Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide

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Overview

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 For believers, it is an actual historical document, transmitted from ancient America.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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"What is unique about Hardy s study...is that it explicitly presents literary work on the Book of Mormon as a way forward for students of the Book of Mormon after a rather different era of study has passed. And Hardy makes a compelling case." —Mormon Studies Review

"Hardy (history & religious studies, Univ. of North Carolina, Asheville) here argues that the book of Mormon has not received, but deserves, treatment as a literary document on its own terms and that in order to do so the questions of historicity need to be bracketed. While some may question the latter approach, Hardy does provide a thorough literary analysis of the text, especially focusing on its narrative structure, the style of its main writers, and the characterizations of its principle actors. The focus, therefore, is on the narrators. Hardy begins with general observations about the book that he thinks everyone could agree on, a good starting point for any discussion of the book of Mormon. VERDICT General readers might be stymied by some of the literary theory, but clearly academics will appreciate the seriousness with which Hardy goes about the task of examining a document whose influence is often overlooked in cultural and literary history."—Library Journal

"Hardy teases out the unique voice of each narrator, showing particular nuance as a student of character. He has great skill in reading between the lines-in the Book of Mormon, what is implied is often more intriguing than what is made explicit, and the editorial omissions of a redactor like Mormon can be revealing gaps. In Hardy's hands, the Book of Mormon begins to come alive as a kind of Shakespearean tragedy as Hardy nimbly employs various tools of literary criticism. It is past time for a study like this, which eschews tiresome debates about the Book of Mormon's historical authenticity in favor of a careful, lucid exploration of the book's construction, themes, and characters. Hardy's writing is clear, sometimes even piercing. This will be a classic work in the field of Mormon studies for decades to come."—Publishers Weekly Starred Review

"The Book of Mormon is a strange work, whether read as fiction, sacred history, or revealed mythos. As the most widely distributed religious book in America after the Bible, it has inspired religious faith, derision, and often-superficial treatment by analysts put off by its ponderous style, large claims, and deceptively complex structure. On this last point, Grant Hardy's accomplishment has obliterated excuses: There now exists a key to understanding the Mormon scripture¹s narrative architecture."

—Philip Barlow, author of Mormons and the Bible: the Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion

"In a subtly intriguing analysis Hardy challenges devotional predilection, critical antagonism, and assumed irrelevance and invites all to discern an internal rationale to the Book of Mormon as a core text of what is now an expanding religious tradition."

—Douglas J. Davies, Professor in the Study of Religion, Durham University

"Grant Hardy offers an ingenious literary reading of the Book of Mormon. He enters into the minds of the book's three major historians, Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni, to show how differently they thought, as evidenced in the rich complexity of the text. Every serious student of the Book of Mormon will want to read this landmark study."

—Richard Bushman, Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies, Claremont Graduate University

Publishers Weekly
Too often, the Book of Mormon has been dismissed out of hand by scholars who think it a fraud (without having read it) or the faithful who accept it as gospel truth (without having read it carefully). In this long-overdue corrective, historian Hardy takes the Book of Mormon seriously as a complex, multivocal document by analyzing the contributions and perspectives of the three men who purport to be its primary narrators: Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni. Hardy teases out the unique voice of each narrator, showing particular nuance as a student of character. He has great skill in reading between the lines—in the Book of Mormon, what is implied is often more intriguing than what is made explicit, and the editorial omissions of a redactor like Mormon can be revealing gaps. In Hardy’s hands, the Book of Mormon begins to come alive as a kind of Shakespearean tragedy as Hardy nimbly employs various tools of literary criticism. It is past time for a study like this, which eschews tiresome debates about the Book of Mormon’s historical authenticity in favor of a careful, lucid exploration of the book’s construction, themes, and characters. Hardy’s writing is clear, sometimes even piercing. This will be a classic work in the field of Mormon studies for decades to come. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Hardy (history & religious studies, Univ. of North Carolina, Asheville) here argues that the book of Mormon has not received, but deserves, treatment as a literary document on its own terms and that in order to do so the questions of historicity need to be bracketed. While some may question the latter approach, Hardy does provide a thorough literary analysis of the text, especially focusing on its narrative structure, the style of its main writers, and the characterizations of its principle actors. The focus, therefore, is on the narrators. Hardy begins with general observations about the book that he thinks everyone could agree on, a good starting point for any discussion of the book of Mormon. VERDICT General readers might be stymied by some of the literary theory, but clearly academics will appreciate the seriousness with which Hardy goes about the task of examining a document whose influence is often overlooked in cultural and literary history.—David Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199731701
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 4/7/2010
  • Pages: 346
  • Sales rank: 819,606
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet 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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Table of Contents

Preface
1. Getting Started, or Why Bother?
Section I: Nephi
2. Sons and Brothers: Characterization
3. Prophets of Old: Scriptural Interpretation
Section II: Mormon
4. Mormon's Dilemma: Competing Agendas
5. Other Voices: Embedded Documents
6. Providential Recurrence: Parallel Narratives
7. The Day of the Lord's Coming: Prophecy and Fulfilment
Section III: Moroni
8. Weakness in Writing: A Sense of Audience
9. Strategies of Conclusion: Allusion
Afterword
Notes
Index

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