Saturday, January 5, 2019

Why Only Male Authors in the Book of Mormon?

Many gifted writers are female as J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series demonstrates.
J. K. Rowling's Ubiquitous Boy Wizard
In Joseph Smith's America (1805 - 1844), women were recognized authors. The first book published in the English colonies was a collection of poems by Anne Bradstreet (1612 - 1672) entitled The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America that appeared in 1650. English America's first best-seller was Charlotte Temple first published in 1790.
1814 New York Edition of Charlotte Temple
It was written by Susanna Rowson (1762 - 1824) who came to Massachusetts from England at the age of 5. Charlotte Temple remained the most successful book in English American literature until Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811 - 1896) published Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852. Briton Jane Austen (1775 - 1817), largely unheralded in her lifetime, achieved enormous posthumous fame as the author of the very popular Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816). Joseph Smith's Bible contained the books of Ruth and Esther. We don't know for sure who wrote either book, but their presence in the Old Testament tells us something about the role of women in ancient storytelling.

So, why, when we read the Book of Mormon, do we find all its authors are men?
  • Nephi
  • Lehi
  • Isaiah
  • Jacob
  • Enos
  • Jarom
  • Omni
  • Amaron
  • Chemish
  • Abinadom
  • Amaleki
  • Mormon
  • King Benjamin
  • King Limhi
  • Zeniff
  • Alma
  • Captain Moroni
  • Helaman
  • Giddianhi
  • Parhoron (Critical Text orthography)
  • Ether
  • Moroni
The foregoing list is not exhaustive, but it is exclusively male. Women such as Sariah 1 Nephi 5:2 and King Lamoni's wife Alma 19:29 are quoted briefly very occasionally, but female authorship is not attested in the text. If the Book of Mormon was written in Mesoamerica as most Latter-day Saint and Community of Christ (Restoration Branch) scholars believe, the reason is straightforward.

One of the best sources for late-breaking news from the exciting world of Maya Decipherment is a blog named simply "Maya Decipherment" authored by David Stuart, Stephen Houston, Simon Martin, Marc Zender, and other luminaries. In a June 28, 2018 post entitled "What Writing Looks Like," Stephen Houston, formerly at BYU, currently at Brown, discusses glyphs on textiles. Even though weaving in the Maya world was typically done by women, "Yet there is also overwhelming evidence that the scribes and literate sculptors were men." For authority, Houston cites his article "Crafting Credit: Authorship among Classic Maya Painters and Sculptors" in Cathy L. Costin, editor, Making Value, Making Meaning: Techné in the Pre-Columbian World (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2016) pp. 391-431.
The Hero Twins as Scribes, Drawn from Justin Kerr Number K344
In another publication, Houston observed "there is no evidence that women painted pots with legible writing." Stephen Houston, The Gifted Passage: Young Men in Classic Maya Art and Text (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014) p. 5.

In the Mesoamerican world the Book of Mormon likely came from, only men were authors.

Another article explains that Maya art and iconography in general tend to be heavily male or "androcentric." Stephen Houston and Andrew Scherer, "Maya Animalia, or Why Do Dogs Dress Up?" in Maya Decipherment, July 7, 2020. 

A related topic is discussed in Book of Mormon Central's KnoWhy #391 published December 19, 2017 in English "Why Are So Few Women  Mentioned in the Book of  Mormon?" This KnoWhy was published July 10, 2018 in Spanish.

Kirk Magleby volunteers as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central which builds enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to the entire world.