The first European edition of the Book of Mormon was produced in Liverpool in 1841 by missionaries who found the British interest in Mormonism intense enough to warrant publishing an edition of the book on that side of the Atlantic.5 To appreciate fully the importance of the 1841 European edition, one must first understand the bibliographic pedigree of the book. The 1841 edition was based on the 1837 second edition,
around 600 BCE.5 This family divides into warring factions named after two of Lehi’s sons: Nephi and Laman. Around 420 CE, the Lamanites destroy the Nephites only to see their own civilization collapse. The few Lamanite survivors will later evolve into various Native American tribes. The last group, led by Mulek, is barely mentioned. It travels to the Americas at roughly the same time as Lehi and eventually merges with the Nephites. Title page from the first edition of the Book of Mormon (1830),
as the Deseret alphabet edition. This edition was presented in a special phonetic alphabet developed for the Utah territory by Orson Pratt. Stocks, “The Book of Mormon, 1830–1879,” 17–19. 9. See appendix 1 for a list of notable English-language versions of the Book of Mormon. 10. Book of Mormon (1830), 116. 11. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1980), 129, 183. 12. Stocks, “The Book of Mormon, 1830–1879,” 104. 13. Peter Crawley, “Parley P.