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By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion Paperback – August 21, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In 1830, Joseph Smith, founder of the Christian sect known as Mormons, published writings he had translated from golden plates reputedly delivered to him by the angel Moroni. These writings were to become the controversial sacred writings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and were titled the "Book of Mormon." Although more than 100 million copies of the Book of Mormon are in print in 94 languages, it has been roundly ignored as a legitimate topic of academic study. To correct the situation, Givens (English, Univ. of Richmond; The Viper on the Hearth) has written a thickly detailed book covering the theology and history of the Book of Mormon and its influences on American culture. The result is not a casual read, and the depth of detail makes the reading difficult for those not familiar with basic theological concepts. Yet for scholars of American religious movements and those with more than a passing interest in the LDS Church, this book is a worthy place to begin one's research and study. Recommended for academic and theological libraries. Glenn Masuchika, Rockwell Collins Information Ctr., Cedar Rapids, IA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"This outstanding book investigates the history and theology of the Book of Mormon, which Givens calls 'perhaps the most religiously influential, hotly contested, and, at least in the secular press, intellectually underinvestigated book in America.' Givens persuasively demonstrates how the Book of Mormon was trumpeted by early Latter-Day Saints more for the fact of its existence--which to them indicated an imminent apocalypse--than for its content per se. He notes that it was only during the late 20th century that Mormons began to regard the Book of Mormon as a cultural and spiritual 'keystone.' Givens's well-argued, engagingly written book takes the emerging field of Book of Mormon Studies to a new level."--Publishers Weekly

"Givens is fair-minded, sympathetic, and knows his Mormon history, as well as the history of visionaries.... Givens's surest ground is in folding Joseph Smith in with the religious mystics who claimed immediate and intimate knowledge of the supernatural. The importance of his book lies in its scholarly, unbiased, and disinterested examination of a sacred text."--Harpers

"A closely written, thoughtful (if polemical) book by a devoted scholar. It is certainly provocative reading, whether you happen to be a Mormon or not."--Benson Bobrick, New York Times Book Review

"By the Hand of Mormon, Terryl L. Givens's study of the Book of Mormon, is vastly informative, particularly to the general reader who seeks for insight into this extraordinary work. There are enigmatic splendors in the Book of Mormon, whether it was revealed to Joseph Smith or whether it emerged from his indubitable religious genius." --Harold Bloom, author of The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation

"This is an exceptional study. Terryl Givens has written an important work that increases our understanding of both the Book of Mormon and of Mormonism generally. He demonstrates how a single literary work gave rise to an enduring community, a theology, a religion, and a culture, and helps to explain not only the book's history but also the persisting success of Mormonism as an enduring belief system and worshipping community. By the Hand of Mormon is an achievement of real distinction." --Jan Shipps, author of Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons and Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195168887
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195168884
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #235,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
By the Hand of Mormon makes a fine contribution to Book of Mormon studies; Terryl Givens deftly surveys the twists and turns of the debate over the truth of the book. Givens, a Latter-day Saint scholar, has now made two extraordinary contributions to Mormon studies. If one wishes to understand the complex of interests and motivations-pecuniary, personal, and ideological-that fuel both sectarian and secular anti-Mormonism, Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy, published in 1997, is the book to consult. In By the Hand of Mormon, Givens examines the roles the Book of Mormon has played for both believers and detractors. He describes its coming forth, and the debate over its historical authenticity. This book is an extraordinary accomplishment.
With subtle understatement and exceptional skill in analysis and argumentation, Givens examines how the Book of Mormon has served for some as a kind of barometer of gullibility and for others as solid evidence of blasphemy, while for the faithful it has served primarily as a sacred sign that the heavens are once again open, that Joseph Smith is God's prophet, that the end time is approaching, and that the world is again pulsing with divine powers. The most original chapter describes "dialogic revelation"-the special divine revelations in the Book of Mormon that result from a kind of dialogue with God and that are radically different from traditional concepts of revelation. This revelatory process was exemplified by the way in which the Book of Mormon was recovered, and the Joseph Smith story. And the Book of Mormon its readers to experience it for themselves.
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Format: Paperback
For a long time, people who desire careful analysis of the Book of Mormon have had nowhere to turn. They were required to choose between three types of sources: 1) abrasively anti-mormon polemics; 2) "objective" accounts; and 3) official church accounts.
There is no shortage of studies that fall into categorey 1. You can buy many or most of them here on Amazon. They are worse than useless, though, because they are designed to use as much evidence as possible to put Mormonism in a bad light. They are not very choosy about their sources, they ignore positive evidence and stories, and they follow what might be called Ed Decker's razor-- of competing interpretations of disputed historical fact, the one that make Mormons and Mormonism seem most outlandish must be true.
Category 2 studies are more helpful. These studies are more (sometimes) selective in their choice of sources. The problem with them is their "interpretative" element. They apply a version of Occam's razor to interpreting facts. However, while this sounds good and scientific, it leads inevitably to one conclusion-- Joseph Smith was not a prophet, the Book of Mormon is not true, etc. To see why this is so, consider that Occam's razor provides no real guidance as to how one goes about deciding which of the competing explanations of a phenomenon is "simpler." These books use a "secular" version of Occam's razor, where non-religious explanations are always more likely to be true, because they are "simpler" in some sense.
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Format: Hardcover
The Book of Mormon is a curious work. Jos. Smith, Jr., founder of the Mormon movement (whose largest branch is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah), claimed to receive it by divine revelation. It professes to be the history of ancient inhabitants of the Americas, who came to the New World centuries before Christ.
Upon first blush, the Book of Mormon seems to be little more than a pale imitation of the Bible written in exaggerated King James English (by the time your done with it, you won't want to hear the phrase "and it came to pass" again). Nonetheless, the book is quite complicated and appears unlikely to be the work of the generally unlettered Jos. Smith. What is most interesting about the Book is its complex nature. Opponents of the Book have had a hard time finding internal inconsistencies in it, although it has a fair number of anachronisms.
Although the LDS Church has produced competent apologists (such as the brilliant B.H. Roberts), the age of modern Mormons apologetics began with Hugh Nibley and has continued to the present with scholars associated with FARMS, now part of BYU. For example, while Jos. Smith believed that the events narrated in the Book of Mormon concerned the territory covered by North and South America, contemporary Mormon scholarship asserts that its events took place in a relatively small area of Central America. There is no archaeological evidence to support the authenticity of the Book, but it does appear to have numerous parallels to ancient Middle Eastern works.
Prof. Givens, who is professor of English at the University of Richmond, has written a comprehensive book about the Book of Mormon.
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