Book Notice-The Book of Mormon: The Biography of a Book by Paul Gutjahr + Lecture

By February 15, 2011

H/T: Keith Erekson.

[forwarded message] Please join us on Thursday, February 17, at 4:00 p.m., for a talk by Prof. Paul Gutjahr about his forthcoming book, The Book of Mormon: The Biography of a Book.  This book, which will be published by thePrinceton University Press in its series on “The Lives of Great Religious Books,” tells the story of The Book of Mormon from its publication in 1830 to the present day.  Professor Gutjahr states in his abstract:

“No book originally produced in the United States has had more significance in molding various forms of private and public expressions of faith than The Book of Mormon.  First published in 1830 in Palmyra, New York, its author (or scribe) – a poor farmer by the name of Joseph Smith Jr. – claimed that he was visited by an angel who told him where to find a set of gold plates.  From these plates, Smith translated The Book of Mormon.  Since its first appearance, The Book of Mormon has gone through nearly fifty different editions, some significantly different from Smith’s initial text, with a combined worldwide distribution of nearly one hundred and fifty million copies.  This book is an interpretive study of the birth and evolution of this immensely influential American sacred text from its first appearance, through its some eighty English and foreign language translations, all the way up through its appearance in media as different as comic books and motion pictures.”

Prof. Gutjahr holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, and an M.A. in English from Stanford University. He is the author of several books, including An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880 (Stanford University Press, 1999), and he has received numerous awards and fellowships.  Prof. Gutjahr is currently Associate Professor in the Department of English at Indiana University Bloomington, and he also holds adjunct appointments in the Department of Religious Studies and the Department of American Studies.

Prof. Gutjahr’s talk will take place on Thursday, February 17, 2011, at 4:00 p.m., in the Slocum Room of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, 1200 East 7th Street, Bloomington, Indiana.  The talk, which is sponsored by the Lilly Library and the History of the Book Seminar series, is free and open to the public.  No reservations are required.  For directions to the Lilly Library, please call (812) 855-2452.

Article filed under Announcements and Events


  1. It would be very interesting to know how many people attended this event in Bloomington. Since its not a traditional venue for Mormon Studies events, it might say something about the perceived importance of Mormonism among scholars.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — February 15, 2011 @ 5:52 am

  2. Very interesting. Do we know anyone in Bloomington who might be attending?

    Comment by Christopher — February 15, 2011 @ 9:49 am

  3. Intriguing, thanks for the heads up. I wonder what the release date is.

    Comment by BHodges — February 15, 2011 @ 9:56 am

  4. Interesting. Always nice to see this kind of attention from a mainstream press. The obvious question here is how this is going to differ from By the Hand of Mormon.

    Comment by David G. — February 15, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

  5. Well I added it to I hope it is well attended.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — February 15, 2011 @ 11:01 pm

  6. These are generally very well attended regardless of topic.

    Comment by SC Taysom — February 16, 2011 @ 8:08 am

  7. Keith —

    brother! how’s it going? I was there. It was very cool. I’m having lunch with Paul on March 4th as well. What do you want to know about the lecture?

    Comment by Glenn — February 26, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

  8. Hi Glenn, thanks for stopping by. Can you tell us how well attended this was? What is/are the book’s thesis/argument/central points? Any sense of a release date?

    Comment by Jared T — February 26, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

  9. It was very well attended — a packed room actually — standing room in the back and he was surprised, because he expected just 20-30 or so students, but it was closer to 60-80 or more I would guess with a lot of people from the community. A lively Q&A discussion ensued afterwards. Jan Shipps came out for it.

    The first major focus was the minor edition changes from the 1830 original to the 1978 consolidation (going by memory here) — one branch of changes being done in Europe starting in 1837, and another with J.S.’s last changes in Nauvoo in 1840 that weren’t reincorporated until the 1978 re-consolidation. The biggest point I remember was a 1879(?) version by Orson Pratt that included footnotes to specific north american locations to BoM events.

    One of Paul’s arguments is that format changes such as two-columns and headers/verses do change the way that the work is received. But the biggest change is the addition of pictures, which happened in 1963, and he spent some time talking about Arnold Friedberg, and then a little bit of time talking about BoM stories being depicted in cinema (like this totally kitchish “Corianton: A story of unholy love” from 1931 that was so racy with all its orgy scenes that it ran in Salt Lake a total of 3 weeks.

    He also talked about 1989 as a watershed moment when the BoM was published upwards in the gajillions and sent to every neighbor and their dog — or something like that. I didn’t write down the exact number.

    There are some really cool illustrations he is including in the book, like an 1888 Aztec Map of Lehi coming over to the new world which was a George Reynolds visualization of the migration.

    No sense of the publishing date — only that he has been working on the manuscript for a year, he has 170 pages double spaced written for a layman audience, which he gave to five mormon friends to review, and received back 72 pages worth of single-spaced notes with recommended revisions — which reminded him why he hesitated accepting this assignment from Princeton University Press in the first place! (he was a great speaker, by the way)

    Wow — I remembered a lot. Word of wisdom, probably.

    Comment by Glenn — February 26, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

  10. @Kent(MC) — BTW, because you added it to Mormon Conferences, Tom Perry (my good buddy from Mormon Expression) saw it and forwarded the info to me, and I was able to attend. Otherwise, I would have had no idea it was going on and you never would have heard my sub-par report. So thanks. Consider yourself a still small voice.

    Comment by Glenn — February 26, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

  11. Glenn, thank you very much for the thorough report!

    Comment by Jared T — February 26, 2011 @ 4:55 pm


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