Source:Nibley:CW03:Ch24:2:Increasing relevance of the Book of Mormon

Increasing relevance of the Book of Mormon

Increasing relevance of the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon draws us the picture of another and totally different type of society which has become a historical reality only within the last thirty years or so. It was once thought that the world which Homer described was purely the product of his own inventive genius. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, however, the shrewd and observant English scholar and traveler Robert Wood had the idea of writing "a detailed work in which similarities of the cultures exhibited in the Old Testament, in Homer, and in the Near East of his own day should be collected, and prove that a 'Heroic Age' is a real and recurrent type in human society."3 Wood died before he could produce the work, and it was not until the 1930's that Milman Parry showed that what is called heroic poetry is necessarily "created by a people who are living in a certain way, and so have a certain outlook on life, and our understanding of the heroic will come only as we learn what that way of living is and grasp that outlook."4 Then Chadwick showed that epic poetry cannot possibly be produced except in and by a genuine epic milieu, as he called it—a highly developed, complex, very peculiar but firmly established and very ancient cultural structure.5 How ancient may be guessed from Kramer's recent and confident attempt to describe the culture of the earliest Sumerians in detail simply on the basis of the knowledge that they produced a typical epic literature. Knowing that, one may be sure that theirs was the same culture that is described in epic poetry throughout the world, 6 for epic cannot be faked: innumerable attempts to produce convincing epics by the creative imagination are almost pitifully transparent. Now one of the books of the Book of Mormon, the book of Ether, comes right out of that epic milieu, which it faithfully reproduces, though of course the world of Joseph Smith had never heard of such a thing as an epic milieu. Here is a good test for the Book of Mormon. It is but one of many—all awaiting fuller treatment, and none as yet settled with any degree of finality. But the mere fact that there are such tests is a most astonishing thing. That one can actually talk about the Book of Mormon seriously and with growing respect after all that has been discovered in the last 125 years is, considering the nature of its publication, as far as I am concerned, in itself ample proof of its genuineness.

But the Book of Mormon was not meant as a sign and a wonder to an unbelieving world; though an angel from heaven were to declare it, we are told, the world would not believe. It was meant to give instruction to those who should believe in these last days. It is a book for hard times and for great times. I have always thought in reading the Book of Mormon, "Woe to the generation that understands this book!" To our fathers, once the great persecutions ceased, the story of the Nephites and the Lamanites was something rather strange, unreal, and faraway—even to the point of being romantic. The last generation did not make much of the Book of Mormon. But now with every passing year this great and portentous story becomes more and more familiar and more frighteningly like our own. It is an exciting thing to discover that the man Lehi was a real historical character, a fact that can now be established from secular sources with a high degree of probability, but it is far more important and significant to find oneself in this twentieth century standing as it were in his very shoes. The events and situations of the Book of Mormon that not many years ago seemed wildly improbable to some and greatly overdrawn have suddenly become the story of our own times, when we see and shall see the words of those prophets who speak to us from the dust fearfully and wonderfully vindicated.[1]


  1. Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, 3rd edition, (Vol. 3 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), Chapter 24, references silently removed—consult original for citations.