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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, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 01 December 2020

“To Read the Round of Eternity”

“To Read the Round of Eternity”

Speech, Text, and Scripture in The Book of Mormon

(p.159) 6 “To Read the Round of Eternity”
Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon

Samuel Morris Brown

Oxford University Press

The Book of Mormon is concerned with, among other things, the nature of language. Participating in ancient debates about the relative strengths and weaknesses of oral versus written language, The Book of Mormon points toward a hybrid model of scripture in which oral—brimming with power but limited in space and time—and written—unlimited by space or time but dead and susceptible to multiple interpretations—languages are both necessary to constitute scripture. The Book of Mormon models this behavior extensively, even obsessively, starting with its front matter and extending through multiple narrative threads. Throughout its primary and multiple secondary narrative arcs, The Book of Mormon models a hybrid scripture that depends on both written and oral language. In its narrative of Jaredites—a people protected from the curse of Babel whose sacred history is locked in gold plates until a supernaturally gifted seer can be found—The Book of Mormon provides a key to understanding the entire scriptural text. The Jaredite prophet has powerful oral language and also a written scripture stored in gold plates, liberated by the living voice of the seer. Both a scripture and a seeric figure are required for the Jaredites as well as for the Lehites. This scriptural hybridity is perhaps most striking in two encounters between Christ and the New World worshippers whose story The Book of Mormon tells—in both cases, Christ employs both his own divine speech and written scriptural texts to communicate sacred truths. This scriptural hybridity that appears central to The Book of Mormon argues strongly for the necessity of both ancient and modern voices in this foundational Latter-day Saint scripture.

Keywords:   Alexander Campbell, Jaredites, vision of Lehi, Moriancumer, Walter Ong, orality, Phaedrus, William Phelps, Plato, Tower of Babel

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