10 Questions with Sharon J. Harris

Sponsored by BYU Studies — Sharon J. Harris is an assistant professor of English at Brigham Young University. She is also the author of a volume in the Maxwell Institute’s Brief Theological Introductions series about Enos, Jarom, and Omni.

How did you become involved with the Theological Introductions to the Book of Mormon series?

Sharon Harris: When Spencer Fluhman emailed me, asking if I would be interested in authoring a volume, I didn’t quite realize that was the invitation proper. I wondered if he was gauging interest from several people first before deciding on the series lineup. Once I understood that the opportunity was mine to accept, I was delighted. I’d been in the Maxwell Institute Theology Seminar in 2015, studying Jacob 7, and I’ve worked on some other theological projects. This gave me a chance to really dig in.

What did you do to prepare?

Sharon Harris: If you’ve heard of NaNoWriMo, it’s an initiative every November for people writing a book to write 1000 words each day. I did that but in May 2019. I divided up the verses in Enos, Jarom, and Omni and aimed to write 1000 words each day on two or three verses. That helped me get my initial ideas down. Then I could see patterns I wanted to address, and I organized the sections of each chapter from there.

What most surprised you while working on Enos, Jarom, Omni: A Brief Theological Introduction?

Sharon Harris: Lots of things! I was pleasantly surprised by how generative the book of Jarom was. It’s the shortest and can seem light on spiritual material, but it turned out to be a treasure trove. I was also surprised by how many revisions the Enos chapter needed. I wanted to do it justice because so many people love the story of Enos.

It took a lot of drafts.

I was surprised to find how these small books, that were at the end of Joseph Smith’s dictation of the translation, could really work as a closing to the Book of Mormon.

The book cover of "Enos, Jamon, Omni: A Brief Theological Introduction"
Sharon J. Harris is the author of “Enos, Jarom, Omni: A Brief Theological Introduction.”

What did you think when you learned President M. Russell Ballard cited your book in his Oct. 2020 General Conference address?

Hahaha! This was funny. I was listening to his talk, and when he quoted my book on Enos, I didn’t recognize it! I honestly thought, “Oh, I wish he’d said that in an earlier conference so I could have quoted him in my book!”

It wasn’t until a few days later when Blair Hodges reached out that I realized he was quoting me!

Does Sharon Harris find echoes of Enos’s prayer anywhere else in the scriptures?

Sharon Harris: Yes, it was cool to see echoes of the prayer backward and forward in time, namely in Psalms and the Doctrine & Covenants. In addition to the direct echoes in D&C 109, I think a lot about the content of Enos’s prayer with the warning in D&C 84:54-58 that condemns the modern church for “treat[ing] lightly the things [we] have received…even the Book of Mormon.”

We’re living in the time that Enos saw would fulfill God’s covenant to restore this remnant of the house of Israel to their place in the covenant, and that has to happen through the Book of Mormon.

Are we treating it lightly? I think about how God says the “whole church [is] under condemnation” for not taking it more seriously. Just as God made alternate plans with Enos for when the Nephites would not keep their covenants in the promised land, God has told us in our dispensation that we “remain under this condemnation until [we] repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon.”

The seriousness of God’s promises really motivated Jarom and his descendants, and I wonder if we’re taking our modern promises about this record as seriously as we should.

What can we learn about the things Jarom doesn’t include in his book?

Sharon Harris: This idea about what Jarom leaves out is one of my favorite discoveries in this project. But more important than what he leaves out is, I think, learning to how and what to leave out, let go, and not say.

Jarom isn’t preachy, but he’s devoted. Can we be like that?

This seems especially relevant to some of our 21st century contexts. For example, hitting “like” or getting “likes” on social media can be such a powerful and automatic response. What about just stepping back and not indulging outrage or not laughing at others’ expense?

The kind of discipline it takes to not add to the indignation, derision, judgment, etc., is invisible. No one sees you do it, and people usually don’t actively or vocally appreciate that you don’t indulge in the behaviors. It takes a lot of personal commitment to do that, to be a good person when you’re not accountable to anyone else. It takes a groundedness and personal confidence in who you are and how you want to be, independent of how it may play with others.

A lot of what we can learn from Jarom is what’s not there, what’s left out.

And that lesson invites us to consider what we could leave out of our own behaviors and responses to live more closely to the Spirit and as though Christ had already come. This is how Jarom describes discipleship in his day.

What promises does God make to covenant Israel in Enos, Jarom, and Omni?

Sharon Harris: An important piece of God’s promises in these books is that the Lehite record will survive into the future. This is the covenant Enos obtains in his prayer (and that others received before him), that the Lehite family will not be lost forever.

How? Through a remnant that remains even after the Nephite people are destroyed. That remnant will return to the covenant through the survival of the Lehite record, what we now know as the Book of Mormon.

The writers of these “itty bitty books,” as I call them, were keenly aware of this promise and felt an obligation to do their part to fulfill it. Each author, no matter how small his contribution, is a link in the chain that ensures the record will survive into the future.

The authors may have had to make great efforts or sacrifices to keep the records. Maybe they had to learn the language for writing on the plates. Maybe they had to acquire engraving skills. It was probably difficult to transport the plates as they fled the land of Nephi, recorded in the book of Omni. Each of the record keepers did what was necessary to preserve the plates and, as a result, to keep the promise God made to Enos.

This suggests to me that when God promises something, it doesn’t just happen by magic. Sometimes it takes covenant-inspired faithfulness across generations.

How did Sharon Harris end her book and what we can learn from Amaleki’s words in Omni 1:30?

Sharon Harris: I don’t want to give away too much of the ending! What’s at stake is the dictation order that I talk about in the introduction and throughout the book. If we read the Book of Mormon in the order that its translation was dictated by Joseph Smith, then the entire Book of Mormon ends with the small plates, so it ends with these small books of Enos, Jarom, Omni (followed by Words of Mormon).

I wondered if there is a way to make sense of ending with Omni instead of it seeming like a kind of fizzle from all of these authors with only brief entries.

Late one night, I was thinking about Amaleki’s last verses that tell of those who went back to the land of their inheritance, his brother among them. I saw it in a way I’d never thought of before, and it felt like a grace.

That idea became the ending of the book.

If you could go back in time and talk with one of the figures covered in your book, who would it be?

Sharon Harris: It’s hard to choose, but I think I’d pick Jarom. I’d ask him to fill me in about all the stuff it seems he left out!

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