Maxwell Institute Study Edition

BoMimage

15 years ago, Grant Hardy published a landmark volume in BoM studies: The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003). This was the first attempt to put forward an actual scholar’s edition of the text of the Book of Mormon. I reviewed this volume in Kevin L. Barney, “An Elegant Presentation,” FARMS Review 16/1 (2004), available here. Suffice it to say, my review was highly positive. 15 years later, Grant has published a new study edition, with the standard title of the BoM (i.e., The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ) followed by the subtitle Maxwell Institute Study Edition. In this review I shall refer to the new edition as the “MISE.”

In my review of A Reader’s Edition, one thing I lamented was the unavailability for this purpose of the Church’s official 1981 text (now with 2013 revisions). This necessitated the use of the 1920 edition text, which was then in the public domain and therefore available for such a purpose. I mentioned that as a faithful Latter-Saint I would have much preferred that the volume interacted with the then official text. I got past that issue, but I must admit to being absolutely thrilled that the Church gave permission for the use of the current official text in this new volume. This kind of permission is not something that comes lightly or easily, and so I would like to offer a collective fist bump to those administrators and leaders who signed off on this decision. But really, this should not have been a hard call; Grant loves the BoM and has handled the text with the utmost care. There is nothing here to give anyone second thoughts about granting such a crucial permission.

Although I thought of Reader’s Edition as explicitly a scholar’s edition, I would say no such limitation should be applied to MISE, which could be profitably read by anyone and everyone with an interest in the BoM. All of the features designed to improve readability from Reader’s Edition (paragraph organization, superscripted verse numbers, in-text captions, etc.) are also present in MISE, and if anything they have been goosed up.

One new feature I am particularly excited about is the presentation of possible alternate readings from the work of Royal Skousen in the footnotes. Grant has been a huge fan of Royal’s work, as have I. On my bookshelves I have all of Royal’s lengthy, technical volumes on the BoM text (well, except I didn’t spring for the second edition of the six Analysis of Textual Variants volumes; the first editions will have to suffice for my purposes). I cut my baby scholarly teeth on reading critical editions of ancient texts (originally Oxford Classical Text editions of ancient authors, and later Novum Testament Graece, Biblia Hebraica, Septuaginta, etc.). So I like having alternate readings presented to me as the reader in a critical apparatus at the bottom of the page and being able to make my own decisions about particular readings. What Grant presents is not an exhaustive critical apparatus, but one geared to the most significant differences in wording that would actually have the effect of altering the meaning of the text. Thus this volume makes available to ordinary readers a very succinct synopsis of Royal’s work at a level that would be meaningful to such a reader. This volume is worth the purchase price for just this feature alone.

Another important feature is the addition of quotation marks to try to make it clear who is speaking what words to whom. I have recently been sensitized to this issue, because the KJV Bible does not use quotation marks at all. It does use capitalization to mark the beginning of quotations, but this is not ideal since it cannot mark the beginning of a quotation in a new sentence (which is already capitalized) nor does it mark the end of a quotation. I am preparing a commentary on Joseph Smith’s revision of First Corinthians for possible publication, and confusion caused by the absence of quotation marks comes up several places in that text. The readability of the BoM text is greatly enhanced by Grant’s insertion of quotation marks where needed.

I have a particular interest in poetic diction in the BoM, and Grant has added an excellent summary of Literary Parallelism as an appendix to the text. In a Hebrew context this is a challenging subject to get right, and Grant does well with it. Wisely, he tells us that ultimately his parsing of poetic text into lines is based on his own perspective. That parallelism is inbedded in the text is clear, but exactly how to portray that with line division is something reasonable people can disagree on, so taking responsibility for his line division is the right way to do this. If you don’t read something like MISE, to understand the literary parallels you would really have to go to the trouble of dividing the text into lines yourself; Grant has saved you from having to go to that considerable effort. (And I have to admit I was pleased that on page 629 in a note he referenced my article “Poetic Diction and Parallel Word Pairs in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/2 (1995): 15-81.)

A careful reader might get a little bit confused about the Canadian copyright episode. Page xv talks about procuring a Canadian copyright, whereas p. 610 talks about selling the copyright. In fact, however, both statements are correct, as the revelation required first obtaining the Canadian copyright and then attempting to sell it.  (In fact obtaining a Canadian copyright would have been very difficult and there was no actual interest in purchasing such a copyright even had one been obtained, so nothing came of this Canadian adventure.)

The only actual (very minor) mistake I noted was on page 610, where the chronology states that on April 7, 1831 “Martin sells 150 acres of his farm to pay the printer.” Actually, Martin mortgaged the remaining interest in his farm (151 acres) to E.B. Grandin (the printer) on August 25, 1829, which constituted full payment for the  printing. In October 1830 Grandin assigned the mortgage to Thomas Rogers II for a consideration of $2,000. In April 1831, Rogers sold Harris’ property to Thomas Lakey for $3,000 (who sold it two years later for $3,300). For the details of these transactions, see Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat,  From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon (Provo: BYU Religious studies Center, 2015), 187. So the sale in April 1831 was by Lakey, not Harris, and by that time had nothing to do with paying for the printing of the BoM.

To get a sense of what a difference it makes to read the text in this edition as opposed to a standard edition, try reading 1 Nephi 20-22. The first two chapters are quoting Isaiah 48-49, and the in-text caption informs us that bolded text marks variations from the Isaiah text. Then 1 Nephi 22 comments on the previous three chapters, and the in-text caption informs us that here bolded text marks quotations from 1 Nephi 19-21. The bolded text in these chapters is essential information for the reader to be able to follow what is going on with full comprehension. In theory, a reader could do all of that legwork herself in advance, but who are we kidding? How many readers are going to realize the importance of marking this text in such a way for full comprehension, and further how many are going to bother creating this kind of tool for themselves? That is virtually a null set.

Grant has often expressed that the coherence of the text is perhaps one of the strongest arguments for its validity, and I would agree. The exhibits in the back help the reader to keep track of sometimes complex material so that she too can perceive and appreciate the remarkable coherence of the BoM text.

The footnotes will no doubt look sparse to a reader of the standard edition, but this is very much a feature, not a bug. The standard edition is badly over footnoted, largely to entries in the Topical Guide, which in my experience offer very little help in understanding the text itself and are basicly useless. In this volume the footnotes are reserved for critical information, and thus will reward a reader paying actual attention to them.

I should also mention that I loved the original woodcut illustrations prepared for this volume by Brian Kershisnick. The thought occurred to me that if you gave this volume to a non-LDS friend as a gift, the picture on the cover just might be enough to intrigue such a reader to crack the volume open and give it a try. (We’ve come a long way from Arnold Friberg! I loved his paintings, but this is a new day and a new approach is called for.)

In short, I give this new volume two thumbs up. Congratulations both to Grant and to all the others involved in the achievement.

Comments

  1. “How many readers are going to realize the importance of marking this text in such a way for full comprehension, and further how many are going to bother creating this kind of tool for themselves?”

    I’ve done so, and it was not easy ^_^. So glad to see a volume like this doing it. Question for ya: Does Hardy mark the variant in Alma 17:3 (“even as with”), which Skousen didn’t include in his list of important variants in his “original text” appendix?

  2. Kevin, thanks for the review. We’ll have it in a week.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Jacob H, yes, he footnotes the reading from P, which includes your variant.

  4. Nice review, Kevin. Thanks much.

  5. OK!

  6. Great review, Kevin. I’m really looking forward to this one.

  7. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks for this review, Kevin.

  8. I just got my copy and I’m ecstatic!!

  9. “The footnotes will no doubt look sparse to a reader of the standard edition, but this is very much a feature, not a bug. The standard edition is badly over footnoted, largely to entries in the Topical Guide, which in my experience offer very little help in understanding the text itself and are basicly [sic] useless.”

    Amen. This has annoyed me for years.

  10. Well done Kevin, I couldn’t agree more with your analysis. Its release was December 31, but I saw in in DB on the shelves before Christmas. We’ve got Grant Hardy scheduled for an interview on Interpreter Radio on January 13 to talk about this. It should be about 7:20 pm to 8:00 MST. go to mormoninterpreter.com for details. (name change pending) Of course, a few days later, the broadcast is available on line in an edited fashion and is a bit easier to listen to without our challenging bumper music.

  11. Joseph Stanford says:

    Sounds like an important step up from the Reader’s Edition. I’m wondering if it also includes cross references to the KJV New Testament language that is used in many different places in the Book of Mormon.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    I just looked quickly and the notes to the 3 Nephi Matthew material interact with the Matthew text so i’m Guessing the answer is yes.

  13. Thanks for this review. Could you or someone else do a review on Thomas Wayment’s New Testament study bible that was just released?

  14. Aussie Mormon says:

    So we have that, we have Kevin Barney’s NT footnotes. Is there a similar thing for the Old Testament? (i.e. aimed at LDS readers)

  15. Aussie Mormon,
    Not yet, but I’ve heard of a serious attempt in the works. Its having trouble getting out of the gate for some reason or other.

  16. Kevin, thanks for this great review. We are adding the copyright/mortgage clarification to the errata sheet for subsequent printings!

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Great to hear, BHodges!