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Mormon scholar: 'Book of Mormon' like a fun-house mirror
June 28th, 2011
12:00 PM ET

Mormon scholar: 'Book of Mormon' like a fun-house mirror

(CNN)–Prof. Richard Bushman shares his insight in CNN's "In the Arena" off-set interview on how the award-winning Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, is not the best insight to Mormon beliefs.

He teaches courses on Mormonism in its broad social and cultural context and on the history of religion in America. Bushman has taken an active part in explaining Mormonism to a broad public and in negotiating the tensions between Mormonism and modern culture. An emeritus professor at Columbia University, he received his Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization from Harvard.

Among his books is the biography, “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.” He also serves as one of three general editors of the Joseph Smith Papers.

Prof. Bushman, the character of Elder Price, an American Mormon missionary in modern-day Uganda, questions his faith, but regains it while performing the song, “I Believe.” He sings, “I believe that God has a plan for all of us. / I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet.” Is that lyric based in Mormon belief?

I have been living in California and Utah for the past year while the musical "The Book of Mormon” has been packing the house on Broadway. I have not seen the show, but I have read endless reviews, listened to parts of the score, and talked with Mormon friends who have seen it. Based on what I have heard, and the lyrics of Elder Price’s song, the musical gets a lot of laughs, but it is not meant to explain Mormon beliefs.

Read more about Bushman's views on the 'The Book of Mormon'
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Mormonism • Movies • Theater

soundoff (89 Responses)
  1. Sock-Ra-Tease

    While mythologies may contain some history they are not reliable guides to history. If you are reading literature that purports to possess knowledge of a supernatural being, what he thinks, what he says and does, you are not reading history. Historians do not have access to supernatural beings.

    Most of genesis was “borrowed” from Sumer. The first 11 chapters of Genesis are located in Sumer. Babel and Eden were places in Sumer. In the first 11 chapters of Genesis, the names of people, gods and places are Sumerian. In “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, Gilgamesh goes in search of eternal life. He finds a magical plant, which if he eats it, will give him eternal life but before he can eat it, the magical plant is stolen by a serpent.

    The following is from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Gilgamesh

    Various themes, plot elements, and characters in the Epic of Gilgamesh can also be found in the Hebrew Bible in the stories of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (both stories involve a serpent) and the story of Noah and the Flood.
    Citing the similarities between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible's Flood story, some scholars have argued that the Epic of Gilgamesh is proof that the stories found in the Hebrew Bible are true because the Babylonians must have copied the Hebrew Bible's account of the Flood story. However, as Michael Coogan points out, "theoretically the Babylonians could have known of Genesis, [but] other versions of the tale were written many centuries before biblical Israel existed." Most scholars, consequently, accept the priority of the Mesopotamian flood story. Andrew R. George, known for his translations of the epic, notes that "...the Flood episode in Gen. 6-8 matches the older Babylonian myth so well in plot, and particularly, in details, few doubt that Noah's story is descended from a Mesopotamian account". What is particularly noticeable, according to another scholar, is the way the Genesis flood story follows the Gilgamesh flood tale "point by point and in the same order", even when the logic of the story permits other alternatives.

    July 28, 2011 at 6:31 am |
  2. AGuest9

    It's great. You can't make stuff up like this! (OK, I guess you can.)

    Let's take a guy named John Smith – no, too common – Joe Smith (who happens to be a con-man by trade). He talks to God (no, really). God tells him to travel out West from up-state New York with gold tablets that God has written everything down for him on, but he loses them (terrible luck, huh?) What does survive is Joe's conversations with God, who tells him to build a tabernacle in the wilderness and it's OK to have a bunch of wives. Following me yet? Let me know when ANY of this stops sounding like BS.

    July 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  3. Ken

    Arguing on the internet is like the Special Olympics – THERE ARE NO WINNERS !!!

    July 24, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  4. Nunya

    Notice how when asked if Mormons get their own planet that the Professor doesn't answer the question (they do), he just says the musical, doesn't "explain it". Not only do Mormons believe they can obtain their own planet (or possibly universe) but that they can also become Gods themselves.

    The Professor's dodginess proves how embarrassed he is of his own faith.

    I don't have a problem with Mormons and Mormons shouldn't have a problem with themselves. If you're gonna profess to believe something at least have some conviction.

    July 21, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  5. Neva Rae Powers

    Silly article. Who cares what someone thinks who has not even SEEN THE SHOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 19, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  6. Kaiviertel

    Um, it is a musical comedy written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Its kind of like saying that the Naked Gun series doesn't properly represent the LAPD.

    July 17, 2011 at 7:11 am |
    • Luke

      Nailed it!

      July 27, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  7. John Schwendler

    Ah, one of the Three Topics Thou Shalt Not Discuss at the Office. Gotta love a good, healthy, mostly polite debate, though.
    My question has always been: If Adam and Eve had two sons, where'd the rest of us come from? And just exactly who di their boys mate with? See my problem???? Relax, debate nicely, be polite, especially since there don't seem to be any finite, readily acceptable answers.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Tim M.

      I don't myself for a moment take the early chapters of Genesis as works of history, but presumably someone who did would say that the question was answered in the book itself, in Genesis 5:4, "Then the days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years, and he had other sons and daughters." This doesn't seem hard to me.

      July 22, 2011 at 8:24 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.