ringing book recommendation – Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, by Grant Hardy

an analysis that takes the Book of Mormon on its own terms

I loved this book!  Grant Hardy steps away from the ways of reading generally adopted by non-Mormon scholars (trying to show what it tells us about Joseph Smith), Mormon scholars (trying to prove its truth through identification of literary techniques unique to Hebrew literature), or lay Mormon readers (seeking verse by verse for inspiration) and instead suggests “that the Book of Mormon can be read as literature – a genre that encompasses history, fiction, and scripture – by anyone trying to understand this odd but fascinating book.”  In doing so, he examines the book as the work of three principal narrators – Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni – each very distinctive in circumstances, style, and sense of audience. 

What I loved about this book:

  • Hardy analyzes not only what IS there but what ISN’T there but perhaps should be.  For one example, Nephi recounts his father Lehi’s blessings to each of his children, except his blessing to Nephi!  Why might that have been excluded?  (Admitted speculation – albeit textually suggested – ensues.)  For another, Hardy points out that with one major exception, the Jaredite record (Book of Ether) seems to be almost entirely non-Christian.  
  • Hardy is a believer – as of a fabulous interview I heard in April 2011 on the Mormon Stories podcast he was serving in a Stake Presidency – but does not shy away from the difficult elements of the Book of Mormon.  How does Nephi quote from elements of Isaiah that the best Biblical scholarship suggests were written long after Nephi et al left Jerusalem?  What about the passages that rely heavily on New Testament prose?  Hardy explores potential explanations, and which are more likely to be faith-based rather than evidence-based. As Hardy says, “As believers, we should read it as carefully as possible, and we should bring to our study the best biblical and historical scholarship available, but there is enough theological flexibility to accommodate whatever we might find” [1].
  • In his analysis of the Book of Mormon as literature, he draws on other scripture traditions, from Zen classics to Tibetan tests to Hindu sacred poetry.  He also draws on literature, from Gulliver’s Travels to Nabokov’s Pale File to Don Quixote.
  • The footnotes are fabulous: They provide all the additional information and source material that you could want.

I hope to come back to this text again and again, and – more importantly – use it launch my own much more careful reading of the Book of Mormon and other sacred texts.

If you don’t want to trust me, here are a few other reviews worth reading:

  1. Steven Walker, BYU Studies, 50(3), 2011 – link
  2. Julie Smith, Times & Seasons Blog, 15 August 2011 (adapted from her Dialogue review) – link
  3. 12 Questions with Grant Hardy at the Times & Seasons Blog, 7 September 2011 (part 1, part 2)
  4. For a non-Mormon perspective, see Alan Wolfe, “Chloroform in Print: Does the Book of Mormon Get a Bad Rap?” Slate, 17 May 2010 – link

[1] 12 Questions with Grant Hardy, Part 2, Times & Seasons Blog, 7 September 2011.

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