On the quality of the Book of Mormon

On the quality of the Book of Mormon March 16, 2019

 

The first temple in the South Pacific
The Hamilton New Zealand Temple    (LDS.org)

 

Here’s a moving item from CNN:

 

“In photos: World reacts to New Zealand terror attack”

 

If you scroll down through the photographs, you’ll find one that shows Judy Gilliland at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles.  With her name in mind, here’s an item by Tad Walch that appeared in the 27 November 2017 issue of the Deseret News:

 

“Dodger Dogs, Mormons and Muslims: One couple’s moral authority builds interfaith bridges”

 

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From the Area Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints based in Auckland, New Zealand:

 

“Statement of Support for Muslim Communities and All Others Impacted by Christchurch Shootings”

 

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“Groundbreaking Held for Pocatello Idaho Temple”

 

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Perhaps you haven’t had a chance to read it:

 

“Rome Italy Temple Dedicatory Prayer”

 

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When the Book of Mormon first issued appeared in an 1830 press-run of 5,000 copies, the response, particularly from the American frontier elite, was overwhelmingly negative.

 

It was, said one contemporary newspaper, “a bungling and stupid production.”  “We have no hesitation in saying that the whole system is erroneous. . . .  There is no redeeming feature in the whole scheme; nothing to commend it to a thinking mind.”

 

Contrary to what such denunciations might have led one to expect, however, E. B. Grandin wasn’t the last to publish the Book of Mormon.  In the years since 1830, it has appeared in multiple editions and in translations into more than 110 world languages.  More than 150 million copies have been printed.  It has even appeared in various forms published by such institutions as Yale University Press, the University of Illinois Press, Doubleday, and Penguin Books.

 

It might be particularly worthwhile to point out that the latter, Penguin Books, has for at least two or three generations “been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world, providing readers with a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines.”  The value of the books that have appeared under the Penguin imprint, comments one online source, “is incalculable, and their loss or destruction would diminish us all.”

 

Professor Laurie Maffly-Kipp, a non-LDS academic who is Archer Alexander Distinguished Professor and Director of Religious Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote the introduction to the Penguin edition of the Book of Mormon.  “However one decides to think about this book,” she says, “it is a fascinating tale well worth reading for a number of reasons.”

 

On 16 April 2015, the New York Times published an interview with Freeman Dyson, one of the most significant living mathematical physicists, who is now in his 96th year and who is retired after having long been associated with Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies.  In that interview, entitled “Freeman Dyson: By the Book,” he was asked “What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?”  He replied, “‘The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.’ I treasure it because some of my best friends are Mormons, and the book tells a dramatic story in a fine biblical style. The reader has to wait with growing tension almost until the end of the story to reach the final climax, when Jesus arrives in America and founds his second kingdom here.”

 

The late David Noel Freedman, a world-renowned non-Mormon biblical scholar (whom I was privileged to know), is reported to have observed that “Mormons are very lucky.  Their book is very beautiful.”

 

Stephen Prothero, a leading contemporary non-Mormon scholar of American religious history, labeled the Book of Mormon “America’s most influential homegrown scripture.”  The Library of Congress lists it among the most influential works of American literature.  The LDS scholar Terryl Givens agrees, pointing out that even those who believe that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon must grant that “he authored the most influential, widely published and read book ever written by an American.”  The Pulitzer Prize-winning non-Mormon historian Daniel Walker Howe declares that “The Book of Mormon should rank among the great achievements of American literature.”

 

Given its inauspicious first publication, such modern reactions to the Book of Mormon are nothing short of remarkable.  And given its claimed origin, they present a remarkable challenge to anybody wishing to write it off as a simple-minded yarn hatched by a shallow, uneducated frontier rube.

 

However Joseph Smith produced it, Latter-day Saint scholar Grant Hardy remarks, “the Book of Mormon is a remarkable text, one that is worthy of serious study.”

 

[These notes are based upon John W. Welch, et al., eds.  Knowing Why: 137 Evidences That the Book of Mormon Is True (American Fork: Covenant Communications, 2017), 2-3 — an important publication from Book of Mormon Central.]

 

 

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