This summer Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens will lead a seminar on “The Gold Plates as Cultural Artifact” (applications are due February 15th). What have the gold plates meant for you?
For me, one of the amazing things about the gold plates is just how powerfully they convey the transcendent value of the scriptures written on them. I am so used to the idea of the gold plates now that I don’t think much about this, but when I was a kid, it made an incredible impression to know that the Book of Mormon had been written on gold plates. The sheer value and beauty of the material of course speaks eloquently to the imagination. For a kid at least, it also silently draws on the magic of countless stories of other golden artifacts: pirate treasure, dragons’ gold, Jason’s golden fleece . . . Adding in the fact that they were hidden in a stone box in the earth, with the sword of Laban and the Liahona no less, of course just makes the gold plates completely entrancing. Nowadays I am entranced even more by the beauty of the ideas they convey, but I think the sheer intrigue of the gold plates themselves probably accounted for half of my interest in the Book of Mormon for important years of my childhood, and who knows how well I would ever have come to appreciate their contents without that initial, almost visceral fascination?
Another layer deeper one is impressed by the work that was required to produce them, the care with which they were passed down from generation to generation for centuries by the Book of Mormon peoples, and the effort that went into writing on them. All of these things of course are developed by references and discussion throughout the Book of Mormon, but they then become inseparably encompassed in the very thought or image of the gold plates. One can hardly see an image of them without knowing that they must have had this kind of history, and all the effort that went into them again conveys the great value of the record they contained. One can hardly help but want to read it! There are plenty of wonderful Bible stories, and I loved reading or hearing the stories of Jesus especially, even just when he rowed back from shore in a boat to get a bit of space from the crowd. The Bible, as a book, though, just doesn’t have a story to compete with the drama and the enthralling image of the gold plates.
This year Bushman and Givens are inviting applications from junior faculty as well as graduate students. Check out the full announcement for the 2011 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture, and/or the BCC announcement, and fill out an application.