"A Simple, Common-Sense Explanation" : Thomas F. O'Dea and the Book of Mormon
Journal of Mormon History
Salt Lake City, UT
Mormon History Association
In 1949 Thomas O'Dea wrote "A Study of Mormon Values" for Harvard University. In this document, the majority of his sources were written by members of the Church since he wished to portray the Mormons as they saw themselves. He was "new to the culture" and was "deferential to the perceptions of the people he studied." He stated several times that it was not the role of a sociologist to decide if what someone believes is true or false, but that their values and beliefs should be respected because "'they remain the orienting mechanisms which give meaning to human life and which are held with a considerable degree of emotional attachment'." However, according to Bahr, by the time O'Dea wrote "The Mormons" eight years later he abandoned this view. In the second chapter of "The Mormons," O'Dea concluded that the simplest explanation for the Book of Mormon is that it was written by Joseph Smith. Bahr attempts to trace any thoughts O'Dea had on the Book of Mormon before "The Mormons" was published by examining information from notes that O'Dea made while living in a Mormon community, his interviews of Mormon intellectuals, and his margin notes in a Book of Mormon. Bahr also dissects O'Dea's argument that Joseph Smith authored The Book of Mormon.