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Interpreting Interpreter
Mormon and Moroni’s Rhetoric

This post is a summary of the article “Mormon and Moroni’s Rhetoric: Reflections Inspired by Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon” by Val Larsen in Volume 61 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Larsen critiques and extends the literary profile of Mormon and Moroni offered by Grant Hardy, suggesting that, like other Alma-family writers, Mormon initially aimed his narrative at the young men of the Alma family, who were destined to be Nephite leaders, eventually modifying the text to address modern readers. Larsen also shows how Moroni matured as a person and a writer as he composed five separate endings for the Book of Mormon, suggesting that the final ending in Moroni 10 is an expansion of the ending Amaleki wrote for the Small Plates in the book of Omni.


The Summary

In this article, Val Larsen expresses admiration for the work and approach of Grant Hardy, whose book Understanding the Book of Mormon helps establish the distinct voices and literary character of the various authors of the Book of Mormon. Like Hardy, Larsen sees Mormon as a “confident and polished writer”, who writes as a historian, mostly in his own voice. In contrast, Moroni shows growth as a person and writer across the five successive endings he wrote for the Book of Mormon, progressing from one “born into a civilization on the verge of collapse” into a more hopeful, empathic, and rhetorically effective writer, skilled at using the words of others to reveal the tragedy of a life lived without Christ. Larsen summarizes and extends Hardy’s work by characterizing these endings as follows:

  • The first ending, which Hardy did not recognize as a separate ending, reflects the immediate aftermath of the final battle at Cumorah. These short, rhetorically weak verses focus on the desperation of Moroni’s circumstances and are limited to the charge he was given by Moroni.
  • The second ending, which was written 16 years later, is longer but still disorganized, lacking a consistent point of view or smooth transitions between sections. Larsen acknowledges Mormon’s raw writing talent, apparent in a well-crafted merism (where he ends the Book of Mormon by highlighting the first and last great Nephites, Nephi and Mormon). Moroni is concerned with his literary inadequacies page 211) and focuses on excoriating his modern audience, though his tone lightens as he turns to the good news of the gospel.
  • The third ending, in Ether 12, is characterized by dense quotations of earlier writers and has a much more positive tone. It’s organized by a central theme of coming to God through faith in Christ, and has a clear call to action. Moroni again mentions his weaknesses in writing, but now trusts that God can make weaknesses into strengths.
  • The fourth ending, for Larsen, evinces both Moroni’s insecurity and his talent. He looks hopefully to the coming of the New Jerusalem and uses Ether’s words to provide a vivid depiction of the vanity of wealth and power. Solitary Ether’s eloquent final statement about his life is as applicable to Moroni as it is to Ether.
  • The fifth ending, Larsen suggests, is modeled after the writings of Amaleki, the last writer in the Small Plates. He argues that Moroni replicates eight specific features of Amaleki’s writing: (1) using a penultimate text element to show the consequences of sin, (2) delivering the text to a just man, associated with the temple (King Benjamin for Amaleki; Joseph Smith for Moroni), (3) structuring the farewell as an exhortation, (4) exhorting readers to believe in the same specific set of spiritual gifts, (5) stating that all good gifts come from Christ, (6) the phrase “my beloved brethren” at the same specific point in the text, and (7 and 8]) repeated, similarly phrased invitations to come unto Christ. The darkness and doubt of his first and second endings are gone, replaced by anticipated triumph as he exhorts his modern audience to be saved.

Larsen also offers one major critique of Hardy’s work, suggesting that Hardy misunderstands the intended audience of Mormon’s narrative. Rather than aiming the Book of Mormon solely (and perhaps poorly) at modern readers, Larsen argues that Mormon originally intended the book to help “educate young men in the Alma family” to fill important positions in Nephite society. As evidence, he cites the book’s consistent recording of Alma-family men as they passed the plates from generation to generation, with the Alma-family-rule lionized in comparison with alternative dynasties. For Larsen, the narrative appears thematically geared toward training young men in political, military, and religious roles, and suggests that Mormon himself was a member of the Alma family line (given his connection to Ammoron, his reception of Alma family records, and his name being tied to the Waters of Mormon—“the headwaters of Alma-family prominence”). Larsen suggests that this focus changed once Mormon realized that his people would soon be destroyed, and that the book we have is a late revision of a work initially written with an Alma-family audience in mind.

As Larsen concludes:

The putative main authors of the Book of Mormon—Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni—each have a distinctive personality, characteristic rhetorical strategies, alternative implied readers, and author-specific thematic concerns… In part, no doubt, because he did not have any alternative way to be with other people, Moroni spent much more time than is typical reading scripture…his mind fused to an unusual degree with the minds of the prophets… We may profit from taking this prophet, Moroni, as our scripture-reading model, letting our lives fuse as his seems to have done with the righteous, real lives that are inscribed in scripture.


The Reflection

Though I agree with the sentiment that the Book of Mormon was written for our day, I often find myself disagreeing with the assumptions some attach to it—specifically, that the book’s authors could have had no other motive for writing and no other intended audience, and that its best interpretations must be modern ones. Sorry, but no. Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni were mortal authors, with mortal concerns and motives, and we should expect these motives to be evident in the text. It makes good sense to me for Mormon to have had a perfectly prosaic reason for compiling his initial record, and yet for God to have inspired this record for his own grand purposes.

I also find it interesting how we see a clear and sensible (and yet subtle) progression in Moroni’s style as he crafts his years-apart endings. As the years pass, as he has more time to consider his themes, as he gets farther from the depression and destruction of Cumorah, as he spends decades alone with nothing but the prophets as company, we see exactly what we should see in Moroni’s writing—increased skill, dense intertextuality, and a sharp turn toward hope. For me, the sheer authenticity of that transition puts it beyond the hands of Joseph or any other purported modern author. The best explanation for it is a real Moroni—an insecure young man eventually moving out of his father’s shadow to gift us with five moving farewells for the record that would define the Restoration.

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