Where are those danged gold plates?
July 24, 2008 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Help! I need reference texts about Mormonism: the beliefs, the texts, the politics, the economy, everything.

I'm a non-Mormon and don't know a whole lot about the church.

I'm ghostwriting a novelized memoir for a guy whose version of history has a lot of conspiracy theory in it, and the novel concerns the Mormon church, they Mormon-Mayan mythos and lots of shady government dealings. Yes, I'm the next Dan Brown, assuredly. But I need to get the right foundation set so these flights of fancy can take off properly.

I need to learn the fundamentals, find out as much as I can about the politics, past and present, that surround the church and the meaning of the content of the Book of Mormon.

So, non-biased, factual, academic quality writing about the LDS Church and its oeuvre, with less emphasis on caffeine and polygamy and underwear, and more on the contents of the Book of Mormon, the activities of Deseret and the political power of the church, its structure, and ties to government.

On the other side of the coin, any hinky nutbar conspiracy theories involving the church will also be helpful. I just need to be able to tell them apart from the real information.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Um, I'm sorry if this seems obvious, but have you checked the wikipedia entry on Mormonism?
posted by sharkfu at 2:18 PM on July 24, 2008

I liked Under The Banner of Heaven. Like most of Krakauer's writing, it iss informative and the prose is very engaging.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 2:26 PM on July 24, 2008

Seconding Under the Banner of Heaven; I'm reading it right now.

Here's the text of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants online.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:31 PM on July 24, 2008

Richard Packham is an ex-Mormon who has done a lot of research about the historical church. Whether it's biased or not, you can decide. It's hard not to find "bias" when it comes to religion. There's a lot of essays and personal experiences, but you might find something that could help you.

Here's his webpage: http://packham.n4m.org/
posted by Nerro at 2:32 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am not Mormon, but I have been closely associated with members of the church. For information on the contents of the Book of Mormon, I would recommend going to the church website and ordering their Sunday School books and their BoM study guides. They are good overviews of what the BoM has to say, and covers some of the big ideas. Also, those study guides and books are CHEAP. Like, a few bucks each. That's where I gained most of my knowledge (I did some of my own research). Also, their website has some good links, although you will probably end up with more doctrine than anything.

Something of interest to you might be to look up some info. on people who have LEFT the church. Some of their stories are....weird, but their perspective is interesting (and you could probably find some conspiracy theory stuff there too...).

Hope this is helpful!
posted by I_love_the_rain at 2:35 PM on July 24, 2008

There's always the American Experience/FRONTLINE co-production of The Mormons. Watch it online-- the guy who encodes those shows must be some sort of genius to squeeze such quality under those bandwidth constraints!
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:42 PM on July 24, 2008 [5 favorites]

D. Michael Quinn's books are an interesting resource. He's an excommunicated Mormon historian who happens to still believe in the church.

The two volumes of his "Mormon Hierarchy" are terrific.

For fun and hinkiness, you can't beat the Salamander murders. Naifeh and Smith's The Mormon Murders is a great read.

Information with an anti-slant can be found in great quanities at exmormon.org. It's not all bitterness and misinformation there, some of it's just very thought provoking and a good foil to the church's official history.
posted by padraigin at 2:48 PM on July 24, 2008

You might want to look at Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi by Robert Bruce Flanders. It provides a good look at the economic and political aspects of the early LDS church.

There are also other academic works available from the University of Illinois Press.
posted by weebil at 3:12 PM on July 24, 2008

Since people have provided plenty of links from ex-mormons, I will provide a few from current mormons.

LDS.org is the main website of the church and has links to information about church history, the full texts of the scriptures and more.

Mormon.org is also a website run by the church designed for people who are not already members and has a lot about the basic doctrines of the church.

Joseph Smith Papers is a website run by the church that is trying to publish the direct writings and letters of Joseph Smith the founder and first prophet of the church.

Fair LDS is a site run by LDS apologetics who attempt to answer criticisms about the church, including criticisms about church history and doctrines. (A lot of the stuff found in some of the other links provided, they attempt to answer here, so it would be a good place to see both sides of certain issues)

The Maxwell Institute is a group (formerly known as FARMS) dedicated to studying and publishing scholarship linking LDS doctrine to historical anthropology, etc.

You may also want to check out the works of a deceased LDS scholar named Hugh Nibley who published a number of books attempting to connect LDS doctrine and ancient history.
posted by bove at 3:57 PM on July 24, 2008

Wikileaks has the secret Mormon Church Handbook of Instructions, which, as a woman, you are especially not allowed to see.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:50 PM on July 24, 2008

Tanner:Mormonism Shadow or Reality. bitter ex saints
McConkie:Mormon Doctrine 1st edition1958, see church of the devil
Awake and Arise! CFR Illuminati theory/BOM
patriotsaints dot org mormon biblecode maddness
Cleon Skousen
: The Eisenhower Ten: shadow government
posted by hortense at 5:49 PM on July 24, 2008

Under the Banner of Heaven might be a good read, but it's certainly *not* what you're looking for. padraigin is right-on - D. Michael Quinn's Mormon Hierarchy books *are* what you're looking for, at least in part. Grant Palmer's An Insider's View of Mormon Origins has some highly valuable stuff, although it really is aimed at people who are well steeped in Mormon history and dogma already. (I am married to a Mormon, and have read at least a dozen books on the LDS church, and I found much of Palmer's book too opaque to digest. But I wasn't doing background research for a book, so you may well find extremely valuable stuff there.)

For scholarly apologetics, no one even comes *close* to Hugh Nibley - he was sometimes referred to (unofficially, of course) as a "lay prophet." If you need to understand how academic Mormons understand the Book of Mormon geography, the alleged links between Israel and the Americas, the overlap between LDS Temple rites and those of Freemasonry, &c., Nibley literally wrote the book on it. Most of his major stuff is still being published in "The Collected Works Of Hugh Nibley," which is up to 14 volumes or so. Old Testament & Related Studies collects essays on linking the BoM to ancient Israel, for example - other volumes focus on different themes.

I haven't read either of the newest books on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, but I did read & enjoy American Massacre. Any decent book on that event should give you a good introduction to the somewhat murky goings-on in the early days of the Salt Lake Church. (For example, John D. Lee ended up taking the fall for the massacre. His autobiography - particularly the reprint, with trial transcripts & other background info - contains a wealth of conspiracy-minded accusations against Church leaders.)

Finally, you should probably rip through at least a couple of biographies of Joseph Smith & Brigham Young. Two that have come highly recommended to me (but I haven't read yet) are Rough Stone Rolling, about Smith, and American Moses, about Young. Both should give you the highlights of the major controversies involving those men, and you could pursue in depth whatever would best fit your story.

Oh, don't forget Wikipedia's page on criticism of the LDS movement - a handy reference to virtually every shady thing the Mormons have ever been accused of.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 6:11 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

" The United Order: An organization through which the Saints in the early days of the restored Church sought to live the law of consecration. Individuals shared property, goods, and profits, receiving these things according to their wants and needs..."
posted by hortense at 8:22 PM on July 24, 2008

I have run across more than one researcher in my library seeking The Archaeology of Palestine by William Foxwell Albright because it apparently documents a site (tomb? catacomb?) that confirms the truth of - something; sorry, I don't know the details, but it might be a useful resource or spur someone else's memory.
posted by zepheria at 8:36 PM on July 24, 2008

Something really interesting about Mormons--and you'll notice this if you look for it--is that they have historically been encouraged to document their lives by keeping diaries. There's such a wealth of these personal accounts that really shines through in any historical record of the LDS church, and it adds so much great detail to the drier aspects of history.

I grew up in Mormon country, and my LDS friends all kept diaries. It was one of the reasons I thought to keep one--hey, maybe a hundred years from now, someone will be interested in the minutia of my own day to day life, and my feelings on spirituality and politics, however untrained and uneducated.

Anyway, I have yet to see a documentary or read a book on the LDS that doesn't include references from diaries of the Mormon hoi polloi. Which is a great thing, I mean, who's read the observations of Joe Schmo from Nazareth, right?
posted by padraigin at 9:51 PM on July 24, 2008

Always liked Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore, and then there is this -http://www.southparkstudios.com/guide/712
posted by pianomover at 11:08 PM on July 24, 2008

He gave them back to Moroni. The golden plates that is. Which brings up a funny story. I was on my mission and had a companion from Utah who told me that until he was in high school he had always assumed that the golden plates were sitting somewhere in one of the upper floors of the Salt Lake temple.

So far as your actual question, I agree with I_love_the_rain about getting church materials on the cheap. Our Search for Happiness would be useful as well as Our Heritage. A very key question so far as the setting for your book is concerned is where this person is from. While the doctrines and organization of the church are very homogeneous throughout the world the actual culture in Utah and parts of Idaho are quite different.
posted by ericales at 11:33 PM on July 24, 2008

I quite enjoyed Mormon America. It's a good mix of the official story of the church from LDS sources and a contrasting secular history, with no particular agenda either way.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:00 AM on July 25, 2008

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