Sweet is the Word: Reflections on the Book of Mormon
Cathy Gileadi Wilson
Covenant Communications , 1996. Trade paperback:
Suggested retail price: $15.95 (US)
This book is an anomaly in the Mormon market: a hefty, serious book ofscriptural commentary, written with skill and passion by a woman -- which initself is remarkable, because scriptural commentaries have been a man'sfield. This is a book both intellectual and deeply personal; you hear avoice of scholarly mastery threaded with very particular personal responses.
The book walks chapter by chapter through the Book of Mormon. Sometimes youget a retelling of the story, sometimes a response to or interpretation of aperson:
I like Samuel, this gutsy, eloquent testifier of the word. What a sight hemust have been, high on the wall proclaiming both terror and wonder." (226)
Many times a stylistic explanation:
Although Nephi would never admit to having poetic gifts, and even prideshimself on being prosaic, his writing belies his modesty. The effective useof parallel structures and balanced rhetoric, for example, which simplifyrather than complicate expression, seems second nature to him:
he hath led me
he hath preserved me
He hath fulfilled me
He hath confounded my enemies
he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the nighttime (44)
Sometimes a link with classical authors, particularly Shakespeare, as inthis note on page 153:
Shakespeare employs the same figure when Othello urges a group of unrulyVenetians to keep their swords bright by sheathing them.
Sometimes a restrained but pointed commentary on Mormon culture/practice:
Seldom, I suspect, do we think to ready our minds for spiritualinstruction and enlightenment. Personal experience teaches me that it iseasier simply to enjoy the emotional aspects of spiritual events than it isto focus the intellect on the unfolding of such events. (257)
Sometimes a social/environmental commentary:
A literal reading of the passage suggests that in our unparalleledconsumption of the earth's resources and our sometimes careless destructionand pollution of the natural environment, some of us are turning our heartsaway from our children. In so doing, we are bringing an inevitable, perhapsirreversible, curse upon the land which God intended for us to use, carefor, and yes, replenish. The passage might also be making an allusion tochild abuse. (281)
And sometimes we get an insight we never thought of before. I can't seem tofind the place I marked, but at one point early on in the book, Arnoldcomments that Book of Mormon writers don't dwell and expand on calamitousevents in the last days, so perhaps it's not a good idea for us to dwell onthem, either.
You often hear a bemused apology for her personal voice:
Infected with the English teacher's rage for explaining, I simply must saysomething about how effectively Jacob melds content and form, how what hesays is enhanced by his use of language. (50)
Sometimes Arnold does a bit of doctrinal speculation, which I think isfascinating and instructive:
The connection between tolerance of other mortals and intolerance of Satanis heartening, if a bit puzzling. Perhaps it is the pride accompanyingintolerance that opens the door to Satan's influence. The real subject hereis charity; and charity, after all, is not a Sunday observance, but a way oflife that renders the devil helpless. I think he finds charity bewildering,since he never experiences that emotion. (263)
You have probably noticed a clear, strong style in passages I've quoted.The only weakness I could see in the book is an occasional departure fromthat style, a stylistic seesaw into wordiness:
There are some sterling moments in Nephi's final discourses, moments madeluminous by his maturity in the gospel and his inviolate integrity. (61)
As I look through the volume, these stylistic lapses mainly involvethe overuse of adjectives, although sometimes we get academic multisyllabicity.
But these are minor objections. This book is unique because we hear apassionate, honest voice informed by consummate academic skill. MarilynArnold left a high position at BYU in the middle of a noted career to devoteherself to writing about the Word. Even for someone like me, who endlesslyprefers Story to exposition, Sweet is the Word is a wonderful read.
© 1996 Cathy Gileadi Wilson