David G. Pace
Dialogue 44.2 (Summer 2011): 161–76.
Suppose you are one of the Three Nephites, “born in Zarahemla, twenty-five years before Jesus made His New World appearance,” a temple scribe in “a library of worn parchments [. . .] attempting to abridge them to something more permanent and [having] to compete with the armory for gold and other metals”; a scribe who “actually paid attention to all the old tales [he] was transcribing” and “imagined what it was like to be one of [his own] Hebrew ancestors, clambering into a ship and making the great journey from the Old World.” You “made a point of infusing the accounts with the requisite miracles” because “There are worse things than doing that.” You “didn’t think we needed another sword, another shield, however beautifully wrought. What we needed was the story.”
Suppose your name is Zedekiah, Zed for short (last and least), and now, thanks to the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, the Nephite God, granting your wish, you’ve wandered and ministered for two thousand years. What a tale you could tell. Or what tales, since no one could stay awake long enough to hear the whole two millennia in one stretch, supposing you could stay awake long enough to tell it. Of course you’ve become fluent in American English, no need to speak or write in pseudo-King James style. But by now you’re weary of being “mortal but unable to die,” to “taste of death”; you’re tired of living a story you once thought would not last long but that now seems still far from its promised end when Jesus “shall come in glory with the powers of heaven.” You’ve been spared pain, but you’ve had two thousand years of the “sorrow” that Jesus also promised “for the sins of the world,” and you’re still waiting for the “fulness of joy” and the chance to “sit down in the kingdom of [the] Father.” Stories that do end began to fascinate you, so you’ve spent a lot of evenings in the theaters of Old New York, where a century ago your colleague Jonas, “the senior one,” knew he would find you, where he told you “You’ve lost your faith” and you told him “I’ve lost my life.”
That’s part of a short story you can tell. And you can bear your witness of “the Triangle Fire twenty years later,” after that conversation with Jonas: no miracles there, though you did minister as you could to a dying twelve-year-old girl. And what since, what now?
David Pace’s “American Trinity” is a remarkable, even startling addition to what might be called Book of Mormon midrashic literature (and film), a tradition that includes B. H. Roberts’s novel Corianton (later a stage play and a film recently recovered and shown), some of the plays of Clinton F. Larson (Coriantumr, Moroni, Third Nephi), and other fictions that sound, on the face of it, frivolous (like Chris Heimerdinger’s Tennis Shoes among the Nephites and all its ilk). Indeed, Pace’s story appeared in Dialogue just one issue ahead of Robert A. Rees’s article “The Midrashic Imagination and the Book of Mormon” (44.3 [Fall 2011]: 44–66), as if to answer, before it was given, Rees’s call for “Latter-Day Saints [to] consider writing midrashim based on Restoration scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon,” “a source, like the Torah, not only for interpretation but for invention, expansion, and imagination.” Pace’s “American Trinity” is not only midrashic but also (as is inherent in the never-ending activity of midrash) historical comical tragical folkorical philosophical metafictional and perhaps postmodern and more. Maybe it’s a one-shot deal, as good short stories are singular and unrepeatable. Yet, since the end is not yet, we might hope that Zed, or his colleagues Jonas and Kumen, will have more to tell.
The Association for Mormon Letters is pleased to honor David G. Pace for “American Trinity.”