THE BOOK OF MORMON AS LITERATURE
Three Interpretive essays on the Book of Mormon from a literary point of view are now avallable.
Bruce Jorgensen's literary analysis in "The Dark Way to the Tree: Typological Unity in the Book of Mormon" identifies a "structurally unified verbal whole" in the Nephite reoord. The key to grasping this unity, he suggests, is in Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life and the explication of it given to Nephi where we are presented a "figural interpretation" of Nephite history. Later historical events are seen as manifestations of "types" pointed out in the dream. Central is transformation: "from dark and barren waste by means of the Word to a world fruitful and filled with light." This transformation is repeated at both individual and group levels: Enos, dark himself in the wilderness, discovers light and salvation; younger Alma, an idolatrous rebel, is snatched from darkness to light; the three days of darkness and dismay at the time of the great destruction turns to comfort with sudden communication from "the light and the life of the world." The piece, first published in Encyclia (the Journal of the Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters), together with a 1980 postcript in The Literature of Belief (BYU Religious Studies Center), is available as Reprint JOR-77.
"The Psalm of Nephi: A Lyric Reading," by Stephen P. Sondrup, first published in BYU Studies, takes a different approach from that of Jorgensen: he holds that literarily the Book of Mormon is best seen by looking at specific portions rather than trying to identify a generic whole. In this intensive treatment of 2 Nephi 4:16-35, Sondrup discusses the nature and extent of the poetic qualities the segment shows. He also points out some implications for interpretation of the lyricism it displays. Among them is that Nephi intended this text to be read as a poem, hence the most profound understanding of its meaning depends upon our reading it as an "inward striving for heightened reality." The article can be ordered as Reprint SON-81.
In "Beowulf and Nephi: A Literary View of the Book of Mormon," Robert E. Nichols, Jr., writing in 1969 in Dialogue, takes yet a third approach. He examines the characters in the Book of Mormon, their complexity and consistency. They are impressive individuals. Nephi, for example, is shown as a hero sharing a number of characteristics with the early English literary figure Beowulf. Even though the Nephite record has yet to be examined seriously as literature, it remains "a challenging critical prize," for future study, "perhaps the chief prize of the literature we call English."