Briefly Enos, Jarom, & Omni, with Sharon J. Harris [MIPodcast #104]
This episode continues our special series on the Maxwell Institute’s Brief Theological Introductions to the Book of Mormon. Literary scholar and theologian Sharon J. Harris investigates the messy middle era between the genesis of the Nephite people and their reorganization under King Benjamin. What keeps things—relatively—together through Enos, Jarom, and Omni? Harris uncovers the personalities, concerns, and patterns of righteousness and wickedness that are often overlooked in these short books.
The authors of our brief theological introductions are “seeking Christ in scripture by combining intellectual rigor and the disciple’s yearning for holiness.” Learn more at mi.byu.edu/brief.
Sharon J. Harris is an assistant professor of English at Brigham Young University. She studies early modern literature, focusing on how it intersects with music. In addition to literary studies, Dr. Harris has published on theology, the Book of Mormon, and the history of Latter-day Saint singles wards. She holds degrees from Brigham Young University, the University of Chicago, and Fordham University and has worked in public education, nonprofit arts administration, and academic publishing.
BLAIR HODGES: It’s the Maxwell Institute Podcast. I’m Blair Hodges.
I recorded this episode a few weeks ago, before the coronavirus had taken over in the United States. What a difference a few weeks can make. I’m recording the intro to this episode in the basement of my home in Salt Lake City. I’m actually sitting in a linen closet right now trying to find a little quiet space. I hope everyone listening is staying safe and healthy.
In this episode we’re continuing our series on the Maxwell Institute’s brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon. Twelve volumes. Twelve scholars. Fresh and inspiring explorations of each individual book in the Book of Mormon. Learn more about the series at mi.byu.edu/brief. There’s a list of frequently asked questions there. And availability of books is even more uncertain now with everything that’s going on, but we’ll keep you updated on social media. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook
Alright friends, we’ve already covered First and Second Nephi as well as Jacob. Enos is next—a very short book followed by two more short books, Jarom and Omni. Dr. Sharon J. Harris wrote the volume on those three books all in one—Enos, Jarom, and Omni. She affectionately calls these the “itty bitty books.” Enos is well-beloved. What about those other two books? Sharon Harris is an assistant professor of English at Brigham Young University. She studies early modern literature, and she found some noteworthy things in Jarom and Omni, too. She says that they are underrated parts of the Book of Mormon.
Questions and Comments can be sent to me at email@example.com.
HODGES: It’s a bright sunny day here at Brigham Young University. I’m joined by a bright, sunny person. Sharon J. Harris. Welcome to the Maxwell Institute Podcast.
SHARON J. HARRIS: Thanks for having me.
HODGES: You bet. We’re excited to be talking about your new book. It’s part of the Maxwell Institute’s brief theological introduction series. You were asked, or did you ask, to do the book’s Enos, Jarmon, and Omni? A trifecta. The only book in the series that has three books in one.
HARRIS: Triple threat. We kind of worked it out. There were a few different authors and books to sort out who would do what. In the end, I was delighted to get these three because it’s the shortest textual section of the whole Book of Mormon. So, it gave me a chance to really do some deep dives.
HODGES: When I ask people what they’re looking forward to in the series, I’ve actually heard quite a few people mention the book of Enos as a standout book. It’s short. It’s memorable. It’s wrenching. It has very strong figure in it—the person of Enos. But maybe shockingly, [laughs] I haven’t heard anyone mention Jarom or Omni, and you are tasked with covering both of those. What was that like?
HARRIS: Honestly, I was excited and as it turned out, Jarom was kind of the dark horse for me in this whole project, I didn’t know what I would find, and I’ve come away loving Jarom. So that’s great.
Then Omni of course has a lot of good things to offer as well. But one of the things that has been really delightful is to see the three books work together. I don’t feel like it’s three separate stories, but it really does kind of have an overall arc.
HODGES: In terms of the Book of Mormon’s overall narrative, we just got through the small plates of Nephi, which kind of tells this narrative story of a family making a journey and trying to become a people and having divisions. Now, if you had to describe an elevator pitch, a little thirty-second description of the history that your part of the Book of Mormon covers, how would you describe that?
HARRIS: Well we know so much about Nephi and Laman and the initial story that’s told in First and Second Nephi, and then maybe even into Jacob. But this covers hundreds of years in just a few short books. I call them the “itty-bitty books.” [laughter]
So it is really a sort of birds eye view of a whole bunch of the ways that this family splits apart. We get nations warring against nations and they kind of come into their own. They join up with the Mulekites. There are factions and divisions. We don’t have a lot of detail for a lot of time and you can kind of see it sets up the political divisions that we know well from the middle of the Book of Mormon with Mosiah and Alma.
HODGES: There’s a challenge to readers that you have in your Introduction that surprised me. You proposed that these itty-bitty books can be read as though they are like the ending of the Book of Mormon, rather than thinking of them happening at the beginning.
HARRIS: When we had President Nelson’s challenge to read the Book of Mormon, I guess in 2018, I decided to read it in what I’m calling Mormon’s order—sometimes scholars call it dictation order. This is the order that we think Joseph Smith would have translated the plates in, and that he would have dictated this translation in. So in that order we have what’s now known as the lost hundred and sixteen pages that got lost with Martin Harris.
HODGES: So that would presumably have been the book of Lehi or something.
HARRIS: Right something like that. So we start with that, go through Mosiah, then Alma—it kind of picks up in Mosiah—goes all the way through the Book of Mormon in the order that we have it. And then the small plates that Nephi made were appended to the end of that, as far as we can tell. So we’d circled back around and start with First Nephi and end with Omni, and then Words of Mormon was kind of an addendum at the end.
So I read it in that order in 2018 and I was struck by how it changes your sense of the story. It puts different things in priority and it really draws you back around the beginning with a lot of the prophecies about what the Book of Mormon will be. You see it in Nephi’s record, and then of course in Enos and the Book of Omni seems to be waiting for that as well.
HODGES: People should know you’re an English professor. Did that come into play in this analysis? It seems like if you were to take any book of literature and kind of rearrange the order of how things happened, you could get a lot of interesting different books.
HARRIS: In fact, I’ve even used this idea when I teach some of my theory classes for the English department. If you change the structure of something, different things get focused on, and that’s part of what I’m seeing with these itty-bitty books. If we think about these as the end of the Book of Mormon, what comes into focus, instead of thinking of it as burying the plates with Moroni or even the highlight of Christ’s visit to the Americas. It changes it.
HODGES: And when Mormon is adding these small plates to the record, they’re far back in time from where he’s at. And he’s now witnessing warfare and destruction. Did that play into his sight of the small plates do you think?
HARRIS: Yeah I think so. I think he saw—among other things, I think it probably foregrounded what a miracle it is that he got the plates at all. Especially these small plates—that they managed to survive through all of this war and turmoil.
Because when you get to the Book of Omni and you have authors with varying degrees of commitment to the process of preserving the plates and the fact that they survived across hundreds of years and stayed intact that they preserved this covenant—that’s one of the things I focus on—this covenant of what the Book of Mormon will do and how it’s going to reunite the family. I think that meant a lot to Mormon. And he saw it as a way of clarifying the point of this whole project he’s been engaged in with the abridging and compiling.
HODGES: As I read through the first three books in this series—First Nephi by Joe Spencer, 2 Nephi by Terryl Givens, and Jacob by Deidre Green, and onto your book—I noticed that the idea of covenant was fairly central to a lot of what the previous authors in this series recognized. Did you read those texts before you had written yours?
HARRIS: I didn’t read them before, but as I was finishing the editing process and revising it, my own manuscript, I went through and read those manuscripts and saw the same thing. And I don’t think that’s accidental, I think that we’re all picking up on this being a really prominent theme of the small plates.
HODGES: Did you notice any differences in how covenant operates? And the reason I ask that is because my default assumption is that the Book of Mormon is this completed one whole book that speaks in largely one voice and has one perspective. But when you start digging into the book, you start seeing difference voices that might have different priorities and different worries and different causes and different hopes. Not necessarily in conflict with each other, but that they’re bringing different perspectives in. Did you notice that with covenant as you looked at the previous books and then your books?
HARRIS: Definitely. It’s a really multi-vocal process. And I think that’s intentional. Well, not intentional but certainly representative of how the covenant works. It’s not for one voice and one size fits all. It’s about bringing together all of these different experiences and different people into one covenant and one family.
So, Nephi has a very clear vision of this. He sees what’s going to happen to his posterity. He sees that they’re going to be destroyed by the posterity of his brother Laman, and of course it includes Laman and Lemuel. But however you want to put it, Nephi’s seed is going to be overcome. And he seemed to take this really hard. I even talk about this in the Jarom chapter, of how he sees this in First Nephi chapter fifteen and has a really hard time processing it. So, that seems to color a lot of his interactions with his brothers. It seems to color the way he understands the future and what his project is in making these plates and writing down these prophecies.
Jacob on the other hand, he seemed to feel the responsibility to call his people to repentance and do the best he can with the record. Deidre Green does a great job at explaining how he taps into the covenant and thinks of it so much in terms of relationships.
And then Enos seems to be drawing on both Nephi and Jacob and he has to wrestle with the hard feelings that have developed overtime toward the Lamanites, and also this mandate that the posterity of the Lamanites are the ones that are actually going to save him and his people.
HODGES: By his time that must’ve just seemed absurd—
HARRIS: Right. I think he finds himself—
HODGES: In part because of the Nephites own prejudices, right? Of expecting bad of the Lamanites and depicting them that way.
HARRIS: Right. These are the last people that you would expect to be able to do something spiritually good and uplifting, or reliable even. And then Jarom, he has a different perspective I think. He sees the covenant and included in that covenant is, “if you’re not righteous, the Nephites will be swept off the earth.” And so, he seemed to be really anxious about encouraging righteousness, otherwise he’s not sure the people will survive.
Yeah, you get a lot of different viewpoints on the covenant.
HODGES: How does it work out through Omni?
HARRIS: Omni is where you’re going through five generations and seven authors really quickly. Well, I guess it’s five generations for the whole book. But it’s a number of authors really quickly and it seems that they are trying to regroup the Nephites and gather strength by joining with the Mulekites, the people of Zarahemla. Their relationship with the Lamanites at that point is sort of a foregone conclusion that they’re enemies. And it doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of a lot of the author’s minds in Omni. But it does get revived with Amaleki, the last author.
HODGES: And the fact is, because they’ve been passing this record down, it contains the information about that covenant, right?
HARRIS: Right. And it’s not clear to me necessarily how many of them have read all of the prophecies that proceed it, but it does seem to get revived with Amaleki and then sending the plates to Benjamin.
HODGES: I can’t resist asking, do you agree with the fact that Chemish—I kind of feel like he and the others got a little cheated. That they needed their own—Why don’t we have a book of Chemish with his one verse? [laughs]
HARRIS: Right. Yeah, well that would be kind of fun! Then I could do the itty-bitty-many books and it would be difficult to put all the names on the book cover. Yeah, should they have their own books? It’s fine with me, sure!
HODGES: Yeah? Okay good. That’s what I think too. [laughs] I think that would’ve been neat. Although the Book of Mormon song, “First and second book of Nephi…” They would need to add an extra verse if they did that, so that’s a possible downside.
We’re talking with Sharon Harris. She’s an assistant professor of English here at Brigham Young University and she studies early modern literature. But she’s also published on theology and the Book of Mormon and some research on the history of Latter-day Saint singles wards. And she joins me here at Brigham Young University. We’re meeting at the JFSB today in my studio away from the Maxwell Institute. It’s a room here in the English department, so I also want to give them a shout out to thank them for providing a little space for us here while the Maxwell Institute’s new building is under construction. And we’re talking about the book Enos, Jarom, Omni: a brief theological introduction.
Okay, let’s dig into Enos. How much time do you think you’ve recently spent with him?
HARRIS: Well, a lot more than I ever had before, that’s for sure. That chapter, to be honest, ended up being the most challenging to put together. In large part because this is a beloved book. We love the story of Enos and we identify with it. The idea of wrestling with our own questions and taking them to God and getting a personalized answer that touches us and gives us resolve to do even more. And Enos continues this prayer and it expands and it includes more people. So, it’s this wonderful story, but to figure out how I would put all of it together and do justice to it and—
HODGES: In a single chapter. You do it in a single chapter in your book.
HARRIS: Right. I do it in a single chapter. It was the longest, and I had to sort through, just, even the order of what we’re gonna talk about. Yeah and it was rewarding, maybe I guess we can say. I am going to do more on Enos this summer. We have the theology seminar with the Maxwell Institute and I look forward to studying it even more, even with all the dozens of hours at a minimum—it’s been at least dozens of hours—working on it. There’s a lot more to find.
HODGES: So as you’re working, did you ever feel any kinship with Book of Mormon authors. There are several times where a Book of Mormon author will pause and talk about the difficulty of writing or the difficulty of expressing things that were really hard for them to express and I wonder if you felt any conscious kinship?
HARRIS: Yeah. And honestly, I don’t want to be jumping ahead here, but I felt a lot of kinship with Enos for his own struggles. I think some of his challenges and weaknesses come out and I feel sympathetic to that. But then I also found a lot of admiration for Jarom, so we can talk about that too later, I guess.
HODGES: Yes. So, as far as Enos is concerned, how would you describe him as a person? What does this short text tell us about him as an actual person?
HARRIS: I think he was a lot of fun! I think he was kind of charismatic; he seems to just jump right into talking to you. I’ve said this before but Enos is somebody you could have a root beer with. You know, you can just sit down and chat and he says, “Let me tell you my story.” And he’s a good writer. He makes it interesting; he is earnest throughout, tells you about his own struggles. But I think Enos also had some biases that he had a hard time getting over.
HODGES: What kind of things?
HARRIS: What was so striking to me is the first eighteen verses of the book of Enos talk about his prayer. And of course, this is what we all know and remember. By the time you get to verse 20, and he’s just prayed for the Lamanites—I mean he’s just poured out his whole soul that they can be saved, that their record will be preserved, that it will go to the descendants of the Lamanites and that they will come back to the covenant.
He’s expended all of this care and effort in this prayer, in this wrestle and then two verses later, he is ranting about how awful the Lamanites are and it’s just a gut-punch. Like, how do you go from caring deeply and securing a covenant for this people and then almost in the same breath, talking about how the have evil nature and they are depraved and they’re ferocious? He has nothing good to say about them. And that strikes me as coming from a kind of emotional, unresolved personal place. That seems to be some biases that he doesn’t quite know what to do with.
HODGES: And it’s possible that those are even rooted in things that he’d witnessed. Like, for all we know, the Lamanites were committing acts of violence. At this point in time in history, not because they’re Lamanites, but because this is just the way things were happening. We’ll see the tables turn with Nephites having their own issues. It’s not an either/or thing. But it’s almost, on a much smaller scale, it sort of reminds me of the deep love I have for my children, but then there are times where they just drive me bonkers. And I don’t want to say that Enos should be so paternalistic over the Lamanites or anything, but I wonder if that frustration is related at all to that sense of lost possibility or squandered opportunity, or I don’t know.
HARRIS: Yeah, I think that hits on a couple really good points. The lost opportunities and squandered potential of the Lamanites, I think he does feel that kind of keenly. Nephi certainly does.
HODGES: And that can turn to resentment.
HARRIS: Of course, right. I mean, Nephi’s always mourning that his brothers don’t ask the Lord for themselves, or “Why don’t you just figure this out?”
HODGES: And I guess the question is, can that sort of resentment be Godly or not? And I think we’d probably meet different readers—different church members—who would say, “Oh everything that Enos said there is actually fine. He’s just describing reality as it is.” And you’d get other readers who might feel like, “Wow. I don’t know if that’s very helpful for him to be so accusatory and so angry.” How do you reconcile those two approaches? Because I think we get readers that would have both sensibilities.
HARRIS: Yeah. Enos sets up a real challenge to discipleship because, like you say, he’s seeing this people who, two generations back, are thoroughly his kin. Now, they are long generations and I talk a little bit about that as well. These are his family and he’s frustrated that they don’t seem to do what they’re supposed to do or they’re making life so difficult.
At the same time, like you also said, they’ve seen wars and contentions. There’s a lot of violence. This is really being asked to love your enemies. And that’s the challenge to discipleship that Enos spells out. The Lamanites at this point are becoming more and more established enemies to the Nephites. How do you love people who have made your life so much harder and have had been violent or have thumbed their nose at everything that you think is sacred or who seem to tear the fabric of your society apart? That kind of thing. I think part of his wrestle is coming to terms with the fact that these are the people through whom the covenant is going to be fulfilled. And if he wants to wrestle for the souls of the Nephites, that inevitably means wrestling for the souls of the Lamanites too.
HODGES: It reminds me of Paul saying, “They without us cannot be made perfect. We without them cannot be made perfect.” That Zion is setting up a situation where it’s not about separating the wheat from the tares right now in the moment. It’s about trying to make the best harvest possible with everything growing.
I was really drawn by how you pay close attention to Enos’s language in his prayer—the actual words he’s using and how he’s using them. And you find some parallels in the Psalms, things that I had never noticed before, and I think a lot of readers would be surprised. So let’s talk about some of those phrases. For example, when he says he prayed “all the day long,” you find parallels in Psalms.
HARRIS: Yeah this seems to be—I mean, I don’t know, but it seems quite likely the psalm tradition would be something that Enos and his family was familiar with. “All the day long” is something you can see in multiple different psalms. And so I think he has a model for this kind of prayer and pouring out. And there are psalms of lament and psalms of rejoicing and there are psalms of calling on God to make good on his promises and wisdom. And I think in Enos’s wrestle he really seems to pull together a lot of these threads that we find in the psalms.
HODGES: So you see his practice—his prayer here is also being informed by his understanding of scripture, his understanding of worship. Which would’ve been something that he learned in community—in his family and basically within the Nephites. That this wasn’t just a random prayer out in the wilderness kind of a thing. But he was engaging in some kind of sustained practice of worship?
HARRIS: Right, these are real worship practices.
Another line that seems to come up in other scripture is “the joy of the saints,” and it seems to have a lot of temple resonances. I think he’s drawing on ritual worship practices. And I also think that a lot of langue in the prayer suggests that Enos’s wrestle is not a one-and-done kind of a thing. He says he prays “all the day and all the night.” And I don’t think that he secured the covenant—that his sins were forgiven, that the Nephites would be saved as long as they kept the commandments, and that the Lamanites would be saved and the record would be preserved, he obtains all of these answers—but I don’t think that happened in one day and one night. I think this was a much longer wrestle.
He talks about his “many struggles,” he talks about pouring his whole soul out, and he gives the time frame at the beginning, maybe that was his own prayer for himself. But it seems that once he finds forgiveness for his own sins, this opens onto vistas of possibility and things that he can think about in seeking the welfare of others for a long time coming.
HODGES: I think this speaks to the fruitfulness of putting scripture in conversation with other scripture. A lot of times I think it’s easy to read—for me it’s been easy to read by finding isolated scripture passages that say a particular thing that I needed to hear or needed someone else to hear, these points. I can isolate any particular voice in Enos’s prayer, for example, and take it, at what I would say is it’s face value, as it stands alone. But what you’re suggesting that readers do—and I think what a theological engagement with the text would do—is to put the scriptures in conversation with each other.
And when you bring Psalms into it, it’s not just that you’re showing Enos situated in an ancient pattern of prayer that I think is really fascinating. But also with Psalms, by paying close attention to those, we start to see some voices in scripture that we might not have expected. You start to see someone complaining. You start to see someone being angry, even with God. You start to see someone expressing doubt and fear. You start to see someone expressing joy and jubilation, and just an unbridled enthusiasm. And you start to see that if you don’t isolate them, if you take them as a whole, these texts become a lot more complicated, but maybe thereby more representative of people’s own religious life. Have you felt that?
HARRIS: Yeah, for sure. I think this is part of the appeal of Enos, is that he seems like a whole person. There’s the rejoicing, there’s the struggle, there’s the confronting his feelings about other people that aren’t always charitable. There’s his desire for his family and his kin. There’s the desire for people he may not know as well, like the Lamanites. These are all multifaceted feelings that we have. The number of voices that he pulls in, when he starts quoting all these things from other scriptures, including, I think—he introduces himself as “I, Enos.” He introduces himself the way that Nephi does. But he also says that “I’ve been taught in the language of my father,” and refers to what his father taught and that prompts a lot of his prayer. I think he is inviting us to see this as an experience that draws from lots of different feelings and individuals and perspectives.
HODGES: So he’s writing in a genre, he’s writing scripturally. He’s signaling that this is the mode and register I want you to read this text in. This isn’t like a private journal. He’s signaling to the reader to pay attention that way.
HARRIS: I think also modeling that when we wrestle before God—for example, the wrestle alludes to Jacob and his wrestle with the angel in Genesis. You’re getting lots of layers of spiritual heritage here. I think Enos is suggesting that when we do this, we are in a community of people that have been seeking God this way.
HODGES: It’s so interesting how Jacob’s wrestle happens in a wilderness place as well, kind of on the edge of something. Enos’s wrestle kind of happens on the edge of his own worthiness, and the edge of his own people’s relationship to other people. There’s a lot of these scriptural residences, so when a reader like you starts digging in, I think it inspires readers to then go and notice their own parallels. And notice their own things.
Like other books in the brief theological introduction series your book is an invitation not to tell people, “Here’s how to read this text,” but to provide suggestions and prompts and help readers become better readers themselves, which seems kind of like what an English professor might be expected to do.
HARRIS: It’s one of my favorite things.
HODGES: I’ve got a quote here from the text I’d like to hear your thoughts about. This is from your book, it says, “Enos’s prayer typifies a pattern of the Book of Mormon as a whole”—So his prayer sort of represents or is similar to what the Book of Mormon, as a whole, is doing. You say, “it appeals to the individual, it touches millions of hearts in private, in highly personalized ways. But yet it’s ultimate purpose is to gather together peoples and nations.”
How does the prayer show you that?
HARRIS: I say this in the introduction as well. I don’t think we get a clearer outline of the Book of Mormon’s purpose and covenant anywhere than in the book of Enos. Because he explains that in his wrestle—for first his soul, and then the Nephites and the Lamanites—God says that if it happens that the Nephites are destroyed—which of course has already been prophesied to Nephi—then God will preserve the record of the Nephites to come forth at a future time to the Lamanites. And it will be a way of healing this family. The rift that started, that has become this national crisis that we watch through most of the Book of Mormon between the Nephites and Lamanites, is redeemed by getting to the survivors. From the perspective of the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites are the enemy. So we can get this record to the survivors of this opposing side and they come to God and they come to the covenant through this record and there’s this reconciliation.
I think redemption for families works forward and backward across time, and that is what Enos secures in his prayer, and that is what the Book of Mormon is meant to do.
HODGES: I see “covenant”—in what’s written in the series so far, based on what the Book of Mormon is saying—I see covenant as a conversion experience that an individual can undergo. And what it suggests to me is that salvation in Christ happens on an individual level, because we’re individuals, but that it’s ultimately not separable from communities.
HARRIS: Right, I think that we run the risk—and I think this is typical of Christianity in general—that we want to think of salvation as an individual affair.
HODGES: Like, “I’m a sinner, I want to be forgiven of my sins, become better and be saved by Christ individually.”
HARRIS: Right, it’s a personal relationship and it’s between the Lord and me. And that is where we focus on this joy, and that’s true.
HODGES: And Enos gets some of that.
HARRIS: Yes, but it’s only the beginning of it. I mean, that’s not even half of Enos’s prayer. And so when we have that personal conversion, the call comes to then expand that. And that’s what the covenant in the Book of Mormon is about. This is about “how are we going to save all of Gods children?” Yourself? That’s not enough—there’s a responsibility. If you really are going to convert to Jesus and be a disciple and you really care about the same things he cares about, he cares about saving everyone.
HODGES: There’s a theological term you introduce in the book that’s probably going to be new to a lot of readers here, the term is kenosis. This is a theological term that you bring in a “theological introduction” to the Book of Mormon. Talk about that term and why you bring it into a conversation about Enos, and whether you thought about not doing it, because it’s kind of a strange word.
HARRIS: Yeah, actually I have been really struck in my own study and theological thinking about kenosis for a little while, and that was truthfully one of the reasons I was happy to do this volume, because, I see it all over Enos.
So the word kenosis itself, that’s the Greek word, and it doesn’t appear in the Bible, in the New Testament. It comes from the word ekénōsen and that comes from Philippians chapter 2, where it talks about Christ pouring Himself out. So ekénōsen could be translated into “self-emptying.” But the thing that we don’t expect about self-emptying is that, counter-intuitively, this seems to bring power.
We wouldn’t expect that we would gain power by sort of emptying ourselves out. It says in Philippians that “Christ made Himself as a slave,” depending on the translation. But you see this exact wording in Enos, he pours out his soul. And his soul is made whole and he pours it out in desire and service and care for others, in prayer for others. There’s something Godly that’s really hard for us to wrap our minds around. If I will sacrifice and empty myself, empty out what my own agenda is or whatever my own issues and cares are, that there can be power, saving power, that comes in for others.
HODGES: One of the things I’ve learned from Deidre Green is the idea that this kind of self-emptying sacrifice can be godly. There can also be problems. She doesn’t propose that everybody just gets rid of themselves or even diminishes themselves. Let’s talk about that caveat a little bit.
HARRIS: Right, this is a tricky thing and it’s the kind of thing that I hope people will read the whole argument in the book, because if you move through it too quickly—
HODGES: It’s pretty short— [laughter]
HARRIS: It’s a short book, you can go for it! But if you move through it too quickly, it can be misunderstood or even harmful. This is not about being a doormat, this is not about taking bad behavior from others over and over again because you’re not worth anything better. Self-emptying, I think this is really important—in Enos, he is made whole. It’s from that position of wholeness that he can give and offer to others. I don’t think we can always wait to care for and sacrifice for others. I don’t know that that’s what it means. But kenosis is not about disregard for oneself. It’s about transferring the wholeness and the love that you feel from God to a concern for others.
HODGES: You find some feminine symbolism here too that really stood out to me when you talk about kenosis in the context of Enos and also in the context of giving birth.
HARRIS: If the child and the mother are going to survive, the baby has to be fully delivered, there has to be complete self-emptying—it can’t be partial. And that, I think, is the example that Christ shows, that Paul talks about, and I think it’s what Enos is wrestling with here. It’s not just enough for himself, it’s not just enough for the Nephites. He has to learn that he finds that the very first people they are fighting are the ones that he needs to empty out his own opinions for and then care for the Lamanites.
HODGES: I have one more question, circling back to something you said earlier about Enos, that you saw some weaknesses or imperfections on his part. One of the things you draw out is his animosity or anger towards the Lamanites, as being an example of his weakness. I wanted to ask, you don’t see Enos here as a perfect person, you see him with some biases that you’ve already described, and some anger. Instead of rehashing what the biases and anger are, I wanted to hear about examining weaknesses in general.
I’ve heard comments in Sunday School from people who aren’t always comfortable with a Book of Mormon prophet—that we should talk about a Book of Mormon prophet’s weaknesses or spend much time with that. I’m interested in your thoughts about that.
HARRIS: I teach Sunday School right now, so I come across some of this experience too with my ward. If we’re trying to find weakness and say, “Hey look there it is,” and feel some kind of triumph with that, of course that doesn’t help.
HODGES: Or use it to dismiss the person?
HARRIS: Right, or to say, “Look, they aren’t valid.” For me, seeing the humanity—which includes the weaknesses and the vulnerabilities and the imperfections of someone like Enos—that gives me so much more hope and faith that God can do something with me. I know my own problems, I know my own hold-ups, and if God can secure a covenant through somebody for a people that the person doesn’t even seem to fully like, then maybe my imperfect hopes and attempts to love others can do something.
HODGES: That’s Sharon J. Harris. She has degrees from Brigham Young University, the University of Chicago and Fordham University. We’re talking about her new book, Enos, Jarom, Omni: a brief theological introduction.
On to Jarom, the most famous book in the Book of Mormon, the Book of Jarom, the one that everyone’s been waiting for. But you make an interesting observation here, that “readers can learn a lot about Jarom by what he doesn’t include.”
HARRIS: Right, here’s the shortest book in the Book of Mormon. So it’s easy to say there’s not a lot there. But if you look for what’s not there, it’s very telling. One of the things that Jarom does right up front is he says, “ I think that what’s been written sufficeth, so I’m not going to get into my prophecies and revelations.” And if you look closely at how he explains this, it suggests that he’s got prophecies and revelations that can stand up with all of the heavy hitters, and he just says, “you know what? There’s limited space on the plates and that’s been covered.” And he’s happy to refrain and recede, kind of, even into the background, as a prophet, in service to what the plates need to accomplish.
HODGES: Maybe doing some kenosis?
HARRIS: Yes, exactly.
HODGES: One of the things you notice is that the term “filthiness” is not there in Jarom. Again, another thing I hadn’t noticed until I read your book.
HARRIS: This was a really interesting thing to find. I’m drawing on a little bit some of Joe Spencer’s ideas, and Deidre Green talks about this in her Jacob volume as well. What I found is the word filthiness shows up in all the records of these writers until you get to Jarom. And looking at the history of this word it seems to come from Nephi’s vision, he sees the filthy river of water.
HODGES: Which Lehi had just said—
HARRIS: Lehi didn’t say it was filthy, he just saw a river. And the angel shows him this filthy river while Nephi is watching the Lamanites destroy his own posterity. It seems to be a kind of voice-over thing. He starts to associate this filthy river with the Lamanites. It goes into more detail and you can see how this plays out. But remember, he’s already associated rivers with Laman because that was the name of the river where they stopped just shortly after they started their journey in the wilderness.
So he seems to start pairing this idea of rivers and waters and filthiness with Laman. And when he gets back from this vision, he encounters his brothers arguing about what the scriptures mean—which is in 1 Nephi chapter 15. And he’s weary, and I don’t know if he’s feeling sorry for himself, but he’s especially down because he’s seen the destruction of his people. And so he takes a minute to recover and then goes and talks to his brothers and they want to ask about what this dream means, that Lehi has had. And of course Nephi has had his own version of this same vision and he’s explaining it to them and they seem to be able to get along and make sense of things.
And then the brothers ask, “so what about the river that our father saw?” And Nephi, this seems to trigger him, that this is filthy and this is hell and this is where you’re going to go if you don’t shape up, basically.
And it seems from this that filthy and filthiness becomes associated with the Lamanites in what we might now call a sort of racialized way. It’s an insult. It’s an epithet. He calls them out in a way that—there’s a lot of contempt in this word. When Jacob uses it, he talks about, I think he actually uses it against the Nephites. He says, “you hate the Lamanites because of their ‘filthiness,’” as if it’s in scare quotes, but “you’re worse than they are because you don’t love your families.”
So you can just see the way that prophets have used this word. And Enos, when he caps off his list of problems with the Lamanites, he ends it with the idea of filthiness. Filthiness isn’t found in Jarom. Jarom just seems to decide that he’s not going to go there, and he just drops it, even though all the other record keepers before him talk about it in some way.
HODGES: And why did he drop it?
HARRIS: I think he decides he’s not going to have that kind of animosity, he’s not going to perpetuate that kind of animosity for the Lamanites. It doesn’t suggest that he’s buddy-buddy with the Lamanites; he seems to be especially worried about the Nephites, including their wars with the Lamanites. But he’s not going to characterize these people in that derogatory way, that, I think, he seems to find unnecessary.
HODGES: Another thing your Jarom analysis does, is you look at the way that Jarom seems to question a general Nephite assumption that there’s a covenant that God makes that’s repeated by several other authors–”if you keep the commandments you’ll prosper in the land.” And the problem with that kind of promise is that people can come to interpret it in the reverse way, which is to say that if you’re prosperous economically or some other way, therefore you have been righteous, which is kind of different. So talk about how Jarom challenges that.
HARRIS: Jarom seems to really take to heart the prophecies of his forefathers, including Enos, that if you’re not righteous Nephites, if you’re not righteous, you’re going to be wiped off the land. And he doesn’t take it as a given that just because they’re prospering or just because—Jarom goes into some of the technological developments of the people at this time. But that doesn’t, for him, necessarily indicate any kind of righteousness.
The inverse of that can also be that if someone is not prospering economically then they must not be righteous. He seems to want to be very careful to just—the only thing to worry about is whether or not we are keeping the commandments. And he goes through a number of laws—are they keeping this? Are they trying to keep their covenants in this way? And they use a lot of strictness. He talks about the teachers and the leaders of the people reaching out and constantly encouraging, it sounds like, with some severity, the people remember to be righteous. Because I think he sees it as, “if we don’t, we’re going to be destroyed.” He sees it as part of their own survival.
HODGES: So there’s kind of a critique of prosperity gospel mentality here. People can check out Kate Bowler’s interview on the podcast, from a while ago.
HARRIS: That’s one of my favorites.
HODGES: Yeah, I love her. So one other theme we’ll touch on here in Jarom is time—the ticking away of years. The record keepers are keeping track and there’s expectations for Christ’s coming. But there’s also a problem because they have a sense that Christ isn’t going to be there tomorrow. They’re kind of in this in-between period. What do you get out of Jarom when you think about their relationship to time?
HARRIS: For me, this is a really important question, and I think it’s an easy one to pass over. I mean, how many apocalyptic movies are there? How many stories of the end of the world do we have? We find this so interesting.
HODGES: Some of them are even good! [laughs]
HARRIS: Some of them are even good. I might recommend Adam Miller’s brief theological introduction, he’s looking at that pattern. That’s on the book Mormon. But we also focus on beginnings of things, the beginnings and the ends of things occupy a lot of our attention. But most of the time we’re not at a beginning or an ending. Most of the time, especially in terms of dispensations, we’re in the middle. And I think Jarom really exemplifies what that means.
And so it’s exciting if there’s sort of a new conversion or a new change to go all-in with enthusiasm for discipleship or the gospel or whatever. Or if you can see if the end is coming, we feel very motivated to pray to remember God to try and be the way we think we ought to be.
HODGES: Get the oil in our lamps.
HARRIS: Exactly. Right, we’re going to be ready. But if you have this stretch of weeks and months and years where not a lot seems to happen and you’re not really sure if anything is coming, how do you maintain faithfulness in that? And I think that’s the question that the Book of Jarom asks for us. And it’s not an easy answer. It takes a lot of discipline; it takes a lot of personal devotion when no one is watching.
This is what Jarom does—he refrains from using the word filthiness; he refrains from sharing his own prophecies; he refrains from sharing his own prophecies. He doesn’t worry about what his reputation is going to look like. And, as we’ve seen, his reputation hasn’t been very strong. But it seems to be in the service of what’s really important here. And I don’t know, I mean we know that we’re in the last dispensation, but I don’t know how soon the end of time is, and I think that we can stand to learn a lot about how we can just endure and be faithful and be reliable and kind and live the covenant when we’re in the middle.
HODGES: It’s so interesting, because so many Book of Mormon people become models for us. And this is one of the reasons we wish there were more women. And fortunately, women can also pattern after men’s examples. I’m thinking of like Nephi as this courageous, strong go-getter that goes and does and keeps the commandments and is bold and occasionally laments his own weaknesses. Jacob’s this marginal figure born in the wilderness, born in tribulation who his heart goes out to those who are sort of oppressed and he’s very concerned about that, people can relate to that. I wouldn’t have thought that Jarom would fit into this cast of exemplary characters. But I think there are a lot of people out there who just kind of do their work, keep their head down, try to do the right things, try to make things better, but that they’re kind of these unsung heroes. These kind of people are behind the scenes that get the job done. So there’s probably a lot of Jaroms out there.
HARRIS: Absolutely, I mean I think that’s what sustains the church and the general work of the world. To quote Frozen 2, “You just do the next right thing, and you keep doing it.”
HODGES: Let’s talk about Omni. As you point out, the book of Omni has more individual authors in it than any other book in the Book of Mormon. So we get a series of these authors. It covers a hundred and fifty years in a really small space. Jacob chapter 5 is longer than the whole Book of Omni.
HARRIS: Verse-wise, yeah. Seventy-two verses.
The book of Chemish
HODGES: In fact, your entire section, yeah, I have seventy-two verses. So it’s this little book that covers a big span of time. As you read your book—shout out to Chemish, I feel bad that I don’t even know how to pronounce it.
HARRIS: You say ‘Chemish,’ and I’ll say ‘Kemish,’ and we’ll call the whole thing off.
HODGES: Exactly, I didn’t think ‘Kemish,’ until I heard you say it. I guess someone could check the, there’s a pronunciation guide in an early edition. But even that was guess work.
HARRIS: You’re right, who knows? They were drawing from the Deseret alphabet.
HODGES: You’re right, so who exactly knows. Anyway, he’s in there, shout out to Kemish or Chemish, the guy who is basically like, ”Eh, I don’t know about this stuff. I’m a guy. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just gonna pass this on, alright? I did my thing. I’m a warring man.”
HARRIS: And he seems to have no expectation that he was going to even get these plates. I mean he’s Amaron’s brother. It makes you wonder why Omni didn’t just send them to Chemish in the first place? Why Amaron couldn’t have passed them down to someone else? It’s pretty unclear.
HODGES: Right, and we don’t even get to find out. Do you have a speculation? It’s not in the book, so this would just be pure speculation.
HARRIS: I mean I wonder if it turns out that Chemish—maybe he’s kind of crusty, but maybe he’s the most reliable person to pass the record on. And Amaron’s looking around, whether he didn’t have kids, or didn’t feel like he could give the plates to them, or something.
HODGES: Or he’s the only living transmission source, or something. It’s really interesting. So anyway, we get to meet these people and we meet them very quickly.
You point at that contention is a key theme in this chapter though, contention. You pay close attention to specific ways that that term is used in the book. Today, when I see that term, I’m apt to just think of fighting or disagreements. Anything from a verbal spat to coming to blows, and we see that later in the Book of Mormon. You find some specific, particular ways that the term is used that you think we should pay attention to.
HARRIS: This was a really interesting word study for me as well. Because I grew up with memories of a lot of Sunday School lessons, and a lot of even family home evening lessons and this kind of thing, talking about how we can’t have contention. And it used to be a seminary scripture mastery scripture, that contention is of the devil. The spirit of contention is of the devil.
HODGES: “You should not allow your children to contend one with another.”
HARRIS: Right, not at all. It turns into this kind of thing that avoiding contention is, for some people, they are really afraid of it.
HODGES: And they think of it as really just unsettled feelings between people, right?
HARRIS: I think we have to be careful to say that contention is not the same thing as conflict. They’re not equal. Especially when you look at the way it’s used in the Book of Mormon. So when I started going through and seeing all the different uses of the word, there’s about eighty-eight.
HODGES: Hm, that’s more than I would have thought.
HARRIS: It’s a lot, right? It is always about societal and communal altercations of some kind. It’s not even just conflict, it seems to involve the prospect, if not the actuality, of war. Of bodily harm, of physical violence. And that the spirit of contention that involves physical violence and bodily harm to others, especially in a communal way, that spirit is of the devil.
HODGES: So we don’t see it in Nephi? When Laman and Lemuel are bruising Nephi?
HARRIS: They might say, “they contend,”
HODGES: It would be a physical—
HARRIS: Right, it includes physical violence, and in most of the cases, in fact you’re making me wonder, I would have to go back and look in Nephi’s record, but in most of the cases it’s about a communal kind of violence. And that, you know, there are a lot more people implicated, and their safety implicated in that than whether or not you are in an argument at the dinner table.
HODGES: And that’s not to say, “Hey everybody, you can have verbal fights with everybody.” [laughs]
HODGES: But it is saying to pay attention to how the Book of Mormon is using that term.
I want to point out again what these theological introductions to the Book of Mormon are trying to do, which is to really pay attention, close attention, to the words the Book of Mormon uses and how it’s using them. And if readers learn to do that, there’s some really wonderful, interesting, sometimes challenging insights that people can get out of that.
HARRIS: This changed the way that I had understood this all my life. It’s worth noting, that the scripture that most directly talks about family arguments and conflict, it comes from Benjamin, his speech. “You won’t suffer your children to fight and quarrel.”
HODGES: Oh, so I even got it wrong in an earlier question. Did you hear that?
HODGES: So he doesn’t use contention there? Interesting.
HARRIS: Right, he uses fight and quarrel.
HODGES: So don’t do that either. The Book of Mormon’s clear.
HARRIS: Well I want to make this point as well. I tried to say this in the chapter on Omni, the fighting and quarrelling between brothers in Lehi and Sariah’s family ended up with national contentions. And I should say that often the word “contention” appears with the word “war.” Wars and contentions. So there’s a big risk with familial fighting or quarreling. But the risk is that it could lead to collective contention.
HODGES: In the book of Omni, we see record transfers at a rapid rate—faster than any other time in the Book of Mormon. We see transfer, transfer, transfer. You don’t think that’s mere chronology? You see some meaning into that. When you’re doing a theological engagement, you see some meaning in the very simple, apparently, act of a record transfer. What do you pull out of that?
HARRIS: Yeah, this started because both Jarom and Omni start their records with, “I’m keeping the commandments of my fathers and I’m writing on these plates to pass them down that our genealogy may be kept.” And this strikes me because it’s exactly the opposite of what Nephi seemed to think these plates were for. He says, “we have the large plates that are a history of the people. These plates, these small plates are for the more sacred things.”
And so, if we’re just thinking of genealogy as a kind of begat, begat, begat family tree, then why would they be in these records? Especially by the time we get to Jarom and Omni, we have limited space on them and are designated for spiritual purposes.
HODGES: And sometimes move laterally in different ways?
HARRIS: Right, and this gets interesting. Because the way the plates are passed enacts and illustrates what the covenant of the Book of Mormon is. And that is that they go from generation to generation, and sometimes they go lineally, right, from a father to a son. Sometimes they go laterally, like to a brother like Chemish, or to Jacob. Or to a colleague, like when he sends it to King Benjamin. And whichever way, if you go lineally and laterally over time, you create this network that involves a whole family.
And you don’t even have to be a traditional family situation to be in this network—that’s the beauty of this lateral links, is that it’s not just for people that have sort of ideal, traditional looking families. It can be for people who are single, or didn’t have children, or who can’t care for others, or whatever it may be, it allows for an encompassing of everybody in God’s family.
HODGES: That’s Sharon Harris. We’re talking today about her new book, Enos, Jarom, Omni: a brief theological introduction. It’s part of the Maxwell Institute’s brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon series. You can learn more about that series on our website. Go to mi.byu.edu/brief, and I’ll talk a little bit at the end, we’ve got a lot of questions about when particular volumes are coming out and what the process is like. So I think it would be worth it to spend a moment talking with our listeners about that.
But before we do that, let’s talk about a few tips for the readers of the Book of Mormon. In preparing this series for publication, the Maxwell Institute invited a bunch of different people to read through manuscripts and to offer suggestions to the authors about how to make them more engaging, perhaps how to make them more accessible and understandable. When you work in the academy it can be easy to get caught up in jargon and—
HARRIS: We talk to ourselves a lot—
HODGES: Yeah, we talk to ourselves a lot, and not out of a sense of superiority, it’s just these are the circles you run in. I asked some of these readers, who had read your manuscript, and some of them are students here at Brigham Young University, some of them are office assistants that work with us. I asked them for their thoughts as I was preparing this interview, and one of them sent an email, and I loved it enough that I think I’m just going to read this. Now I apologize in advance because it’s very laudatory, so if you feel, sometimes that can kind of feel uncomfortable.
HARRIS: I’ll brace myself
HODGES: So there’s some flattery here, but what she’s getting at here is really interesting, here’s the email, it says, “As I was reading Sharon’s ‘itty bitty books’ I was constantly amazed by her ability to relate the experiences of Book of Mormon writers to the common experience of people like me in the Church. I think her writing allowed me to view each one of these writers in a more intimate and relatable way. They became more real to me. So, I guess my question that I would ask Sharon is, what was her process in really getting inside the mind of the authors of the Book of Mormon? What tips would she have for fellow readers of the Book of Mormon to really personally relate to the experiences of the authors without trying to make them just like yourself?”
HARRIS: That’s a great question. Well I guess I could talk about the process for preparing this book. I tried to start early, to give myself plenty of time, and I tried to give myself little sections. Because I had so few verses to work with, I had this luxury that I could just take something like three to five verses at a time, read them really carefully and then just think about any questions I could from them. And then I wrote. If I just think about it or I just read that’s not as effective for really solidifying my thoughts as if I write it.
To be perfectly honest, the number of words that I wrote is easily more than double the words in the book. Because there was just a lot of time thinking and writing those things out.
HODGES: Is there going to be a director’s cut edition?
HARRIS: You wouldn’t want it, I promise!
HODGES: Three hundred pages on the “itty-bitty books.”
HARRIS: I took out the stuff that is dross, I hope.
HODGES: But that speaks to the process, right? I mean this is what scripture study is. Some of it is going to be something you scoot off the table, right?
HARRIS: Yeah, I mean writing is work. So I can tell myself, “Oh I know what I’m thinking about that.” But number one, it won’t stay with me, and number two, I don’t know it as clearly as I will until I make myself write it out. So that was a lot of it.
But to be perfectly honest, I felt like I was trying and trying and kind of writing in circles. And then I had this breakthrough day, I can still remember it was back in May, where I said “You know what? I’m going to tell this like I were writing a sacrament meeting talk for a beloved ward in New York City.” That’s where I did my graduate studies. “I’m going to write this to the Inwood First Ward.” And as I thought about those people and how they would like to hear this, and we know each other and they know me, how could I communicate with them? And it just fell into place. That’s how I found how I wanted to express the ideas I was coming across for this book.
HODGES: Wow. I’m also sad to hear about that, because I know there was an editorial decision made at the beginning of this process—Listeners, I hope this isn’t terribly boring, but when you sit down to create a series, there’s all kinds of questions you have to sit down and go through. So Spencer Fluhman, Phil Barlow, Doug Thomas the designer, Kristine Haglund and all these other people that are involved in the process are trying to figure out what should the format of the book be. Are we going to have this kind of table of contents? Are we going to have an acknowledgements page? Are we going to have a dedication page? Sometimes people open a book and see this nice italic line that says, “To my mother,” or ,”To Bethany,” or something like this. I take it, that if you had the chance you might have thanked your ward on a page like that.
HARRIS: That’s true and I guess they’ll have to get it in the podcast!
HODGES: Yes, the editors decided. But just in case, due to no dedicatory pages, keep a clean look for the series and that kind of thing, what’s the name of the ward again?
HARRIS: Inwood First Ward
HODGES: Shout out to Inwood First!
HARRIS: Yeah, I love that place.
HODGES: And if you’d like, Inwood First Ward members, you can write your own acknowledgement to yourself in the front of your books.
HARRIS: That’s right.
HODGES: So to wrap things up, I wanted to close by asking—and we’ve touched on this throughout the interview—but I want to ask what you think a theological introduction is. You’ve written a book with the subtitle. What is a theological introduction? And how can church members, and other people that are interested in reading scripture theologically engage in that kind of a reading themselves?
HARRIS: I think that a theological introduction, as we’ve tried to do it in this series especially, is really faithful and devoted to the text. And it includes reading it and not assuming you already know what it says. Enos is very familiar or Jarom feels like I’ve never found anything there before, so if I’m going to read those the way that I’ve always read them, I’m going to miss things.
But if I look at the text and I look for any echoes, any connections, and then take the text very seriously and really believing like it has something to teach me, I think that’s where it starts. And then in the process of taking it seriously and finding this community—like we saw with Enos, that he’s quoting other scriptures in his personal devotion and prayer. And feeling that you’re part of a community of people that have been seeking God for generations. That kind of charity and that kind of care and that kind of being a part of this enterprise and seeking God together. That’s what drives theology.
HODGES: That’s Sharon J. Harris, and she joined us today here at Brigham Young University. She’s assistant professor of English here at BYU and she studies early modern literature. And she’s the author of Enos, Jarom, Omni: a brief theological introduction. It’s part of the Maxwell Institute’s brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon series. You can learn more about that series at mi.byu.edu/brief.
And as I promised, I’ll take a moment here, unscripted, I haven’t planned this out because Sharon and I were talking about this before the interview began. She was asking about where her book was at in the process. And that’s a question that we’ve got from a lot of people.
We originally planned and hoped that the series would appear earlier in the year, around January, around when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began their Sunday School lessons, the Come Follow Me lessons on the Book of Mormon. So the hope was that we could begin getting these books out January, February and release them periodically until the summer time when they would all be ready.
Now when I heard that projection last year I thought it was incredibly optimistic and I thought that it was possible, but that it would take everything falling into place just right for it to happen. And as it happens many times in publishing that’s just not how it worked out. There’s a lot of logistics, not only the people writing the books, but we have to do the copyediting and revision. Revisions based on readers responses and stuff like that. So that took longer than we expected.
And then you have to typeset the book. And we have a fantastic typesetter, Doug Thomas, here at Brigham Young University, who is doing fantastic design work. When you feel this book in your hand it’s a book that you just want to hold, it’s such an artifact itself and we really wanted that. That was important to the series, because of our love for the Book of Mormon, with as much care as we possibly could. And so the design, in my biased opinion, is phenomenal. It took a lot of time to hammer out those details.
Then because of the way that all worked out, we’re dealing with a couple of different printers. We have a printer doing the cover, we have the printer doing the guts. And sometimes when printing you’ll run into hiccups, which we did with 1st Nephi. We had a printing problem that pushed us back several weeks.
Then not only do you have to get that all finalized, you’re dealing with distribution and getting books out to people. And with Amazon and Desert Book it’s always hard to gauge whether things are going to work out in the way that you want. So a lot of people that pre-ordered 1st Nephi expected it in February and are now getting notifications that it might not arrive even until April. And we hope that that’s not true. We hope that that is a mistake on Amazon’s part—I don’t know, we’re still looking into that. But the questions we get now are, “When is 2nd Nephi coming out? When is Jacob coming out? When are the ‘itty-bitty books,’ coming out?” Well, the answer to that is, we don’t have set dates!
I want to say sorry for the missed expectations. We feel disappointed too, and we share your disappointment. For people that preordered and didn’t receive it when they expected it to, we felt the same. But we were also dedicated to getting it as right as possible. With treating the Book of Mormon with the amount of love and respect that we have for it, that that showed through in our work. I wanted to just take a second and let listeners know about that. So, to answer that big question, when is any particular volume coming out? The answer is: I don’t know.
Alright, I made Sharon sit through that because I have one more question for her. I would call this an unfair question. But I think it’s an interesting question, I hope. And that is, how did working on this book change you as a person? And the reason that is kind of unfair is because maybe it didn’t change you in a huge way. So maybe your answer might not seem very impressive. But I’ve found that when people engage this deeply in a project like this, they get something new out of it that surprises them. So I’m looking for that—surprise. Were you surprised by Enos, Jarom and Omni—books that you have read many times before?
HARRIS: On so many levels this project has been just a joy. I did not see this coming; I did not expect that this would be something I’d be working on for the past year. And then it’s transformed this year into being such a memorable one. I’ll start with sort of the self-interested effects and part of that is this gives me experience with writing a book very quickly, which is just great to have under my belt. And I can feel that it’s helping my writing and research in all sorts of ways. So I’m grateful for that in a sort of practical matter.
Also this changed our family. My husband Edje Jetter has been a tremendous support through the whole thing. He’s read every page with me and gone over and we’ve talked about it together. It’s brought us together in engaging with the text, and that’s been really wonderful.
But then in terms of what has surprised me, I mean, I have loved the Book of Mormon for years. And I have a conviction that if you dig in and really see what you can get out of it, it never disappoints. And that has been born out again through this. But I will say that for me, seeing these “itty-bitty books,” in Mormon’s order and dictation order as the end of the Book of Mormon, why would we take these small little testimonies and have them be sort of the final word of the whole Book of Mormon? This move of carrying records across, tying families together even if your contribution is small and seemingly insignificant it makes the whole thing possible. If any one of those writers in Omni had not followed through, we wouldn’t have it. It’s a testimony to me of how powerful our individual contributions are and how much we rely on each other. Even if we haven’t met, even if we come from different eras and different places on the Earth. And it’s made me feel recommitted to the sort of whole family from God in the covenant.
HODGES: Thanks Sharon. This was great. I really enjoyed the book and I can’t wait for people to read it. Thanks for talking about it.
HARRIS: Thanks for having me.
HODGES: Thank you for listening to another episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast. If you haven’t done it already, you’ll want to go back and hear Joe Spencer on 1 Nephi and Terryl Givens on 2 Nephi and Deidre Green talk about Jacob. I posted a pretty comprehensive list of answers to frequently asked questions on our website—mi.byu.edu/brief.
Let’s have a look at a recent review of the podcast. This one is from Miah Scanlan, I apologize I’m not quite sure how to pronounce that. who gave us five stars and writes “The Maxwell Institute is doing some of the most important scholarly work within the Church today. Don’t miss out! You’ll be truly uplifted and edified.”
Thank you, Miah. And to the rest of you, we have thousands of people listening right now, but only about 360 reviews in Apple Podcasts. It’s time! If you love something, you should say something about it. Tell content creators you care by writing a review. You’ll win the opportunity of having me mispronounce your name at the end of an upcoming episode, and you can’t beat that.
Also, did you know we are on Google Play and Spotify as well as Apple Podcasts and many other places fine podcasts are found? More episodes are on the way, including interviews with authors of our brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon.
Until next time, I’m Blair Hodges. Stay safe, stay healthy, and we’ll talk to you next time.
The views expressed here and in Maxwell Institute publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)