Parody in Dialogue

July_2007_37-1To read past issues of Dialogue I usually leaf through my collection of the hard copy journals, or I open up my copy of the DVD archive. But right now the Dialogue team is exploring how we might enhance readers’/researchers’ online experience. To that end, for this post I spent a half-hour using our new index and the search engine for the online archive to explore discussions of parody (my sample research topic) within Mormon studies. (1)

What did I find? In “Poetic Borrowing in Early Mormonism” (18:1, Spring 1985), though parody isn’t the main thrust of the article, Michael Hicks provides some examples of early Mormon parodies. These included “The God That Others Worship” (parodying “The Rose that All are Praising”):

“The God that others worship / is not the God for me;
He has no parts nor body / and cannot hear nor see;
But I’ve a God that lives above / A God of Power and of love,
A God of revelation / O! that’s the God for me…”

Other early hymn parodies were “The Mormon Jubilee,” celebrating the Joseph’s January 1843 return from Springfield (“Are you sure the news is true? And are you sure he’s free? Then let us join with one accord / And have a jubilee! sung to “There’s Nae Luck About the House” or “Auld Lang Syne”) and an 1842 poetic parody of atheism (“O give me back my God again!” ).

A hymn parody I’ve heard in a contemporary chapel service is the singing of Alfred Hayes’ “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” to hymns with 8 measures and a 4/4 count. In such a parody, the lyrics of the original work aren’t used at all (much like the recent Bob Dylan-esque musical parody of various Dr. Seuss books. (2)

A Dialogue search on “Joe Hill” produces Vernon Jensen’s 1967 book review (2:1, Spring 1967) (edited by Richard Bushman, the first page of the review tells us) of Foner’s book The “Legend” and the “Case” of Joe Hill. Hill was a union activist and song-writer executed by a Utah firing squad in 1915 as punishment for a murder conviction.Note that neither the Dialogue index nor search engine yielded any hits for a search on “between the sheets,” another contemporary parody (when added to various hymn refrains or titles).

A search on “parody” in the search engine also yields Richard Cummings, “A Mormon ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’” (21:1 Spring 1988), commenting on parody in Levi Peterson’s The Backslider. For example:

When a black raven appears on the scene, Frank shouts “Keeerummm, it’s the Holy Ghost!” and the parody is complete. Is this irreverent and even blasphemous, or is it a good-humored and creative adaptation of idiosyncratic Mormon practices and folklore?…”

There’s also Robert Kirby’s “Confessions of a Modern Day Mobber” (36:2, Summer 2003), an essay about life as a serial lampooner.

I needled Mormon dress, hymns, kitsch, wedding receptions, food, seating arrangements, and speech. When I wouldn’t stop doing it, I was fired by the Journal and picked up by the Salt Lake Tribune… Writing what I do about Mormons initially had far more to do with personal therapy than it did with changing anyone’s mind. It was my way of easing the internal tension that occurred during boring and frequently pointless church meetings, a tension that left unchecked might have developed into a scenario involving a rifle and a rooftop.

In “Great Basin Kingdom Revisited,” Leonard Arrington writes of finding numerous instances of satire, parody , and wordplay in the diaries and literature of 19th century saints (26:2, Summer 1993). Mark Thomas briefly mentions a couple of uses of parody in the Book of Mormon in “A Mosaic for a Religious Counterculture – The Bible in the Book of Mormon” (29:4, Winter 1996).

An instance of parody is Robert Patterson’s “Hebraicisms, Chiasmus, and Other Internal Evidence for Ancient Authorship in Green Eggs and Ham” 33:4 (Winter 2000):

…The first six words of the manuscript send a chill of recognition through the spine of any scholar familiar with Near Eastern religious documents:
I am Sam.
Sam I am.

This opening couplet immediately demonstrates…

Such an article begs for a parody in response. My search didn’t disclose one, but it pointed me to articles addressing the use of parallels, including Salmon’s, “Parallelomania and the Study of Latter-day Scripture: Confirmation, Coincidence, or the Collective Unconscious?” (33:2, Summer 2000), Robert Rees’s, “Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance” (35:3, Fall 2002) (which mentions Gordon Thomasson’s unpublished “Personal Parallel Perspectives on Parallelomania,” a response to the arguments in Salmon’s article), and John Williams’ A Marvelous Work and a Possession: Book of Mormon Historicity as Postcolónialism (38:4, Winter 2005[text not available yet in the online archive, though it is in the DVD]).
The Salmon article includes this quote from Nibley’s “No Ma’am, That’s Not History,” a review of Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History:

There are “outside” parallels for every event in the Old and New Testaments, yet that does not prove anything. Of recent years literary studies have shown parallels not to be the exception but the rule in the world of creative writing, and it is well known that great inventions and scientific discoveries have a way of appearing at about the same time in separate places. . . . The fact that two theories or books present parallelism, no matter how striking, may imply a common source, but it certainly does not in itself prove that the one is derived from the other.

In “Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection” (27:3, Fall 1994), Lance Owen discusses whether some of Joseph Smith’s theological developments were to an extent an allusive imitation (parody) of Kabbalistic texts, in constrast to Yale literary critic Harold Bloom’s thinking, Owen quoting from Bloom’s The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation:

What is clear is that Smith and his apostles restated what Moshe Idel, our great living scholar of Kabbalah, persuades me was the archaic or original Jewish religion…The God of Joseph Smith is a daring revival of the God of some of the Kabbalists and Gnostics, prophetic sages who, like Smith himself, asserted that they had returned to the true religion… Either there was a more direct Kabbalistic influence upon Smith than we know, or, far more likely, his genius reinvented Kabbalah in the effort necessary to restore archaic Judaism.

A look at the Dialogue Index entry for Cabala (used for Kabbalah) points the reader to Michael Walton’s response to Owen’s article (“A Tantalizing but Unproven Conjecture” [Letters] (30:3 Fall 1997)) and lists several other aticles, including Kevin Barney’s “Joseph Smith’s Emendation of Hebrew Genesis 1:1,” [Scriptural Studies Section] (30:4, Winter 1997).

Well, there’s a report of my sample foray into the Dialogue online index and search features. I’ve only listed above some of the 30 hits on parody (one might have expected more, given that that Wes Johnson, one of Dialogue’s founding editors, had earlier been an editor of the Harvard Lampoon).

Do you have any prominent or interesting instances of parodies within Mormonism or Mormon Studies to share or point us to?

Stirling Adams

End Notes
(1) The digital archive of past issues of Dialogue is hosted by the Uof U’s Marriott Library. On its website, Dialogue has an advanced search page that allows searching by title, author, or free text. The UoU also hosts the Journal of Mormon History digital archive).

(2) For an article about the controversy surrounding this series of Dylan/Seuss parodies, see “Tangled up in Seuss” (“When a musician recorded “Green Eggs and Ham” in the voice of vintage Bob Dylan and posted it online, the Grinch estate promptly replied: One fish, two fish, cease and desist. ..”).
For an article about parody and the “fair use” principle of U.S. copyright law see Lloyd Rich, “Parody: Fair Use or Copyright Infringement.”


  1. Do you have any prominent or interesting instances of parodies within Mormonism or Mormon Studies to share or point us to?

    Nibley’s Bird Island.

  2. Thanks Mark, I hadn’t read that (though my wife and I recently kayaked to Bird Island (2 miles north of Lincoln Beach)).
    Mark’s link to “Bird Island” is to a 2001 commemorative issue of Dialogue, which includes previous articles such as Poll’s “What the Church Means to People Like Me,” Bush’s “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” and Jeffrey’s “Seers, Savants and Evolution.”
    Nibley’s “Bird Island” first appeared in volume 10:4, Autumn 1977.

  3. Abner Cole’s “Book of Pukei” has the virtue of being an early example in Mormon history.

    “Book of Pukei” (Ch. 1)

    “Book of Pukei” (ch. 2)

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for this great tutorial in how to use the new features. Having an updated, single comprehensive index will be very helpful, as will the more vigorous search feature.

  5. I was unaware of the Green Eggs and Ham thing when I wrote my analysis of Where the Wild Things Are. In it I show evidence that not only is Where the Wild Things Are an ancient text as evidenced by at least two ancient poetic forms, but it is also quiet plainly a temple text!

    It is also notable because it was the first content posted at Mormon Mentality other than the introductory post. :)

  6. Hats off to the indexer. That is a huge job.

  7. Last Lemming says:

    I think the contributions of Rustin Kaufman and the Committee on Celestial Demographics deserve mention here, if only for their names.

  8. William Smith in the Wasp might be a fruitful search. He often said pretty strange and inappropriate things about anti-Mormons, some of them parodic and even funny.

    The Rigdon stuff over Smith’s signature that pillories Parrish and crew (I think it’s Elders Journal) would be another example, but it’s pretty caustic.

  9. Spaff-ite says:

    A fairly prominent and pretty funny musical parody is Robert Lund’s “Working the Glory” album. I think my kids favorites on the album are the songs Noah”(parody of Lola), Give a Talk at the Fireside (Walk on the Wild Side), Stuck in Moroni Again (Lodi), and A Few of the Testimonies (My Favorite Things).

  10. Sorry to hi-jack the thread with an oral tradition, but my personal favorite Mormon parody was simply seeing/hearing other people in Sacrament Meeting grinning while singing “Yoo-hoo Jesus”. It amused me how many people, how many “iron-rod” types found the wording humorous. I still sing “yoo-hoo” unto Jesus, but with the correlation committee stamping out opportunities for levity, the numbers dwindle.
    Perhaps we infrequently receive modern day revelation because we have lost the art of addressing the Lord through song.

  11. #10. As in “Jesus, the very thought of thee?”

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