Friday, July 16, 2010

ACT OF FAITH: THE HILL CUMORAH PAGEANT

I'd hoped to attend, but couldn't make it to the Hill Cumorah Pageant this weekend. (Photo is from the Pageant website.) Produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints every year since 1937, the Pageant story draws from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and features high-tech special effects, a script by Orson Scott Card, and a cast of over 650 people. Upwards of 80,000 people attend every year over the course of seven performances in mid-July. It all takes place in the sacred site where Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claims to have unearthed the golden tablets whose contents he rendered into English as "The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ." 

The book tells the story of how a Hebrew tribe came to the Americas in 600 B.C.E., split into rival factions, and made peace thanks to the intercession of Jesus Christ shortly after his resurrection. That peace endured for centuries, before devolving into war and genocide -- the dark-skinned Lamanites killed off all the light-skinned and pious Nephites, but not before the last Nephite survivor, Moroni, managed to write a testament on golden tablets which he buried, and, returning as an angel in the 1820s, revealed to Joseph Smith, who translated them into English.

The story told in "The Book of Mormon" doesn't square with the archaeological or historical evidence, but it's still the basis for one of the fastest-growing Christian denominations today. And, as with other faiths, stories play an important role in Mormonism. At the pageant, the performers literally act out their faith. Attendees swap stories of their own faith journeys. And the whole experience, I imagine, serves to reinforce the founding legends of this most American religious tradition.  I'm going to do my best to attend next year. Here's a New York Times article and slide show about the pageant, and the nearby visitors' center.

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