The "Book of Mormon": A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books)

The "Book of Mormon": A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books)

Paul C. Gutjahr

Language: English

Pages: 280

ISBN: 069114480X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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.



















wonderful reviewers to read my manuscript. Their comments made the book much better. Jonathan Elmer, Christoph Irmscher, Richard Nash, Steve Stein, and Nick Williams all lent a hand at various times to help improve this book. Madeleine Gonin, Cordah Pearce, and Alex Teschmacher patiently helped me get the illustrations in order. Alex Van Riesen, as always, was there as a friend offering humor and encouragement along the way. In countless ways, my life is richer because of Alex’s presence in it.

century, wrote in his widely read—although not officially Church-sanctioned—Mormon Doctrine that “the gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively” to blacks, and that “Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty.”28 Owing to this belief in the cursed nature of those with dark skins, the Church expended little missionary effort toward Africans for nearly a century and a half. Beliefs centered on

text that inspires religious devotion or incites equally religious denunciations, it has come into the current century as a book recognized for its historical role in framing, forming, and fracturing various American cultural beliefs and practices. It has thus taken its place on a larger stage as a book that has transcended its religious roots to become—in the words of Gordon Wood, renowned emeritus professor of American history at Brown University—“one of the greatest documents in American

Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Universalists all competed for the attention and religious loyalty of people desperate to make a living off land that only a few years before had been largely untouched by the plow.4 Palmyra was not immune to the region’s pulsating religious fervor. In 1808 during a Baptist revival, one hundred Palmyrans converted, a number so large that it necessitated the building of a meeting hall for the hamlet’s new believers.5 Central to the spiritual vision of many of

The Church has also ensured the integrity of the text by almost totally centralizing its printing in one location in Salt Lake City. Roughly 90 percent of the Church’s production of the Book of Mormon takes place at a single printing plant and upon a single giant press at this plant. There are only a handful of exceptions to this centralization, such as the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese editions, which are typeset and printed in Asia. By so centralizing the book’s production, the Church is able

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