Giving away Books of Mormon: Which edition would you choose?

Recently I have begun reading the Book of Mormon again using Grant Hardy’s Reader’s Edition.  The other night as I sat in my parent’s house to read, my step-father and I began discussing the problem of giving copies of the Book of Mormon to people.  For us there were a number of considerations: the cost of the copy, the size of the copy (physically), the size of copy (selections vs. entire text) and the readability (versification, footnotes, structure etc.).  The question I pose, therefore, is: which copy of the Book of Mormon would you give to a friend?

There are various possibilities each with advantages and potential pitfalls.

First, the classic blue missionary edition of the Book of Mormon.  This, in my opinion, is not only difficult to read and cluttered (because of the versification and the footnotes) but it also looks cheap.  It does not feel like a sacred text, especially for someone who is approaching it for the first time.  However, it has the advantage of actually being cheap.  This might be an pro for some, especially if you give away a lot of copies (I do not and so this is not really an issue for me).  The other potential plus is that although it is long, it does not look very big.  It is less intimidating than some of the other versions. This is not the edition I would give to someone.

Second, Grant Hardy’s Reader’s Edition.  This is wonderful to read and also keeps the versification of the current text; so it is functional in a Latter-day Saint worship service.  It’s supplemental material is well-written and reflects a high level of scholarship.  However, it is large, very large; even in paperback form.  As such it makes the book seem overwhelming for the newcomer; especially someone who is not an avid reader..  Lastly, it is expensive.  I would give this to any member of the Church, or someone interested in seriously reading the text, but not a potentially curious friend; unless of course money was not an issue and your friend reads voraciously then this might be the best option.

Third, Laura Maffly-Kipp’s Penguin Classics version.  The Penguin version uses the 1840 text of the Book of Mormon and therefore lacks any versification but does include paragraphs, editorialized by Maffly-Kipp.  The book is not very expensive and there is something significant about it being included in this series that adds legitimacy.  In some ways the mere fact of it having that familiar design gives the text a need to be taken seriously.  Moreover, this edition has a similar heft to the blue missionary version and therefore feels a little more inviting. Maffly-Kipp’s introductory essay is helpful especially because it reflects an outsider perspective. A very good edition worthy of being shared with a friend.

Fourth, the Doubleday edition.  This version was published by special arrangement with the Church and as such reflects an ecclesiastical legitimacy that some of these other versions do not have.  However it is still a very large book, although it is still smaller and lighter than the Hardy version.  A new version of this book is also quite an expensive purchase and may not be within everyone’s budget.  The major issue I have with this version is that, because it has been published in conjunction with the Church, it maintains the same versification structure even though it removes (thankfully) the unhelpful footnotes.  It also keeps, with some important amendments, the same chapter headings. Consequently it is still difficult to read. If you are going to spend this much on a copy I would splash out a little more and get Hardy’s Readers Edition.

Fifth, Jana Riess’ selections from the Book of Mormon. Riess, like many of these other ‘unofficial’ versions, use the 1920 edition. Some of the potential problems with Riess’ version are also its strengths.  She has edited the selections slightly to make them a little more readable, for example she has removed the ‘and it came to pass’ phrases and replaced them with ‘and…’.  This is, in one sense, a good thing because it attempts to make the book less turgid  and yet it does not quite succeed.  Rather, I think Riess draws more attention to that repetitious ‘and…’.  Further that she has edited the text, despite a Church policy prohibiting such changes, might an obstacle for some to share this edition with their friends.  Further by selecting certain passages, Riess both makes the text approachable and (potentially) spiritually relevant.  The text is approximately one-tenth of the length of the original (according the back matter) and Riess selects passages that might have a more immediate impact on the reader because of their devotional quality (she skips the War chapters, as you might imagine).  Yet, at the same time this might be a barrier to those who want to give the entire Book of Mormon and not just certain selections from it.  For our American friends this is not an expensive version of the book, although the cost of shipping makes this a little more difficult for Europeans. Another edition worthy of being shared with a friend, especially for US-folks.

Sixth, Skousen’s Earliest Text.  In many ways the Skousen version captures some of the same positive features of the  Hardy volume.  Yet instead of narrative segments, Skousen presents the material following sense-lines rather sentences per se.  Reading the Skousen addition is rhythmically appealing but perhaps loses some of the narrative coherence of Hardy’s. It also maintains the versification of modern editions. It’s downfall, similar to Hardy’s version, is the cost and the almost overwhelming size of this tome: it is nearly 900 pages and weighs a massive 3.6lbs (Hardy’s weighs 2.4lbs). The text is also beautifully typeset.  Again, like Hardy’s Edition, Skousen’s volume is for those already Mormon or those who are interested in serious study of the text.  In fact choosing between these two is difficult.

Seventh, 1830 Facsimile edition.  Although I own this version I have never actually read it.  In many ways it has the feel of something significant and certainly has a more attractive binding and cover than the blue missionary copies.  However, it lacks versification at all and might therefore be less useful in LDS worship services.  You can purchase these through DB or Amazon but they are a little expensive.  Moreover, because there is no introductory essay, aside from the various testimonies at the beginning, this book is not as useful in my opinion for the curious friend who is also a serious reader.  This may be a useful edition for those already reading the text but not I fear for outsiders. It does not compete with Hardy’s or Skousen’s editions.

Which would you give, and why?

Comments

  1. Romney / Huntsman 2012 says:

    A much more interesting question is: what color were your leather-bound scriptures in the ’90s? There was a veritable rainbow of options: black, brown, white, and even teal green, which was a hot color at the time.

  2. Brown. Is that actually real leather?

  3. Some trends are beginning to emerge in the poll. I would love to hear more from people regarding why you would choose the ‘blue missionary version’, which is the most popular at this point, or Skousen’s, for example.

  4. How about “The Book of Mormon for families” edition? It is very nicely set up, great cover, and good footnotes for the family. It is about $50 (at least it was when I purchased my edition). It almost reminds me of the old large sized Family Quads sold 50 years ago (I have my parents’), except is just the BoM.
    It would be nice to have an easier and inexpensive reader. I personally do not like the footnotes in our LDS scriptures. They make the books over large (and why do you need one in the Bible AND Triple?), and bulky. Plus many footnotes and definitions are outdated or lacking.
    Perhaps if they removed the footnotes, etc., from the missionary BoM, changed the versification so that it flowed better, and gave it a slightly nicer cover, I think they would have more people reading it.

  5. Ram, you are right that there are a few versions I missed off the list. That could have been included but I decided against simply on the grounds that the aim of that book is slightly different from the one I am trying to get at here. However, with that said, the exclusions I have made are a little arbitrary.

    I agree with you regarding the current text. In fact, if they published a cheap version of Hardy’s edition (i.e. Blue missionary version) I imagine it would be read more readily by more people.

  6. The blue book is the only one available in other languages.

  7. John, that is great point that I had not previously considered. Thanks.

  8. Chris Gordon says:

    I chose the blue missionary version. Inexpensive binding or not, for anyone with any experience with sacred text, particularly the Bible, it looks right. Versification has its downside, which I will not refute here, but that’s how scriptures look. I’m not comfortable supplying the uninitiated, so to speak, with too much commentary. Not because it’s not sanctioned, but because I truly do believe that even the merely curious can muddle through the archaic phrasing without too much difficulty and because I do, in fact, have a testimony of the value of the struggle. Let the commentary/editorializing come after the interest is there. I have less faith that it would be a spark.

  9. When I was a missionary in Bulgaria, we only had “selected excerpts” translated. I haven’t seen Reiss’s edition, but I imagine it’s mostly the same: the first part of 1 Nephi, a few chapters from 2 Nephi, Jacob, King Benjamin’s sermon, 3 Nephi 11-18, etc. There were lots of translation errors, but it was pretty small and quite approachable. Of course, we had to fill in a lot of gaps that happen when you just start with a sermon without the background, but it’s what we had.

  10. The Doubleday edition is the one I would most like to give away. If you are giving it away to friends then this would make a great gift. The simple cover is pleasing, the hard bound lasting, there is far less clutter, and the script (regardless of remaining with the official versification) is larger and easier to read. With a few more tweeks, I think this one should be printed softbound and handed out. That said, because its not made cheap then the blue Book of Mormon is the one that I pick to give the general public even with all its flaws.

  11. Joseph S. says:

    The blue Book of Mormon is the standard, and therefore I would feel reluctant to introduce someone to the Book of Mormon through anything else. It is pretty much identical to the version of the Book of Mormon used by the majority of LDS worshipers in the US, in their quads or triple combination. While the other editions you list sound interesting, I have not personally read them, so I would be reluctant to present any of them as an introductory version for another. Basically, if the goal is for them to join the church, they should read what people in the church are reading, and that’s the blue missionary version. If the goal is for them to study the Book of Mormon academically and gain an appreciation for it simply as a work of nineteenth-century literature, then the Penguin Classics version sounds perfect.

  12. Does putting an app on their phone or going to the lds website count ? :p.
    (I’m not a very good gift giver….)

  13. Clark Goble says:

    I really wish the Church would redo the scriptures somewhat. I know switching from the KJV is a bit much to ask although there are versions of the KJV with slight word changes to modernize it slightly. (I can’t remember who did that version to avoid archaic or rarely used words with synonyms – I think it was Oxford)

    However even ignoring that the Church could come up with a version getting away from the verse emphasis and placing more emphasis on chapters, paragraphs and poetry via simple change in formatting. It’d help tons of members.

    If there were an alternative app that did this I’d buy it in a second. While I love that the Church came out with a pretty nice free app, I just hate its formatting.

  14. Aaron: I’m not sure how you arrive at the statement “It does not feel like a sacred text, especially for someone who is approaching it for the first time.” It sure felt like a sacred text to me.

  15. theres a gold copy with the “Charactors document overlayed on the cover. can only be found on ebay”

  16. okay, and in my father’s closet.

  17. Just bought the Skousen version off the Amazon link (hope you have the aff id correct). It was only $21.16 which included free 2 day shipping. A downfall of cost was mentioned, but $21 doesn’t seem very high to me – only $4 more than the Doubleday edition.

  18. I listed the blue missionary copy primarily because of the cost. But I think there’s something for an investigator using what other folks use at church. If my friend is not anywhere near coming to church, then the Doubleday edition might be a nicer version for the reasons other commenters have listed.

    My friends who attend other churches will not be put off by versification or footnotes as they see them in their own scriptures.

    Personally, the comment you made about Reiss’ version is laughable to me. I served a German mission with the translation that replaced “and it came to pass” with “[...]” (and a note at the first use explaining what the elipses was to replace). It made the new scripture seem oddly incomplete.

    I applaud the scholarly efforts to understand original texts, but frankly don’t get the idea of editing to modernize.

  19. Romney / Huntsman 2012 says:

    In 1997, nothing could beat the royal blue leather-bound mini triple combination with the silver leafing on the page.

  20. How about the hard-cover blue Church-produced version? The hard cover makes it a bit more presentable that the soft cover, I think.

  21. Romney / Huntsman 2012 says:

    Don’t forget the “General Authority” edition of the scriptures: black leather bound, XL in size. They must have been 18 x 12 inches, with huge font.

  22. Thanks for the comments so far. Clearly others do not find the same problems in the blue missionary version that I do.

    Joseph S, I find your argument quite persuasive, in particular the community dimension to reading and studying from the same text. For that reason I leave my other versions of the scriptures at home when I attend Church.

    Matt W., I think people respond to a nice bound and designed book in a very different way to a cheap paperback. They are more likely to treat it with respect and to take it seriously.

    chicago, I accept no responsibility for purchases made as a result of this post. :)

    Matt T., that is a slightly better option than the paperback but I think it fails in many of the same ways

    Paul, these texts, or at least not all of them, do not edit to modernize but rather just move around the punctuation and structure. These were both things added by the printer and therefore open up other potential readings of the text.

  23. I have several nicely bound, printed, and ‘reverent’ editions of the Qur’an. But the one that actually got me to read was the newer paperback Oxford edition with translation by M.A. Abdul Haleem. I’ve since bought it again on my Kindle (even though there are free versions), and am greatly enjoying the read.

    I’m sure if I was approaching the BoM for the first time again, it would be similar. I’d probably have ended up with Grant Hardy’s edition. Same language, just much more accessible and readable. Too bad that’s not printed smaller, and on bible/thin paper. Or better yet, on Kindle *hint, hint*

  24. David T., your comment reinforces my initial feeling that the Penguin Classics is a nice choice.

  25. Aaron, I hadn’t looked at the Penguin Classics edition before. This does seem to be a very nice option. And it has a Kindle edition *grin*.

  26. StillConfused says:

    Before I married, I dated this really awesome Israeli Jewish guy. He had me take him around Temple Square. He was told that they do not make BoMs in Hebrew. (Though there were some really obscure cool languages there.) So if I can have any BoM, I want it to be a Hebrew one.

  27. KerBearRN says:

    We have enjoyed using the 2 Hour Book of Mormon with our kids (sacrilege!!). Not sure this would be good for a non-member, but it’s another option. Our most recent investigator friend was thrilled with his Blue Missionary Copy– plus he wasn’t afraid of damaging it, felt free to mark it, etc. So for people who are less sure of how “seriously” they are investigating, I think it’s a very nice option–allows them to make it their own without feeling like they have somehow defaced something.

  28. I second your positive comments about the Grant Hardy edition. Its preface is exceptionally well done. My only improvement would be to reduce the size for greater accessibility to the more casual reader.

  29. I think any version that does NOT include the arnold frieberg paintings is a good choice. Can’t tell you how many times on my mission I had people laugh about those. (You americans and your obsession with Arnold Schwarzenegger!)

  30. I have long thought that the Book of Mormon bears many indicia of being a transcription of oral compositions of one kind or another. Discussion of how that might be so is beyond the scope of this thread.

    But I note my wife and many of my friends find it preferable to “read” the Book of Mormon by having a text open in front of them while they listen to the audio readings streamed from the Church’s website.

    The suitability of giving a Book of Mormon by giving an audio version is questionable. But whatever text you give should be accompanied by a link to the audio version with encouragement to listen. The “and it came to pass”s and the failure of conventional sentence and paragraph structure is then less distracting. I could wish the oral performance was better.. The current version is a vast improvement on the previous one, but it has a ways to go. If only they could get the guy who reads the bible in the version streamed by the Church to come record all the standard works!

  31. Lamplighter says:

    Somehow I bumbled along with the old light blue missionary version with the picture of Moroni on the cover, which I paid a dollar for, and gained a testimony. If one is truly seeking the truth, I’m not sure the version matters.

  32. Coffinberry says:

    I bought a case of the Doubleday version for a $1.25 per book when they were getting rid of them at WalMart a few years back. Gave em all away to my kids’ friends when thed want to join in at family scripture and prayer time. Those were nice.

  33. Butch Bowman says:

    The “other” Mormon churches publish their own versions of the Book of Mormon, as well. Community of Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ (Monongahela, PA), and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) all have their own versions. I particularly like the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) version of the Book of Mormon. It preserves the chapters and paragraphing of the 1830 edition, as well as the linguistic “errors” that have been “corrected” in the LDS edition (for example, replacing “which” with “that” and “shewed” with “showed” or “shown”).

    In terms of online editions, I love John Hajicek’s http://www.inephi.com, which is an original 1830 edition copy of the book, photographed and uploaded to the internet. It is more convenient and reliable (and cheaper!) than the facsimile edition published by Herald House. It is set up so you can navigate it using the LDS version’s chapter and verse references.

  34. Butch, note that JS himself made many changes to the BoM text. The JSPP has put up digital facsimiles of the first four editions of the BoM.

  35. Butch Bowman says:

    I didn’t mean to imply that I disapprove of minor changes in wording, paragraphing, punctuation, chaptering, or versification. I just think it’s interesting to see the differences, and the occasional nuance of meaning that such changes may produce. I do tend to prefer the 1830 version, though, just as a matter of personal preference. I like all those rough edges. I think they give the text a certain character, and yes, a certain honesty, I suppose.

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