BoM & the 10% Solution

Vol 2 of Golden Plates Comic, CoverWhen we head out on a family venture (say, cross-country skiing), my wife and I try to efficiently share with our children the most relevant knowledge we have, and we try to help them develop the skills to continue to learn and enjoy the activity on their own.

Similarly, when it comes to religious instruction and scripture study, we focus on the teachings we find to be most important for our children’s spiritual development. We give less attention to scriptures that have, at least at this life stage, a lower return on investment.

I’ve recently read two books that contain selections from the Book of Mormon. One is The Book of Mormon: Selections Annotated and Explained (SkyLight Paths, 2005), by Jana Reiss, one in a series of interfaith introductions to various religious faiths. The right-hand pages of that book contain excerpts from the BoM (about 10% of the BoM, altogether). On the left-hand pages Reiss gives her commentary, with a goal of providing non-Mormons an introduction to Book of Mormon studies and basic Mormon theology.

The other is the comic book The Golden Plates, an illustrated version of the Book of Mormon by artist Michael Allred (AAA Pop Comics, 2204, 2005). Vols 1 and 2 of an anticipated 12 have been published. The words in the comic consist of direct quotes from the BoM (less than 10% of the full text, I think). Allred adds to this his illustrations of BoM events, drawn in traditional super-hero style.

BoM Selections Cover

As I’ve read these books and observed what the authors included and omitted from the Book of Mormon, I have more explicitly considered what portions of scripture I focus on (or omit) when discussing religion with my children. The question I’ll be getting to at the bottom of this post is, what BoM passages would you be most likely to share with children, or, more broadly, what portions of the BoM do you find most important to your own spiritual life?

As I review when and how I’ve discussed the BoM with my children, I see that King Benjamin’s speech in Mosiah gets top billing. This was confirmed recently by my 11-year old. On the way home from a soccer game, after I declined a request to stop to buy snacks, she reminded me of Benjamin’s instruction that “ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry”(Mos. 4:14-15). I relented and bought her and her teammates horchata and fish tacos, but only after extracting from her a commitment to pay attention to the rest of that verse, which includes an injunction that children not “fight and quarrel one with another.”

Mosiah 4 is one of my favorite BoM chapters. There, Benjamin calls me to repentance with his teaching to “impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.”(26) I particularly like his development of a theological basis to convince his listeners to share their resources with the needy (essentially, as you may remember more consistently than I do, Benjamin concludes that we must liberally share our resources with the needy in order to obtain a remission of sins. (16-27, esp. 26)).

He ends this section with “see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.”(27) I appreciate the practical instruction, although I too often use it as an escape clause to avoid an opportunity to share. For example, when our family is traveling in a city where we meet many people asking for assistance, I find myself more likely to give to the elderly or to mothers with children, but less likely to give to single men who seem healthy. I guess that is a way of measuring whether the supplicant is “deserving:”an act Benjamin explicitly condemns (16-22). When I discuss with our children both why we should share, and explain some of the circumstances where I choose not to, I justify my behavior (unsuccessfully, I think, and I tell them that) based on verse 27, explaining that I can’t help everyone, and that my discriminatory criteria of gender & age are how I share “in wisdom and order.”

I’ve also found that I take care to discuss with the kids some of the BoM passages that can be mis- or poorly-interpreted, that might be confusing to a child (or myself), or that simply beg for analysis. For example, when we read the story of Nephi killing Laban, we discuss whether the killing was justified given the rules prohibiting killing and Christ’s teachings rejecting all violence. I don’t provide the children any neatly packaged answers on this issue; I guide them through the ethical questions at stake.

For the killing Laban story, my discussion is by two Mormon Studies articles: John Welch’s “Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992): 119-41 (Welch argues that according to the biblical laws of Nephi’s time, Nephi committed an excusable manslaughter, not murder) and Eugene England’s article “Why Nephi Killed Laban: Reflections on the Truth of the Book of Mormon,”Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 22, no. 3 (1989): 34-53 (England uses Catholic literary critic/anthropologist René Girard’s theory of mimetic rivalry and scapegoat effects in suggesting that the Nephi/Laban story teaches Nephi and BoM readers “something very troubling but still very true about the universe and the natural requirements of establishing a saving relationship with God…that genuine faith ultimately requires us to go beyond the rationally moral…when God himself requires it directly of us.”)

So, getting back to the question: What BoM passages would you be most likely to share with children (either your own children, or with others’ in a class setting at church), and why? Or if you prefer, more broadly, which passages do you find end up in your own version of “Selected Excerpts of the BoM?” (and if you want to explain, why?)



  1. The third installment of _The Golden Plates_ is recently out. For those not in Utah, you can order them online. I got these for our boys, now 8 and 6, and they are too complicated and dense for them, so they are being shelved for a couple of years. I was surprised Allred didn’t “dumb then down” a little and to accomodate an elementary school audience, but he didnt. They are well done and certainly faithful to the BofM. The inking is rather dark, but that is a matter of aesthetics. I have been planning on sitting down sometime and reading through them page by page myself, but just havent had the time. They are fairly expensive for comics books, but the paperstock is not cheap lightweight pulp, it is heavy duty glossy stock that will last, so I considered it a fair price.

  2. Wow, I actually just ordered all three after I read this post. I thought my 5 year old superhero fan would love it. Maybe I’ll be shelving my copies too for a few years!! Good to know they’re high quality for the $8 price tag, though.

  3. My husband was particularly impressed with the warriors of Helaman, so I would pick that. I would also focus on the savior’s visit to this land.

    I wish we’d had the materials you mention when my kids were small. We read through an illustrated version, then we went straight to the Book of Mormon on the rocks. I don’t think they got a thing out of it.

  4. Great post, Stirling. We don’t have kids yet, so here are some of the passages that I find myself thinking back to most often:

    – Enos and his wrestle with God
    – Mosiah 2-6 on King Benjamin (such great stuff!)
    – Mosiah 24 re persecution/deliverance of Alma and his people
    – Alma 32 on faith/testimony
    – Alma on the Atonement (esp. chapters 7, 34, 40-42)
    – Nephi’s psalm.
    – Moroni 7 on faith, hope & especially charity

    I think most of those could be adequately digested by children, given the right parental packaging.

  5. The King Benjamin sermons are the best part of the Book of Mormon, in my opinion. To that, I’d add Alma’s conversion experience and Lehi’s final sermon to his family. Whether these could be digested by children or not, I think it’s important that they be fed to children. You’ve got to hear the important theology of Jesus Christ early and often, as the famous quote about voting in Chicago goes…

  6. It’s funny to realize just how much of my sense of what’s in the Book of Mormon, even after having read it I don’t know how many times, is still shaped by the illustrated stories I read as a kid (the ones with an accompanying tape that gave you one beep to go to the next picture, and two to turn the page.) I remember being morbidly fascinated with the burning of Abinadi (as I recall, there were sound effects on the tape, and you could hear the flames.)

    Some of my own favorite passages that I’d want excerpted:

    Alma’s conversion.

    Jacob 2-3. I like Jacob’s preaching because you can really hear the depth of his concern for his audience.

    Pahoran’s epistle to Moroni (Alma 61). Pahoran’s calm response to Moroni’s a bit overzealous “I’m calling you to repentance” epistle has always impressed me.

    Alma 32 on faith.

    3 Nephi 17, when Jesus heals the sick and blesses the children.

    The end of 2 Nephi 26, with its emphasis on how God isn’t exclusive but invites everyone to come to him.

    Ether 12, particularly the thoughts at the end on God’s grace and our weaknesses.

    The conversion of King Lamoni in Alma 18; I love the directness and simplicity of the questions he asks. (I’d also throw in the story of Abish in the following chapter, both to get in at least one female character, and because it’s a good story.)

    I don’t know how I would teach children about Nephi; I actually remember identifying somewhat with Laman and Lemuel when I heard the stories as a kid, because what could be more obnoxious than a younger sibling who did everything right?

  7. The words of Moroni in Ether 12 have always struck home with me. My children live in either the light or shadow of my conversion depending on their own faith on any given day. They are BIC being raised by two first generation Mormons in a NY environment. It isn’t easy and I believe it is harder for them. I rebelled against my parents and culture as a youth in hope of finding a better way. The Lord led me to the Church. I’ve written my story so my children can understand, but my own weakness in writing and my own human weaknesses in life seem to speak louder than my words. However, I take great comfort in these words:

    And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them; And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them. Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words. And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness; And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.(Ether 12:23-27)

  8. Nice post, Stirling. I think my favorites have been given. I might add the last portion of Jacob 5. I like the idea of working with the Lord and having joy with him. I think this is very important.

    But you all are correct, Benjamin in the piece de resistance. Moroni’s verses on giving gifts is great, becasue attitudes are just as important as actual acts. It also shows the fruits of coerced obedience are nill. I also like Moroni’s injunction on miracles and angels…very humbling stuff.

    …and how can you not love Jesus weeping over his people?

  9. Yet another Dave says:

    Sterling, thanks for including the link to the Welch and England articles, I’ve had difficulty processing the Nephi killing Laban story for decades, and am in the market for a new angle. I just took a quick at the articles now on-line now, but will read through them in detail later.

  10. Happy Sumo says:

    Several of the scriptures listed above match those of my favorites (Mosiah 4, Alma 32, particulalry).
    My list of “areas of tension” in the Book of Mormon that need a mature adult-led discussion include:
    > Story of Nephi killing Laban.
    > Explanation of “Lamanites are cursed” verses (to avoid an outcome where the child considers dark skin to result from a curse, or thinks that skin color is in anyway a predictor of any type of cultural, physical, or spiritual inferiority or superiority).
    > Discussion of who the “Lamanites” were and are (in a way that deemphasizes genealogical or “race-based” connections). This would include, as England points out in the Dialogue essay Stirling linked to, the concept that by the end of the BoM, due to complete intermingling of ethnic groups, the term had no tie to a specific genealogy:
    “By the time of the two-hundred-year reign of peace after Christ’s visit, there had been periods (such as under Samuel) when the “Lamanites” exceeded the “Nephites” in righteousness. Then the complete intermingling and unified righteousness after Christ produced a condition such that “neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites” among them (4 Ne. 1:17). When this Utopia dissolved about 231 a.d., “they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites” and the “true believers in Christ” were called Nephites (4 Ne. 1:38), but the terms had again become completely devoid of genealogical or racial meaning. (page 31).

  11. Happy Sumo says:

    Also, I live in Utah County where I worry about what messages my daughters receive about the roles of women (last week, when my 6th-grade daughter and a friend chose to construct a castle for a medieval-era class project, they were razzed by several boys for thinking they could be competent builders). So, perhaps I’m more sensitive to how the scriptures portray women than most, but think I’d add this to the previous post with my list of “areas of tension”:
    > a discussion regarding why the role of women in BoM is so limited.

  12. Elisabeth says:

    I remember liking the story of the Liahona (cool new toy!) and Nephi’s broken bow (both in 1 Nephi 16).

    And of course, every child loves the gleefully gory story of Ammon slashing off the arms of the Lamanites stealing the King’s sheep.

  13. Happy Sumo,
    I agree with your suggestion in #10 that the “Lamanites are cursed” verses need to be analyzed, for the very reasons you identify.
    I think verses like Alma 3:6 and 2 Ne 5: 21-23 are best interpreted in ways other than as reporting that God changed skin pigmentation as a curse. But, at least for me, doing so involves some non-obvious literary analysis. What’s your approach?
    Here those two passages are:

    Alma 3:6 “And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren.”
    2 Ne. 5: 21-23 “21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
    ..23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing…

  14. Red Iguana says:

    Happy Sumo and sterling, you are both spittin’ into the wind. Those Book of Mormon verses say what they say, and you can’t get around it. That’s a fatal flaw in our “most correct book.”

  15. Here’s my argument that the BoM passages at issue should not be interpreted as meaning that God issued a genetic curse that darkened a person’s skin pigmentation.

    First, the verses we’re talking about are principally 2Ne.5:21 “…the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them”; Jacob 3:5 “…the Lamanites… ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins”; Jacob 3:8 “…I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God”; Jacob 3:9 “revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins”; Alma 3:6 “skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression”; 3Ne.2:15 “…curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites…”

    1. In these verses adjectives such as “black,” “dark,” and “white” are best understood as symbolic descriptions of levels of purity–not as literal (and inaccurate) descriptions of skin color.

    As I’ve heard Mauss say, if you suggest I have “thick skin,” I’m unlikely to interpret that phrase in a literal dermatological and metrological sense. Similarly, if you say I have black skin, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you mean to provide a literal description of the color of my skin.  As the Goldenberg and Byron books show (sources listed at end of comment), the symbolic usage of color is consistent with both biblical usage and cultural usage in ancient times. And Tvedtnes suggests the symbolic usage of color fits with the language of Joseph Smith’s day: “Use of the term white for the concept of purity was well attested at the time Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, as well as in his cultural context. Out of six meanings for the term given in Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, three concern purity, while only two concern color. The last concerns venerability.”

    2. Is it possible that the author of the BoM verses we’re discussing did intend to imply or expressly state there is a relation between literal skin color and righteousness? Yes.
    And if they did, I suggest they were unsuccessfully trying to explain the striking phenomena of different skin colors and of skin color changing over generations through intermarriage. But, because these BoM passages were written pre-Mendel, the author(s) simply did not (and could not have) understand genetic principles of inheritance, and so could not accurately explain the phenomena.

    Consider that modern genetics began largely with the rediscovery of Mendel’s work in 1900. Prior to that time (and even decades into the 1900s), most people could not share some of our basic assumptions and knowledge about how skin color or other genetic traits are passed to descendants.

    3. The passages were typically written from the viewpoint of one tribe that viewed itself as more righteous than its neighboring tribe. In referring to the “other” as cursed, filthy, lazy, etc., could the Nephites have engaged in some un-Christian and inaccurate stereotyping? See as express examples of wrongful Nephite prejudice Alma 26:23-25, Mosiah 9:1-2, Jacob 3:5.
    18th through 20th century America also provides many contemporary examples of this. Here’s a 1770 sample from Ben Franklin: “Perhaps you may imagine the Negroes to be a mild tempered, tractable Kind of People. Some of them indeed are so. But the Majority are of a plotting Disposition, dark, sullen, malicious, revengeful and cruel in the highest Degree.” From “A Conversation on Slavery,”in The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Volume III: London, 1757 – 1775.

    4. The dominant scriptural message of the BoM is that God is not a respecter of persons, that all are alike before God, independent of ethnicity, skin color, tribe, etc. 2 Ne. 26:33 is the most well-known scripture teaching this principle. But there are many others in the BoM. See, for example, 2 Ne. 9:21; 26:13, 26:33; then 1 Ne 22:28; 2 Ne. 9:5-22; 26:25, 28, 33; Mos. 27:25, 30; 28:3; Alma 5:49; 29:2; Mormon 9:21-22, 25; Moroni 8:12;.17-18, 22.

    5. “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” Keep in mind that, as England wrote:

    “’Lamanite’ was used in the first part of the Book of Mormon to designate the descendants of Laman, Lemuel, and others…who rebelled….and, for whatever reasons, began to appear to the Nephites as more uncivilized and dark-skinned than themselves. But the term quickly lost any legitimate racial significance as, on the one hand, various reprobate Nephite groups (Amlicites, etc.) defected to become “Lamanites” and, on the other, groups like the “Anti-Nephi-Lehies” accepted the gospel, moved to Nephite lands, and “were no more called Lamanites” (Alma 23:17). “By the time of the two-hundred-year reign of peace after Christ’s visit, there had been periods (such as under Samuel) when the “Lamanites” exceeded the “Nephites” in righteousness. Then the complete intermingling and unified righteousness after Christ produced a condition such that “neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites” among them (4 Ne. 1:17). When this Utopia dissolved about 231 a.d., “they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites” and the “true believers in Christ” were called Nephites (4 Ne. 1:38), but the terms had again become completely devoid of genealogical or racial meaning.”

    Sources (listed chronologically):
    · Gene England, “‘Lamanites’ and the Spirit of the Lord.” Dialogue 18, no. 4 (1985): 25-32.
    · Douglas Campbell, “‘White’ or ‘Pure’: Five Vignettes.” Dialogue 29 (4) Winter 1996: 119-135.
    · Gay L. Byron, Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature (Routledge, 2002)
    · John A. Tvedtnes, “The Charge of ‘Racism’ in the Book of Mormon ” The FARMS Review 15, no. 2 (2003): 183–98
    · Armand Mauss, All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (University of Illinois Press, 2003), particularly chapter 5, pp 118-128, and on 127-28, a section entitled, “Toward a Nonracist Construction of Lamanite Identity”
    · David Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. (Princeton Press, 2003) principally parts 1, “Images of Blacks,” and 2, “The Color of Skin”

  16. I mention Allred’s comic book series, The Golden Plates, in my post, and comment #1 plugs it. But, I should mention that before I let my 8-year old loose with the comic, I reviewed it, and because p. 114 of Vol. II. can be interpreted as textually and graphically repeating a message of ethnic prejudice, we had a discussion similar to what I’ve outlined in comment #15. You can see an image of that page here.

  17. Yet Another Dave says:

    Ouch! That illustration is painful. I very much like the interpretation suggested in #15 for the skin color verses (and wish I had had that for institute class). But, if my immediate family (my parents siblings and spouses) are any indication of the general Mormon populace, the #15 interpretation is irrelevant to most Mormons because they, like me, have never considered it.

  18. Chuck McKinnon says:

    Broadly speaking, my favorite passages are those where a prophet is speaking near the end of his life. Lehi’s final blessing to his grandchildren; King Benjamin’s address; Mosiah’s final speech to his people; Alma counseling his sons; Mormon’s letters to Moroni. Usually they’re speaking to family, but sometimes (as in the case of King Benjamin and Mosiah) to the church or nation.

    I find real clarity, wisdom and insight in such scriptures: you get to see what each man of God felt were some of the most important aspects of the gospel.

    There are exceptions (for example, 2 Nephi 4 and Ether 12 are favorite passages), but if you asked me for a genre, “counsel and blessings from a prophet near the end of his life” would be it.

  19. It’s so interesting to read everyone’s favorite excerpts and then consider Mormon’s atrociously enormous task of the same type. Especially considering the amount of time it takes me to get through the Book of Mormon itself. Wow.

  20. What the hey –

    for my first comment ever at BCC (I think):

    You all miss the point of the BoM comic by Lee Allred.

    First – It is not done “in traditional superhero style.” A statement like that only show ignorance of comic book conventions. Lee Allred is a artist who painstakingly developed a style that pays homage to traditional superhero artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko – yet his style is very untraditional. His style subtley parodies the traditions of superhero comics – rather than traditional, it’s something new. Lee never really draws traditional superhero comics – all of his comics have an “underground” or “alternative” sensibility that often undermines the ideas of heroes.

    His BoM comic is a bit more straight and a bit more iconic, but it’s anything but “traditional superhero.”

    Second – the comments on this thread indicate a belief comics are for kids. They aren’t – not anymore. The average age of a comic book reader is 25 – and Lee Allred knows this. His adaptation is aimed at the comic book market – a market of twenty somethings.

    Hope that clears things up.

  21. Of course, it might help if I said “Mike Allred” above.

    I can’t help it – I’m friends with Mike’s brother Lee (a science fiction writer), so when I thnk of “Allred”, I tend to think of Lee rather than Mike.

    Oh, well.

  22. I got the first two “The Golden Plates” directly from Mike Allred (he’s a local from my area.) They’re pretty good adaptations, and beautifully drawn. Mike has real talent and he’s putting it to good use. I would highly recommend to anyone to purchase a set of these comics.

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