Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide

Oxford University Press
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Mark Twain once derided the Book of Mormon as "chloroform in print." Long and complicated, written in the language of the King James version of the Bible, it boggles the minds of many. Yet it is unquestionably one of the most influential books ever written. With over 140 million copies in print, it is a central text of one of the largest and fastest-growing faiths in the world. And, Grant Hardy shows, it's far from the coma-inducing doorstop caricatured by Twain. In Understanding the Book of Mormon, Hardy offers the first comprehensive analysis of the work's narrative structure in its 180 year history. Unlike virtually all other recent world scriptures, the Book of Mormon presents itself as an integrated narrative rather than a series of doctrinal expositions, moral injunctions, or devotional hymns. Hardy takes readers through its characters, events, and ideas, as he explores the story and its messages. He identifies the book's literary techniques, such as characterization, embedded documents, allusions, and parallel narratives. Whether Joseph Smith is regarded as author or translator, it's noteworthy that he never speaks in his own voice; rather, he mediates nearly everything through the narrators Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni. Hardy shows how each has a distinctive voice, and all are woven into an integral whole. As with any scripture, the contending views of the Book of Mormon can seem irreconcilable. For believers, it is an actual historical document, transmitted from ancient America. For nonbelievers, it is the work of a nineteenth-century farmer from upstate New York. Hardy transcends this intractable conflict by offering a literary approach, one appropriate to both history and fiction. Regardless of whether readers are interested in American history, literature, comparative religion, or even salvation, he writes, the book can best be read if we examine the text on its own terms.
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About the author

Grant Hardy is Professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. In addition to having written books and articles on early Chinese history, he is also the editor of The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition. Hardy is currently an associate editor for the Journal of the Book of Mormon and Restoration Scripture.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Apr 7, 2010
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Pages
368
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ISBN
9780199889754
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Religion / Christianity / Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)
Religion / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Regarded as sacred scripture by millions, the Book of Mormon -- first published in 1830 -- is one of the most significant documents in American religious history. This new reader-friendly version reformats the complete, unchanged 1920 text in the manner of modern translations of the Bible, with paragraphs, quotations marks, poetic forms, topical headings, multichapter headings, indention of quoted documents, italicized reworkings of biblical prophecies, and minimized verse numbers. It also features a hypothetical map based on internal references, an essay on Book of Mormon poetry, a full glossary of names, genealogical charts, a basic bibliography of Mormon and non-Mormon scholarship, a chronology of the translation, eyewitness accounts of the gold plates, and information regarding the lost 116 pages and significant changes in the text. The Book of Mormon claims to be the product of three historical interactions: the writings of the original ancient American authors, the editing of the fourth-century prophet Mormon, and the translation of Joseph Smith. The editorial aids and footnotes in this edition integrate all three perspectives and provide readers with a clear guide through this complicated text. New readers will find the story accessible and intelligible; Mormons will gain fresh insights from familiar verses seen in a broader narrative context. This is the first time the Book of Mormon has been published with quotation marks, select variant readings, and the testimonies of women involved in the translation process. It is also the first return to a paragraphed format since versification was added in 1879.
The dramatic first-person account of life inside an ultra-fundamentalist American religious sect, and one woman’s courageous flight to freedom with her eight children.

When she was eighteen years old, Carolyn Jessop was coerced into an arranged marriage with a total stranger: a man thirty-two years her senior. Merril Jessop already had three wives. But arranged plural marriages were an integral part of Carolyn’s heritage: She was born into and raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the radical offshoot of the Mormon Church that had settled in small communities along the Arizona-Utah border. Over the next fifteen years, Carolyn had eight children and withstood her husband’s psychological abuse and the watchful eyes of his other wives who were locked in a constant battle for supremacy.

Carolyn’s every move was dictated by her husband’s whims. He decided where she lived and how her children would be treated. He controlled the money she earned as a school teacher. He chose when they had sex; Carolyn could only refuse at her own peril. For in the FLDS, a wife’s compliance with her husband determined how much status both she and her children held in the family. Carolyn was miserable for years and wanted out, but she knew that if she tried to leave and got caught, her children would be taken away from her. No woman in the country had ever escaped from the FLDS and managed to get her children out, too. But in 2003, Carolyn chose freedom over fear and fled her home with her eight children. She had $20 to her name.

Escape exposes a world tantamount to a prison camp, created by religious fanatics who, in the name of God, deprive their followers the right to make choices, force women to be totally subservient to men, and brainwash children in church-run schools. Against this background, Carolyn Jessop’s flight takes on an extraordinary, inspiring power. Not only did she manage a daring escape from a brutal environment, she became the first woman ever granted full custody of her children in a contested suit involving the FLDS. And in 2006, her reports to the Utah attorney general on church abuses formed a crucial part of the case that led to the arrest of their notorious leader, Warren Jeffs.
Sima Qian (c. 100 B.C.E.) was China's first historian—he was known as Grand Astrologer at the court of Emperor Wu during the Han dynasty—and, along with Confucius and the First Emperor of Qin, was one of the creators of imperial China. His Shiji (published for Columbia in a translation by Burton Watson as Records of the Grand Historian) not only became the model for the twenty-six Standard Histories that the historians of each Chinese dynasty wrote to legitimize the dynastic succession, but also has been an enormously influential resource to historians, literary scholars, philosophers, and many others seeking an understanding of early Chinese history. In Worlds of Bronze and Bamboo, Grant Hardy presents convincing evidence that the Shiji is quite unlike such Western counterparts as the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, for, Hardy argues, Sima Qian's work seeks not only to represent but to influence the world in a manner based on Confucian concepts of sageliness and "the rectification of names."

Although many scholars have sought close parallels between Sima Qian and the Greek historians—either criticizing Sima's work, as if Western models of historical interpretation could serve as a template by which to read it, or overemphasizing his "objectivity" to more closely align his text with these "respectable" Greek models—Hardy boldly contends that the Chinese historian never intended to produce a consistent, closed interpretation of the past. Instead, Hardy argues, the Shiji is a microcosm in which Sima Qian sought to represent the open-endedness and multivalence of the world around him, revealing and reinforcing the natural order.

In mapping out this model of the world, Sima embodies the historian as sage rather than chronicler. Transcending mere accuracy in recording events, such a historian seeks not to present an opinion about what happened in the past, buttressed with rational arguments and pertinent evidence, but to penetrate the outer details of an incident and discover the moral truths it embodies. Thus intuiting the moral significance of events, the sage-historian delineates the Way and offers his readers a chance to become more in tune with the natural order.

Illustrating his provocative theses about the Shiji by analyzing Sima Qian's handling of specific historical personages and episodes such as the First Emperor of the Qin, the hereditary house of Confucius, and the conflicts that ended with the founding of the Han dynasty, Hardy both extends and challenges existing interpretations of this crucial yet understudied text and sheds light on its puzzles and incongruities.

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