SYLLABUS: Robert Rees, “Sacred Scriptures of the Latter-Day Saints”

HRHS 3960, Graduate Theological Union 2017

Course Description:

In addition to the Bible, Latter-day Saints claim three additional books as scripture: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. This course examines each in terms of its origins and claim as sacred text, although the primary focus is on the Book of Mormon. Since its publication in 1830, the Book of Mormon, translated into more than 100 languages, is considered one of the most controversial books published in America. Claimed by Mormons to be as a scriptural record of three groups of Near Eastern peoples who immigrated to the New World in antiquity, as well as “a new witness of Jesus Christ,” it has elicited both derision and a growing body of serious scholarship. This course examines the book in relation to the nineteenth century environment out of which it emerged and the critical judgment that it has inspired over the past 180 years. Primary emphasis is on the text itself—its narrative construction, “deep structures,” controlling images, dramatic action and central messages. Particular attention will be paid to the account of Jesus’ visit to the New World as recounted in 3 Nephi. The course also examines a series of what Mormons consider “modern revelations” collected as The Doctrine and Covenants and the shorter Pearl of Great Price, which includes the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham, plus an account of Joseph Smith’s foundational visions as prophet.

Course Objectives:

  • To consider the question of what constitutes scripture or sacred texts both within Mormonism and the broader world of religion.
  • To understand the unique claims to sacred texts within the Latter-day Saint tradition and their place within the larger world of sacred literature.
  • To explore the historical, cultural and spiritual contexts out of which Latter-day Saint scriptures emerged.
  • To consider the implications of modern revelation and an open canon.
  • To examine the arguments of those who do not consider Latter-day Saint scriptures either inspired or authoritative.
  • To apply critical tools to close critical readings of Latter-day Saint scriptural texts as a model for close readings of all sacred texts.
  • To explore the relation of sacred texts to beliefs, doctrines and religious practices within the Latter-day Saint tradition.

Course Texts:

  • The Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price
  • Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (Oxford 2010)
  • Grant Hardy, The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (University of Illinois Press, 2003)
    (this is the preferred text for class discussion but other versions can be used)
  • Terryl Givens, The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2009)
  • Other articles and documents are available free on line (URLs provided in the syllabus)