A rare first edition of one of the Mormon faith’s holy books is missing from a Mesa bookstore, where for years it has resided undisturbed in an unlocked filing cabinet.
That such a valuable item was not kept locked is only one of the mysteries of the missing 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, which members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe is the word of God as told to church founder Joseph Smith.
The Tribune’s Mike Sakal reported last week that the bookstore’s owner, Helen Schlie, has since 2005 been selling individual pages of the book for between $2,500 and $4,000. She keeps none of the money; all proceeds help LDS elders and young women afford to take missionary trips across the globe. About 50 of the book’s 585 pages have been sold so far. Each is mounted in a wood frame for display purposes.
At first blush, one could well apply the wisdom of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts: Sakal reported that only about 5,000 first editions of the Book of Mormon were printed. Whole copies are rare and getting rarer. Why parcel out one’s scriptures? Why not leave the book intact for visitors to the store to do as they had long before 2005, which was, as Sakal wrote, to come and have their photos taken with it?
Perhaps the sum of the parts may sometimes be greater than the whole, particularly if you are dealing with the potential for spiritual good and not mathematics.
The gospels tell of how Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men with just five loaves of bread and two fish. That amount of food normally would have only fed a large family or two. The account says that he blessed it, broke it and handed it out to the crowd. The leftovers, the gospels say, were enough to fill 12 baskets.
One can interpret the gospels’ account of a miracle of multiplication as not merely a show of heavenly power but also as an object lesson. This defies modern scientific thinking, but sometimes you truly can divide something small into even smaller pieces, and in doing so end up doing at least as much good, if not more.
Each page of Schlie’s Book of Mormon that she sold to assist mission work is being displayed by their buyers. Imagine how many people in each of those 50 places have seen those pages and marveled at their historical and religious significance. How many more of them they likely are than the number of those who have visited Schlie’s shop and saw the book whole? How many more people are out there who will be inspired by each of the remaining pages to perform good works of faith?
Even if you are not an LDS member, it’s easy to see that for those who are, those individual pages are doing the work of the whole original book, times many.
We can wonder why Helen Schlie left such a piece of history and faith relatively unguarded. Perhaps as a woman of faith, she was trusting of others. We can criticize someone for not being more careful, but not for her faith in people to do the right thing. She’s hoping that now.
The 2010 film, “The Book of Eli,” is about a man holding the world’s last copy of the Bible roaming the landscape after a nuclear conflagration. That it was the last one made it special.
Luckily for Mormons, plenty of later editions of the Book of Mormon exist to read, study and treasure. Therefore the holder of this particular first edition of the Book of Mormon still might consider that whatever plans he or she has for it, someone else already set it on, as Schlie told Sakal, its own mission.
Somehow let’s hope that its mission includes the redemption of that person, who should, as he or she looks at it nearly whole, realize that it has been instead set to a purpose to inspire people one page at a time.
Read contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp’s opinions in the Sunday Tribune. Watch his “On the Mark” video commentaries at eastvalleytribune.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.