February 16, 2010

"My Faves" on the Book of Mormon- Grant Hardy

In the first edition of the "My Faves" series, Grant Hardy went above the requested five to list six "Classic Articles That Changed My Thinking on the Book of Mormon." Hardy's explanation follows each reference.

1. Richard L. Bushman, “The Book of Mormon and the American Revolution,” BYU Studies 17, no. 1 (Autumn 1976): 3-20. 

Many Latter-day Saints welcomed Bushman’s analysis of the differences between political ideas among the Nephites and those that were common in Joseph Smith’s era as evidence that the Book of Mormon was not a modern work. I appreciated that point, but also noticed that his study offered a similar correction to Mormon assumptions that Nephite prophets supported our own Cold War political opinions about the Constitution, democracy, capitalism, and the role of government. In the end, despite the value of their firm testimony of Christ, the Nephites were not really much like modern Americans.

2. Richard Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker, “Joseph Smith: The Gift of Seeing,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15, no. 2 (Summer 1982): 49-68.

Before I read this article, I had always assumed that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon in much the way the process is depicted in LDS artwork, but the evidence for his use of a seer stone in a hat is so clear and compelling that I was entirely persuaded. I realized that God does not always work in ways that seem respectable or reasonable to us, and I decided that I would not be embarrassed or defensive about following the evidence, wherever it might lead.

3. John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1982), 33–52.

I did not read this article when it was first published in BYU Studies in 1969; rather, I came to it in the 1980s where there was something of a frenzy for identifying chiasmus everywhere in the Book of Mormon, along with dozens of other ancient rhetorical devices. The enthusiasm for this new “proof” of the historicity of the Book of Mormon sometimes overwhelmed reasonable analysis, but when I returned to the article that had started it all, I found that Welch’s observations were careful, modest, and convincing. Even if chiasmus is not the single key that unlocks the Book of Mormon, Welch did show that the book is more tightly constructed than anyone had heretofore suspected (a point that I hope to further in my own forthcoming monograph).

4. John L. Sorenson, “Digging into the Book of Mormon,” part 1 and part 2, Ensign, Sept. and Oct., 1984. 

I grew up with the common belief that the events of the Book of Mormon took place across all of North and South America (divided by the narrow neck of land at Panama), and that the photographs of ancient American ruins and artifacts included in the pre-1981 missionary edition were the remains of Nephites and Lamanites. These two articles, soon supplemented by Sorenson’s An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, first introduced the Church at large to the idea that a rigorous analysis showed that the Nephites and Lamanites had to have inhabited a much smaller territory, probably in Mesoamerica.  The articles upended generations of assumptions about Book of Mormon geography and once again pointed to what could be learned by reading the text itself carefully and critically.

5. Krister Stendahl, “The Sermon on the Mount and Third Nephi,” in Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978), 139–154. 

When I first read this as a high school student in 1978, I thought, “That’s nice.” Only years later did I come to realize how extraordinary it is to take the scriptures of another faith tradition seriously. Stendahl’s essay shows that it is possible for non-Mormons to read the Book of Mormon astutely, in a fair and open-minded manner. In the end, I don’t agree with all of his judgments, but he notices things and asks questions that might not occur to insiders. As a result, his comments are more valuable than any number of Latter-day Saints telling each other what they already know. I only hope that I can be as generous and respectful when I study other religions.


6. Royal Skousen, “Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1997), 61-93.

In many ways, the most reasonable way to understanding the odd combination of ancient and modern elements in the Book of Mormon is to assume that Joseph Smith introduced nineteenth-century terms and concepts into the text during the translation process as he struggled to put the ideas into his own words. Skousen’s article, backed up by the 4000 pages of his six-volume analysis of textual variants, made me change my mind. I now believe that the preponderance of the evidence suggests that the Book of Mormon is not in Joseph’s words, but that he read a pre-existing translation off the seer stone—a translation provided by God. Usually, closer analysis leads away from traditional, conservative, or naive ideas; history is nearly always more complicated than we first imagined. In this case, however, the most comprehensive, detailed study points toward the simpler, more miraculous alternative (even if it leaves us scratching our heads about the non-standard grammar and sometimes awkward diction).




________________________________________

Grant Hardy is Professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He earned a B.A. in Ancient Greek from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. in Chinese Language and Literature from Yale. Hardy wrote the introduction for Royal Skousen’s recent Yale publication, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text. Hardy's forthcoming book, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (Oxford, 2010), will be an interesting companion to his earlier book, The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition. He has authored several articles and chapters on the Book of Mormon for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. See also his essay from "Mormon Scholars Testify."

10 comments:

Clean Cut said...

Thanks for this. I'm looking forward to catching up on some of these that are new to me. As a post script, shall I assume that theories concerning a "looser" translation of the Book of Mormon will be forthcoming in future "favs"?

BHodges said...

Yeah, the goal is to present scholars from a spectrum of perspectives. Different translation theories wound up in the lists of other scholars, so readers will get a chance to read different perspectives and become more acquainted with them. At the end of the series I plan to analyze some of the choices and point out some distinctions regarding each of the participant selections. Should be good!

Sandra said...

Thank you to Grant Hardy for this list and to Blair for running this series. I'm excited to read those articles I missed. Your site is so mind expanding to me--thanks for all your efforts. A lot of us are too quiet--but appreciative!
Sandra

BHodges said...

Thanks, Sandra, it means a lot to get comments like that. It's the only payment we get!

Ronnie Bray said...

Joseph appeared not to use any one method of translation exclusively. For this reason it may be premature to close the door on the subject.

Regarding who knows what in the Church and whether it matters much, little, or at all.

Church members have a lot in common, but there may be more that separates [not divides] them in areas of personal interests.

It is possible to become a member and pass a useful and fulfilled life as a non-scintillating pew member whose involvement in theological and historical elements of scholarship is minimal, or, possible, totally minimal.

The genius of the Church as an institution is the cohesion that is achieved by those of discrete intellectual, educational, spiritual, mental, and emotional weights that share a demonstrable bond of brother and sisterhood hood under the aegis of the Gospel, yet who could not find place in each others economic, educational, or vocational cadres.

This is addressed by Paul who points out the necessity of and interdependence of varied organs and appendages the loss of one rendering the total organism less than it is meant to be.

In the the sociology of religion it is a false assumption top hold that the watchman on the Antoninan Tower understand best what is happening in the Court of Israel. Although the watchman might better appreciate the plan of the Temple complex, and the relative population densities of each of the areas, his anatomical perception is unlikely to come close to knowing what devotional stirrings move the hearts of - to the watcham on the tower - the ant-like and virtually indistinguishable individuals that become the physiological organism that the anatomical structure is intended to serve.

The hopes, concerns, devotion, anticipations, and sense of participation in the numinous are only available in any meaningful way to those whose vision of the whole is restricted by their presence within the teeming mass of worshippers, yet it is they, not the watchers from afar, that 'know' what it is to be among that number, informed by scripture, tradition, and spiritual inheritance.

That understanding is available only from those whose feet touch the marble pavement.

"A Latter-day Saint's View of Ethan Smith" has no bearing on theology, Christology, or soteriology, &c, and those that scratch their head on hearing a name that along with Solomon Spalding's and that of Conjuror Walters, have little meaning for today's Saints busily honouring and magnifying their callings, engaging in ministry, nourishing and nurturing souls, minds, and hearts, and thereby fulfilling the little-understood condition of the Abrahamic Covenant that in his seed 'shall all nations of the earth be blessed.'

Ecclesiastical and historical scholarship have their places, but they ought never to hold their noble heads higher than those that are lowered in submission, recognition, devotion praise, and thanksgiving.

Ronnie

BHodges said...

Ronnie, I don't advocate the position that "Ecclesiastical and historical scholarship" should ever "hold their noble heads higher than those that are lowered in submission, recognition, devotion praise, and thanksgiving."

This series is a modest effort to help the few people who stumble through here become more excited about the Book of Mormon, not an attempt to replace the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Michaela Stephens said...

Thanks for pointing out #5. Very fascinating.

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