Late one night in 1823 Joseph Smith, Jr., was reportedly visited in his family's farmhouse in upstate New York by an angel named Moroni. According to Smith, Moroni told him of a buried stack of gold plates that were inscribed with a history of the Americas' ancient peoples, and which would restore the pure Gospel message as Jesus had delivered it to them. Thus began the unlikely career of the Book of Mormon, the founding text of the Mormon religion, and perhaps the most important sacred text ever to originate in the United States. Here Paul Gutjahr traces the life of this book as it has formed and fractured different strains of Mormonism and transformed religious expression around the world.
Gutjahr looks at how the Book of Mormon emerged from the burned-over district of upstate New York, where revivalist preachers, missionaries, and spiritual entrepreneurs of every stripe vied for the loyalty of settlers desperate to scratch a living from the land. He examines how a book that has long been the subject of ridicule--Mark Twain called it "chloroform in print"--has more than 150 million copies in print in more than a hundred languages worldwide. Gutjahr shows how Smith's influential book launched one of the fastest growing new religions on the planet, and has featured in everything from comic books and action figures to feature-length films and an award-winning Broadway musical.
Paul C. Gutjahr is professor of English at Indiana University. His books include Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy and An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880.
"To explain this book--now published in 150 million copies in 110 languages--Gutjahr recounts the life of Joseph Smith, whose status as the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints rests upon his claim that he translated the Book of Mormon from ancient gold plates delivered to him by an angel. . . . Undeterred by skeptics' allegations of fraud, a small army of missionaries have made the book a powerful proselytizing tool . . . but as an engaging human story, it has also inspired the creative impulses of visual, cinematic, and theatrical artists. . . . A very helpful introduction to a perplexing but increasingly visible religious text."--Bryce Christensen, Booklist
"[A] fascinating history of an important document of American culture."--Steven Poole, The Guardian
"This is a book that has been waiting to be written. There have been previous accounts of the Book of Mormon by believers and nonbelievers, but most have been too polemical for general readers. Gutjahr (English, Indiana Univ.; Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy) doesn't ignore controversial issues of history and authenticity, as is the case with some other short introductions; rather, he provides several alternative interpretations of the book's origins. . . . Needless to say, especially with the tremendous success of the Broadway show The Book of Mormon, there is a great need for a book like this. It should appeal to scholars and interested general readers alike."--David S. Azzolina, Library Journal (starred review)
Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations xi
A Note on Usage xix
Part I: Germination 1
Chapter 1: Joseph's Gold Bible 11
Chapter 2: Holy Writ or Humbug? 38
Part II: Budding 59
Chapter 3 Multiplying Prophets 61
Chapter 4 Great Basin Saints and
The Book 86