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Taylor Halverson: The surprising story of a Book of Mormon in the Harvard library

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The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

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The Book of Mormon is the most literarily beautiful, doctrinally truthful and everlastingly applicable book I’ve ever encountered.

I’ve read a lot of books over the years.

During one six-month period in graduate school, I read 100 densely packed scholarly books and nearly that many more articles on biblical studies and related topics (see the full list here at taylorhalverson.com).

Over a holiday break, I’m known to plow through a half dozen books or more.

My wife and I own several thousand books, and we have individually or collectively read nearly every book on our shelves.

I love learning, and digging into a book can be one of the most rewarding experiences. With a book you may access a lifetime of others’ learning and experience structured and condensed into the most meaningful, accessible and applicable parts.

Even though I have experienced thousands of books in my lifetime, many of them truly incredible experiences, the Book of Mormon still remains the most literarily beautiful, doctrinally truthful and everlastingly applicable book I’ve ever encountered.

How would you expect this book to be regarded in one of the most important libraries in the world?

The following incredible story about an unusual copy of the Book of Mormon at the Harvard University library was shared with me by Paul Alan Cox, who is an ethnobotanist and conservationist based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Paul gave his permission to share the story he wrote below.


In 1978 when I was studying for my doctorate, I spent a lot of time in Widener Library searching obscure literature on tropical rain forest ecology. The Widener Library, which is at Harvard, is second in America only to the Library of Congress in terms of number of volumes, and is a wonderful resource for scholarly studies.

After a long day of working in the library, I decided to take a break to see if they had any books about my church. The librarian at the reference desk kindly gave me the call numbers. I went up the elevator and into the shelves. I was amazed by the number of books, both pro and con, on the shelves about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A small dusty volume on an upper shelf caught my eye, and I pulled it down.

To my amazement, I found that it was an early edition of the Book of Mormon. When I looked at the front pages, I saw that it was inscribed as a "Gift to Harvard College" by "Brigham Young, of the City of the Great Salt Lake."

Excited by this find, I went back down the elevator to the reference desk to see if I could check the book out. I wanted to show Brigham Young's gift of the Book of Mormon to my wife, Barbara, and our two small children, Emily and Paul Matthew. The librarian told me that I could indeed check out the book, but when she went to stamp the due date at the back of the book, she stopped. "There is no circulation paper here. I will have to glue one in."

When she returned, I asked her if that meant that the book had never been checked out. "Correct,” she said, “this book has never been circulated."

She stamped the book. I exited the massive front doors of the Widener Library and descended the long stone steps. I crossed Harvard yard towards my small graduate student office in the basement of the Biological Laboratories, passing en route some of the world's most advanced and expensive laboratories. I thought of the 130 years that this copy of the Book of Mormon I carried had sat on the library shelves untouched, collecting dust, until a young Mormon student finally saw it.

As I thought of the extraordinary truth of the Book of Mormon and the impact that it has had on my life and that of my family, Paul's prophesy to Timothy came to my mind: in the last days people would be "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).


No matter how many books I read for my doctorate program, or the number of volumes in my personal library, Paul’s story reminds me to never neglect the one, most important book. I conclude simply. May the Book of Mormon and its unfailing message be ever in your life.

Taylor Halverson (Ph.D.s: biblical studies, instructional technology) is a BYU teaching and learning consultant. http://taylorhalverson.com. His views are his own.