The Book of Mormon in Fifteen [or So Non-Consecutive] Days (Part II)

Two months ago, I posted about my first experience of reading the Book of Mormon in its entirety in fifteen days. As mentioned previously, the rather colossal Book of Alma did me in. In my edition (Royal Skousen's Earliest Text), Alma takes up two hundred and thirty pages. It stopped my reading schedule in its tracks.

Eventually, I set aside six days for Alma, and it was then easy to read the remainder of the scripture in short order. Continuing my approach from the first post, here are summaries of the remaining books in fifty words or fewer.

Alma. A really long book. Priests good; priestcraft bad. Did "whosoever did mingle his seed with that of the Lamanites did bring the same curse upon his seed" influence later LDS concerns over intermarriage?  Alma foregoes his judgeship to focus on his priestly duties; seems anti-theocratic. Lamoni's apparent death fascinating.

Helaman. Growth of Gaddianton societies, robbers with signs and secret words. At the end of Helaman, a Lamanite prophet named Samuel announces that Christ's coming is near, will be accompanied by signs. God will destroy all Nephites, but not utterly destroy the Lamanites.

3 Nephi. Christ comes. Miraculous signs accompany Christ's birth. Many believe, then fall away a few years later. Gaddianton soldiers with shaved heads, headplates, lambskin dyed in blood. Destruction at time of Christ's death. Zarahemla burned. Jesus appears, will appear to other "sheep." Three Nephites: somewhere between mortality and immorality.

4 Nephi. Best of times: "neither there were Lamanites nor no manner of ites." People live long lives. After two hundred years, unity dissolves amid growing riches and pride. Building up of different apostate churches.

Mormon. As boy, told to find sacred engravings in a hill at age 24. Mormon "tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus." After terrible defeats, Mormon gathers the Nephites to the hill Cumorah, where he hides the records, save for a few plates given to son Moroni.

Ether. Fascinating excursus. Book is about the Jaredites, a people who travel to the "land of promise" in barges illuminated with stones of light. Brother of Jared sees the finger of the Lord; turns out to be the incarnate Christ. Last surviving Jaredite is Coriantumr. Interesting doctrine about Jesus Christ first existing in a "body of ... spirit," prior to incarnation.

Moroni. Teachings about laying on of hands, ordination, administering "the flesh and blood of Christ unto the Church," and baptism. Sermon of Mormon. Letters of Mormon to Moroni. Miracles haven't ceased. Moroni seals up the record. Ask God if the things in this book are true.

A few thoughts, which are basically my first impressions of the entirety:

- The BOM mostly narrates the lives and actions of what I regard as "stock characters." I don't mean that pejoratively. There are some men who are evil and then convert. For the most part, however, there are heroes (such as Captain Moroni) and villains (such as Amulon). This in contrast to the Jewish scriptures and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the New Testament. The former is full of morally ambiguous protagonists (Jacob and David spring to mind, and even Noah and Abraham have major shortcomings), while the disciples of Jesus at least have their ups and downs.

- Women also play a relatively smaller role in the BOM than in Jewish scriptures and the New Testament (not that men do not substantially dominate the action in those texts as well). The 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism counts only six named women in the entire BOM. For example: Abish, a Lamanite servant of King Lamoni, plays a key role in the conversion of Lamoni and his king and thus in the conversion of a major portion of the Lamanite people in the final century before the birth of Jesus Christ.

- I find the BOM to be persistent and exuberant in its insistence upon the divinity of Jesus Christ, whom it sometimes identifies as "the Father and the Son."

The Brother of Jared sees the Finger of the Lord (Arnold Friberg)
- Any scholar of nineteenth-century Mormonism would be well served to read the BOM in its entirety. I should have done so long ago. It would have helped me more fuller understand certain terms (such as the Liahona or the Gadiantons). It's one thing to read explanations of such terms. It's another thing to read them in context. And perhaps I'll have some recollection of the narrative when I see artwork about BOM stories or references to BOM figures. I'm trying to gain a better understanding of recent and contemporary Mormonism, and it's worth keeping in mind that the LDS Sunday school curriculum takes members through the BOM in its entirety once every four years. [The other three years are devoted to, respectively, the Old Testament (including the books of Moses and Abraham, which Joseph Smith brought forth in the 1830s), the New Testament, and the Doctrine & Covenants]. Thus, active Latter-day Saints today probably have a much higher level of familiarity with the BOM than their nineteenth-century counterpart.

Of course, if you have a passing interest in things Mormon or teach it occasionally as a subject, it might make more sense to read portions in order to better explain the scripture in class. I've used portions of 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, and 3 Nephi, and Moroni for that purpose. I also found Ether's account of the Jaredites an interesting case study of the BOM as a whole. It contains an ocean crossing, some interesting points of doctrine (spirit body of Christ, as mentioned above), record keeping, an emphasis upon Jesus Christ, and the extinction of a people.


Kabo said…
What a helpful challenge. It's like you knew that I gave up on War and Peace and needed another inspiration. I'll do it! - Kate Bowler
John G. Turner said…
At least it's shorter than War and Peace.
Christopher said…
Nice, John. It's really quite fascinating to read your summaries here; to see what sticks out to someone, sans the context and expectations one imbibes growing up LDS from lesson manuals, tradition, etc.

Three Nephites: somewhere between moratlity and immorality.

Freudian slip?
John G. Turner said…
Non-Freudian slip. See Randall Stephens's post, sentence two, quote from Hemingway.
Christopher said…
Er, I was referring to the words used, not the minor misspelling. Surely you meant mortality and immortality, right? (Unless there's a moral message I'm missing in the 3 Nephites story).
John G. Turner said…
Oops. Finally got it right, I think.