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Review: Paul C. Gutjahr. The Book of Mormon: A Biography.

TitleReview: Paul C. Gutjahr. The Book of Mormon: A Biography.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsHarris, Tod R.
JournalBYU Studies Quarterly
Start Page159
Date Published2013

There is something of a paradox prevalent in academic religious studies: in order to consider a community and its traditions objectively, one should not be a member of that community; yet the only way to understand fully and appreciate and therefore faithfully report about the community is to be a member. Many times this contradiction leads to the unfortunate situation where "outsiders" do not report their findings objectively or accurately and thus disappoint those hoping for fair and informative treatment, and where the work of members attempting serious scholarly analysis of their own community is viewed with suspicion and distrust because of their perceived lack of objectivity. The state of affairs has improved in recent years with well-received work coming out of many of the communities themselves, particularly the Islamic community. Mormon studies, unfortunately, often finds itself in a position where nonmember academics produce work that is incomplete, biased, or, in some cases, flat-out wrong, and where LDS scholars are not even invited to contribute. There are heartening signs of change for the better even here, though, one of them being the recent publication of The Book of Mormon: A Biography by Paul C. Gutjahr. This book, though short, is an engaging and generally positive overview of the origin and impact of the Book of Mormon by a serious non-LDS scholar. The book is part of Princeton University Press's Lives of Great Religious Books series, a series designed to "recount the complex and fascinating histories of important religious texts from around the world." Other volumes in the series include treatments of Exodus, Job, the Qur'an, the Baghavad Gita, and even Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae. Though Latter-day Saints have long known that the Book of Mormon is an "important religious text," it is encouraging to see it considered as such by a prestigious American university. And if an LDS scholar could not have written The Book of Mormon: A Biography, then Paul Gutjahr is a particularly well-qualified non-Mormon writer.