I’ve recently completed Paul Gutjahr’s monograph “The Book of Mormon”: A Biography. Short and to the point, Gutjahr details the debated origins of the text that Joseph Smith found/plagiarized/completely made up in the first half of the 19th century, its development within the larger Mormon community, and its place in visual media and (briefly) the more contemporary American scene. Particular notable here is Gutjahr’s discussion of the process and challenges of translation together with questions related to Mormon biblical scholarship as they developed over time.
The book’s aims are modest: to tell the story of The Book of Mormon. Despite the fact the narrative gets a little bogged down near the middle as it discusses details related to the various editions of the book, on the whole it is a succinct walk through the relevant topics. Those desiring a more in-depth look at Joseph Smith or the history of the Mormon movement will be disappointed, but for those who want a brief introduction to the specific subject matter will be satisfied…even if this satisfaction only whets their appetites for more.
In this year of the Mormon candidate, it serves us to pay more attention to the LDS movement–a truly American phenomenon if there ever was one. Historically, sociologically and religiously, they remain a fascinating study. Theologically, both the Mormons and their book confront Christians with questions both familiar and unique: rather than just deciding what counts as the minimum amount of belief to be “in” the Christian faith, the existence of something like the book of Mormon also asks–in some ways–how much other stuff can you add on top of the Bible and still be a Christian?
I’d love to hear from (and perhaps be corrected by) others who are much more familiar with Mormonism concerning the challenges, questions, and issues posed by the existence of this growing sect.