By Megan Harris & Matt B
Thesis: We would like to remind you all that Indiana Jones is definitely Mormon. Probably a jack-Mormon, but definitely a Mormon. In fact, to understand Indiana Jones is to understand post-Brigham Young, pre-David O. McKay Mormonism: the era sometimes called the golden age of Mormon intellectual life.
Postulate: The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles do not exist.
1: Indiana Jones was a Boy Scout in Utah in 1912. This is approximately the time that the Church officially began sponsoring Boy Scout troops, hoping that the Boy Scouts would inculcate the sorts of virtues that the Church wanted young men to adopt. Young Indiana Jones learned these lessons well: he’s self-reliant, good with tools, and has an unshakable commitment to the veracity of Biblical miracles.
2: Since Indiana Jones was a Boy Scout when he was, he was born in the 1890s, probably in Utah. His father is a European immigrant who likely came to the United States in the 1880s or 1870s. He is also by his accent a native of the British Isles, where some forty thousand people joined the Church in the nineteenth century. Thousands of these migrated to Utah, like Henry Jones, Sr.
3: Both father and son have deep religious interests and are obsessed with languages, translations, and religious records. Obviously they are marked deeply by the legacy of Joseph Smith, Jr. But they’re also men of their age: the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are the time when Mormons, newly interested in academia, grew interested in demonstrating the truth of the Book of Mormon and Bible using the tools of scholarship. No doubt the Joneses knew well George Reynolds’s 1880s attempts to apply archaeology to the Book of Mormon, and they were probably involved in the growing interest in the subject at the LDS schools. In 1903 Provo hosted a Book of Mormon geography conference; in 1904 Brigham Young College issued a “Report” on “Book of Mormon geography.” The emerging consensus of Mormon intellectuals in the era was that archaeology could link the Book of Mormon to the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica.
4: Some of these Mormons were among the steady stream of Latter-day Saints who left Utah to study at American universities in Chicago, Michigan and Boston in the early twentieth century. No doubt young Henry Jones, Jr., was one such. Indeed, we might see in Indiana Jones the very fears that some church leaders like J. Reuben Clark held: his fancy college education obviously led to his inactivity and decision to remain back east to teach at Marshall College in Connecticut. But like so many other inactive Mormon scholars of the day, Indiana clearly retained a lot of affection for his youthful Christian faith. Clearly Indiana knows when to kneel before God, and he’s familiar enough with Mormon scripture that he thinks Jehovah starts with a J.
We might look at Indiana’s face and see the generation of gruff voiced general authorities who struck a balance between their rugged cowboy upbringing and their starched collar mainstream education. He straddles the line between religious mysticism and intellectual skepticism, and he embodies the era of Mormon assimilation.
In most movies today, the scientist is incredulous to whatever supernatural wonder is revealing itself to the world. The phrase “This cannot be!” is nearly always on their lips. What makes Indiana, and therefore early intellectual Mormonism, so refreshing for many, is the seemingly effortless way science and the mysterious seem to meet. Like Superman, Dr. Jones has his bespectacled alter-ego in a suit, but unlike Superman, it’s not a disguise. He’s Dr. Jones in both worlds.