REVIEW: Enos, Jarom, Omni: A Brief Theological Introduction; Sharon J. Harris
I LOVE this volume. Remarkable work. Perhaps because I had pretty low expectations going in, given the scriptural books that Sharon Harris covers here, but wow. Truly incredible work.
Harris quotes liberally from the scriptures and offers solid close reading of the quotes, very similar in approach to Spencer’s inaugural volume of the series. Enos, Jarom, Omni: A Brief Theological Introduction is immensely readable, truly a delight to read—Harris sprinkles her prose with all sorts of fun easter eggs, like Enos being “someone you could have a root beer with” (18), primary song lyrics, and references to The Princess Bride. Packed within Harris’ lively prose are great insights that unify these itty bitty books and makes a compelling case for their centrality in conveying the message of The Book of Mormon as a whole.
One of the key insights that Harris brings to these books is that in the dictation order (or at least some accepted versions of the dictation order, since it seems to be somewhat in dispute), these itty bitty books came at the end of The Book of Mormon (a point which lent loads of emotional punch to the final insight that Harris offers, which I’ll return to later). Thinking about alternative orderings of the books within The Book of Mormon is fascinating. I don’t often engage with the BoM on these terms, but considering the constructed nature of the text was very fruitful here (and I think can be fruitful in other avenues).
Harris pays close attention to the ways that Enos and Jarom talk about the Lamanites. Her analysis draws out the distinctions in their respective approaches and the ways that they are both rethinking what the precise nature of ‘the covenant’ is. Harris extends grace to all the figures in the text, while not shying away from critiques of their shortcomings. For Harris, Enos, Jarom, Omni, and all the other narrators, are fully-realized humans that have qualities worth emulating and flaws worth acknowledging. The book’s engagement with how these figures talk about the Lamanites is one place where this shines through.
Loads of other compelling insights and observations are packed into this short volume—thoughts on contention, the shadow of the prophecy concerning the destruction of the Nephites, genealogy and record-keeping—which you should absolutely delve into more completely. But perhaps the most powerful and provocative insight that Harris offers is found in her book’s final pages. Harris draws our attention to the final verse in the Book of Omni, where we hear from Amaleki. He has just testified beautifully of Christ and inviting all to come unto God, when he draws attention to a group of Nephites that went exploring, including his own brother, who he never heard from again. Harris argues that “These are records destined for fraternal finding and redemption; he should at least try” (108). I have never paid much attention to the particular ending of the Book of Omni (except for fuel for wandering, speculative discussions about Book of Mormon geography and the relationship of Nephite and Lamanite civilizations to other ancient groups). But I have been unable to shake the emotional resonance of this ending—it’s powerful and haunting and hopeful and tragic all at once.
This could have been how The Book of Mormon ended (if we follow the dictation order that Harris talks about). On this note. One of uncertainty, reaching into the void, hoping for something to come back. How does this change how we read these itty bitty books AND the Book of Mormon itself? I know I won’t read it the same.
I love the attention that Harris pays to these small, short books and the ways that she draws out powerful, deeply human messages and stories from their somewhat scattered construction. And, now that she’s drawn my attention to Amaleki’s final words in Omni, I have a new favorite, haunting, powerful, resonant scriptural moment to ponder on for years to come.