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Since its initial publishing 186 years ago, the Book of Mormon has made an indelible mark not only on the lives of its serious readers but also on American popular culture at large.
The book was added to the list of “Books That Shaped America” in 2013 and since June 2016 has been a part of the “America Reads” exhibit at the Library of Congress. The exhibit’s purpose is to foster new conversations about 65 books the American public says have had “a profound effect on American life.” The exhibit features some of the rarest and most interesting editions in the Library’s collections, including rare copies of the Book of Mormon.
“[The Book of Mormon] has spawned pageants and plays, appeared in films, inspired musical lyrics, and received 4 out of 5 stars on the Apple Store,” Elder D. Todd Christofferson said Wednesday at the exhibit, where he spoke for 30 minutes about the book’s history and impact. “It has been illustrated in comic strips, displayed in paintings, told through historical fiction, and imprinted on clothing. A copy of the Book of Mormon was even checked out to President Abraham Lincoln at the Library of Congress on November 18, 1861.”
The Book of Mormon, a record of ancient-American civilizations, is a foundational scripture for Latter-day Saints, along with the Bible and other books. Mormons believe Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon over the course of about three months from gold plates, then published an initial 5,000 copies in 1830.
“It is a miracle to see that what began with 5,000 copies in a small print shop in Palmyra, New York, in 1830 has resulted in millions of copies available in multiple languages around the globe,” Elder Christofferson said.
In fact, more than 176 million copies of the Book of Mormon have been printed since 1830, and the book has been translated into 110 languages — 89 full translations, with selections of the book in another 21 languages. In addition to this, the Book of Mormon is available on LDS.org and the Church’s mobile applications (as well as some third-party mobile applications).
Elder Christofferson also spoke of the Book of Mormon’s impact on literature, which today includes literary readings of the Book of Mormon in university-level English courses across the country. Such classes allow the Book of Mormon to speak for itself rather than debating historical accuracy or Joseph Smith’s methods of translating the book. “You don’t have to believe in its historic claims to appreciate [the Book of Mormon] as literature,” Elder Christofferson said, quoting scholar David Bokovoy.
Perhaps most importantly is the book’s incalculable spiritual impact in the lives of millions of Latter-day Saints around the globe. Elder Christofferson spoke of the power the Book of Mormon in enhancing his appreciation for other scripture, including the Bible.
“My study of the Book of Mormon has given me an enhanced appreciation of the Bible,” he said. “One of the principal authors of the Book of Mormon, Nephi, prophesied that the Bible and Book of Mormon would ‘grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace.’ That has certainly been true for me.”
Elder Christofferson concluded with an invitation that has become well known since the Book of Mormon musical launched in 2011: “You’ve seen the play, now read the book. The book is always better.”
This is not the first time The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been featured at the Library of Congress. In 2005, the library and Brigham Young University cooperated in hosting a two-day symposium marking the bicentennial of Joseph Smith’s birth.