An Ancient Survival Guide: John Bytheway’s Look at Moroni

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Abstract: Moroni’s years of wandering alone after the battle of Cumorah have been often discussed, but not in the context of how they impacted his writing and editorial work. John Bytheway’s latest offering provides us insight into the man Moroni and how his isolation impacted the material that he left for his latter-day readers.

Review of John Bytheway, Moroni’s Guide to Surviving Turbulent Times. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017). 159 pp., $11.99.

Some who pick up John Bytheway’s newest book, Moroni’s Guide to Surviving Turbulent Times, may not be sure what they are going to get. His often-humorous approach deters many serious scholars from engaging his work. While his typical approach extends to this new book, those who chose to read it will find themselves pleasantly surprised and quickly drawn in.

The book centers on Moroni the man, not the angel. I find the book valuable for this alone, as scriptural figures are often placed on pedestals that deny them their basic humanity. Throughout the book, readers will find themselves getting to know Moroni and empathizing with his struggles. Youth and single adults will have a special reason to pay attention to Moroni’s words when Bytheway reminds his readers that “This may be a family church … but it was restored through an unmarried teenager who was visited and tutored by an angel-who spent at least the last twenty years of his life as a single adult, alone and wandering for his own safety” (3). “Moroni,” he continues, “is one of the symbols of our membership” and “[his] best work was done while he was a single adult” (3).

[Page 2]The book encompasses Mormon 7 to Moroni 10; the section over which Moroni had editorial oversight. Bytheway provides a number of interesting insights and personal applications — which he refers to as “Likening Moroni” — in special sections at the end of each chapter.

In addition to introducing readers to Moroni, Bytheway’s book discusses a number of doctrines at some depth. A full examination is beyond the purview of this short review. As an example, however, I will touch on Bytheway’s discussion of the gift of the Holy Ghost in Moroni 2 (one of the longer chapters, at about seventeen pages). This is a chapter which I believe to be “worth the price of admission” on its own.

In each of his analyses, Bytheway speculates on why Moroni left his readers with these specific teachings and doctrines. Several of Moroni’s chapters are exceptionally short, and Moroni 2 is no different. Readers are reminded that Moroni was alone when he wrote these chapters. “Thus,” Bytheway states, “the importance of the companionship of the Holy Ghost for the lone man Moroni cannot be overstated” (45). Bytheway goes on to point out various roles that the Spirit fulfills for us: “warning light” (45–47), “tutor” (47–50), “sword” (51–52), and “protector” (52–54). This was accompanied by interesting study results from Wendy Watson Nelson on the power of prayer in the recognition of the presence of the Holy Ghost during times of trial (54–56). Bytheway followed this with a conversation on the privilege of having the Holy Ghost with us at all times. Interestingly, he reminds us that Mormon—through a letter recorded by Moroni — described his people’s demise in terms of their relationship with the Holy Ghost (59).

In the closing pages of this chapter, Bytheway points out that “the gift of the Holy Ghost is a privilege…to live up to” (59), and hence “we have to desire it, to want it, and to let it in as we would receive a guest into our home.” Bytheway writes, “Moroni knew of the privilege of the Holy Ghost, and he felt it important enough to devote precious space on the plates to teach future generations” (59–60).

One of the best ways this book can be described is as a starting point. Bytheway has not written a scholarly book; instead, he has produced a short work intended to encourage genuine discipleship and the applicability of ancient scripture to modern situations. He acknowledges this at the end of the book: “Not everyone will liken scriptural stories in the same way, nor should they. … In sharing these ideas, I am hoping others may find them helpful and have something to think about as they ponder their own ways to liken Moroni’s final words” (155).

[Page 3]The doctrines and principles that Moroni emphasizes in his closing section of the Book of Mormon are relatively simple. Bytheway’s message reflects that simplicity by focusing on the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a sustaining force in times of adversity. Moroni may have been physically isolated, but he was never truly alone. Christ’s gospel helped him to survive. Bytheway helps readers see how the Book of Mormon can be a survival guide for the latter days too.

This book is heartily recommended for both youth and adults finding their own way into the Book of Mormon, as well as to experienced readers looking for new insights that will make the scriptures come alive for them. Above all, John Bytheway’s in-depth discussion of Moroni and the invaluable work he accomplished offers counsel, doctrinal insights, and hope for anyone who has ever felt alone.

11 thoughts on “An Ancient Survival Guide: John Bytheway’s Look at Moroni

  1. These reviews and comments prompt me to review my own experience of being a single man, active in the church from ages 14 to until 35.
    I was available. I served in teaching roles, on bishoprics and high councils. I could visit every church unit in the stake on a Sunday and not neglect my family. I did good work.
    Moroni was available. He wandered alone but not lonely too often. I see him in my minds eye visiting with those others who escaped. Building relationships here and there with those who remained faithful who went to the south and those of his hunters who may have stumbled across him from time to time. Until one day, towards the end, he really was left alone and he wrote those mournful and lonely words. That may have taken 18 of the 20 years.
    A sense of mission is palpable in his writings. His perspective was one of being about his Father’s work in a difficult situation.
    Many there are in our day who share that perspective, alone but not lonely, struggling against depression and sadness perhaps, but always maintaining a sense of going forwards towards better days.
    Moroni is a shining example for them.

  2. One of the joys in our life in China is spending Friday nights with young single adults who come over for dinner and Institute. There is so much promise and goodness among them, and they are doing great things in the Kingdom and in the world. Thank you for reminding us that some of the greatest things accomplished by Joseph and Moroni were done while single.

    • I rejoice in being reminded by Riddick’s review (and hence by Bytheway’s book) that Moroni accomplished great things, including moving the record that Mormon redacted (to which he contributed) to the place where young Joseph Smith recovered that record and thereby blessed all of us. I also marvel at Jeff Lindsay’s accomplishments, and I envy his experiences in China. We should all strive, even if single at whatever age or for whatever reason, to endure well our mortal probation.

  3. Jared Riddick, in this nice review, seems to have enjoyed reading Moroni’s Guide, and also crafting his delightful review essay. I envy Jared. I sometimes comment on books with which I must find fault. However, I have a book by N. T. (Tom) Wright. In 440 pages he addresses the what in the life, death (and hence the cross) and the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth constitutes atonement. He specifically engages the penal substitution theory of atonement advanced by Luther and Calvin, which is the standard among conservative Protestant theologians.

    In this theory God the Son incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth becomes guilty of all sins of the entire human race. This draws the wrath of God the Father so that he has the incarnate God the Son murdered in the most terrible possible way. This divine justice, since Jesus of Nazareth got what he deserved. Humans who either happen to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, or who are predestined to do so, are freed from sin, and have their seat locked up in heaven.

    Wright challenges this non-negotiable element of the Protestant Reformation. I would love to try to engage his arguments on this and related issues, but I must fashion commentaries on books sometimes written by or about the history and faith of Latter-day saints that have serious flaws. This is neither easier nor more enjoyable, but still necessary.

  4. Pingback: An Ancient Survival Guide: John Bytheway’s Look at Moroni - Jared Riddick - The Mormonist

  5. Thanks for the review! I’ll have to give the book a look now.

    I’m reluctant at the idea of Moroni being forever a bachelor though. I don’t think there’s enough evidence to conclude that Moroni was never married. That he was alone during his wilderness wanderings is more apparent but we don’t know how old Moroni was when he was one of the Nephite generals in Mormon 6:12. I don’t imagine an exceeding young youth is leading ten thousand men into battle. Moroni is also old enough to be thoroughly trained in both writing and reading ancient scriptures, something that implies a more mature age. In Moroni’s introduction in Mormon 8:5 Moroni says that among his father being slain were also all of his kinsfolk. Really vague word that just might imply Moroni’s wife and children, among siblings and other extended family.

    So I don’t agree that the Book of Mormon makes it obvious that Moroni was both unmarried and a teenager. I think Bytheway points out a decent application for YSA and SA members of the church, I’m just not convinced that his conclusion squares up to the historical reality.

      • It looks like I read the article a little too quickly and it’s now clear that Joseph Smith was the teenager mentioned. Now I definitely need to read this book so that I’m not misrepresenting what is said in Brother Bytheway’s book. XD

    • The review indicates Bytheway is saying that the “unmarried teenager” through whom the restoration came was Joseph Smith, and that Moroni was a single adult for “at least the last twenty years of his life.” So Moroni could very well have been married at one time, but likely lost his wife and other family members prior to him being alone, as he describes, without friends or kinsfolk (Mormon 8:5).

    • Agreed, but those conclusions are not made in this book. We don’t know how old he was, or whether he may have been unmarried, or he may have lost his wife, it just doesn’t say in the text. The book only implies that he was unmarried at the time he took over for his father at the beginning of Mormon 8, since he said “I even remain alone” (Mormon 8:3), that he had no friends, and that “all [his] kinsfolk” had been killed (Mormon 8:5).

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