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Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon$
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Elizabeth Fenton and Jared Hickman

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190221928

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190221928.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 19 April 2021

The Ghost and the Machine

The Ghost and the Machine

Plates and Paratext in The Book of Mormon

(p.45) 2 The Ghost and the Machine
Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon

R. John Williams

Oxford University Press

A number of recent discussions of The Book of Mormon have attempted to push beyond the tired debates of apologists and critics by “bracketing” questions of the book’s ancient historicity. According to this approach, old efforts at affirming the text’s historicity only restrain and delimit our interpretive efforts by requiring in advance either dismissals of the volume’s sacred status (showing, for example, how many elements in the text have some correlative cultural referent in Joseph’s Smith’s New England religious environment; hence, fraud) or else faith-promoting reconstructions of its ancient historical origins (showing, by contrast, how many elements in the book can be explained only by transhistorical, angelic delivery; hence, Word of God). This essay argues that despite these pitfalls the narrative and structural realities of The Book of Mormon make all such attempts impossible. It is in this sense that the book provides a valuable case study in textual interpretation.

Keywords:   Egyptology, Freemasonry, golden plates, historicity, historicism, hieroglyphs, ideographs, paratext, print history, stereotype plates, translation

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