2020 Book of Mormon supplemental readings

About a month ago I described the group I have met with this year to study the New Testament. Along with a regular Bible reading, we have generally included a chapter or two from Raymond Brown’s An Introduction to the New Testament. I would definitely recommend this volume for anyone doing something similar. It can be a little dense, but it consistently is helpful. As we look forward to next year’s study of the Book of Mormon (and in anticipation of my annual Christmas book list), I have started to think about what, if anything, will match the utility and perspicacity of Brown. I’d appreciate any thoughts and pointers of where to go.

A first step, as with the Bible, is the use of a study version or alternate rendering of the scripture. In the case of the book of Mormon, there are three main options.


Hardy, ed., The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (University of Illinois Press, 2003), $61 [hardback], and $22 [paperback].

Hardy, ed., The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Maxwell Institute Study Edition (Maxwell Institute, 2018), $32 [paperback].

Skousen, ed., The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (Yale UP, 2009), $40 [hardback].

Grant Hardy has edited two study versions of the Book of Mormon. Both have the modern apparatus and formatting typical of Bible study editions. The older UIP edition uses the 1921 text (because of copyright issues) and is geared more towards non-Mormon readers. This can be a very good thing for Mormons, because we often take so much for granted. The Maxwell Institute version is definitely created for a believing audience, and uses the 1981 text. It has an extra decade of Grant’s scholarship but a minimal amount of footnotes so as not to distract from the text. Last is Skousen’s Earliest Text which is not a study version at all. It is instead a rendering of what JS dictated in “sense lines.” Russell, recently wrote up his experience reading the text, and offers a really compelling case for this sometimes disorienting (in a good way) textual presentation.

There really is not single volume supplement we could use like we used Brown this year. I think instead, we will be picking and choosing chapters and articles from various sources to read. I’ll confess as well that I’m generally not drawn to geographic hypotheses and analyses, so if that is your thing, you will be left wanting. Here is some of what I currently am thinking about:

MacKay & Frederick, Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones (RSC, 2016), $25 [harcover].

Spencer, The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record (Kofford, 2016), $25 [paperback].

Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (Oxford UP, 2010), $26 [casewrap].

Givens, By the Hand of Mormon (Oxford UP, 2003), $18 [paperback].

I think it is important to spend at least a little time on translation (though I’ll also confess, that I don’t know what to do with all of this early modern English business) and consequently we need to contextualize Joseph Smith’s seer stone usage. Makay and Frederick have done a pretty good job at condensing a lot of this info and making it accessible. Joseph’s volume on Isaiah is provocative and smart. I think we should take a least a couple of these chapters because of how much Isaiah there is to deal with. Grant’s volume may be the one we spend the most time with. Careful reading for the win. And Terryl’s volume has become sort of the standard history of the Book of Mormon and its reception.

There are a few other books to potentially look at. Don Bradley finished his long-research volume and it will be available starting today: The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Missing Stories. I don’t know much about it, but it is apparently a pretty significant contribution and is selling pretty well. Hickman and Fenton, edited Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon. As I understand it, the volume has several important contributions and quite of number of chapters that will not be accessible to generalist readers at all. Lastly and quite importantly, the Maxwell Institute is releasing a series of twelve volumes—Brief Theological Introductions to the various chapters of the Book of Mormon. The cohort of authors looks quite impressive, so this could be a significant contribution to our study lineup. They are not published yet, but will be soon.

Along with books, we’ll certainly be looking at key chapters and articles. Here are a few that I have thought of. There are surely a number that I’m missing.

Janeice’s article is a really important corrective in the narrative that early Mormon’s didn’t really use the Book of Mormon, and that it was just a “sign” of the Restoration. Grant’s article is great intro to the value of critical studies of the Book of Mormon. The Gospel Topic essay is important for those that still might be stuck in mid-twentieth century thinking about the text. And Peterson’s article is sort of a classic. David Pulsipher has done a lot of work on violence in the BoM–you can catch a podcast with him on the myth of redemptive violence. I think it is eye opening work, and he gave me permission to use an unpublished essay. You could probably use that podcast.

If we meet 24 times in a year, that may be enough, but I’m not an expert in this area. What am I missing? What else should we be considering? And if you are looking for more, check out Ben Spackman’s resource list.

Comments

  1. I would also include Brant Gardner’s by the gift and power. Discusses different views of what translation means.

  2. Thank you for this! I’m so excited for CFM to be about the BoM next year. I’ve enjoyed the NT study this year a great deal, perhaps more than I thought I would, but am looking forward to next year.
    One thing I have been surprised about in the world of BoM studies is that there is not the same regular publishing of commentary sets as there is in the Biblical studies world. I can understand the reasons why (fewer centuries for scholarship to develop, fewer people working on such projects, etc.) I have seen a few multi-volume sets that seems to be mid-century scholarship, but not much else….it occurs to me that I might be missing something though. Does anyone know – is there such a thing as a full commentary set for the BoM, done with modern scholarship, published in the last 10 years?

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Jennifer, there have been a few things in that direction. I’d like to hear what others say, but I believe that Brent Gardner’s series may be one of the most sophisticated: Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary of the Book of Mormon. The Maxwell Institute series will be different but important, I think.

  4. Are there any other women scholars you’d recommend reading? I count all of one.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    Frank, a number of the Maxwell Institute volumes linked above are authored by women. Look forward to those, for sure. But I’m sure there are things that I’m missing.

  6. Great list J. I love Brown’s book, I think it’s perfect for an LDS audience. As you say, there isn’t one thing to point to for the BoM. Early next year (Feb), the University of Utah press will publish the edited volume, Producing Ancient Scripture. It has several chapters that will be extremely useful for various issues on Book of Mormon origins.

  7. Jonathan – BINGO! That’s exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. Grateful, as always.

  8. Jennifer, I listed Gardner’s commentary. It’s the only thing in its class, for now.

  9. Ben – thank you! I bought the Kindle version of Vol 1 this morning and my initial look-through seems promising. Now to figure out how to un-invite all my Thanksgiving guests so I can spend that day reading instead….

  10. Gaylene Pheysey says:

    This is just what I was looking for, thank you!

  11. J. Stapley says:

    I’m really looking forward to that volume, wvs. I think it will be really important.

    I did just get news from BCC Press that the following will be going live in the nearish term:

    The Book of Mormon for the Lest of These, by Fatimah Salleh and Margaret Olsen, which is in press right now and should be out by January 1

    A New Testament to the World: Perspectives on the Book of Mormon, by Robert A. Rees, which should be out by February

    Michael Austin’s 2016 blog series will be released under the title #BoM, with a new introduction. And we are publishing Mette Harrison’s novel, The Women’s Book of Mormon early next year.

  12. Joe Spencer’s An Other Testament is another good one to consider. He’ll be the first to tell you that some ideas have evolved since writing it, but it’s still very much worth reading.

    There’s also the Proceedings of the Mormon Theology Seminar books, good for a multivocal, deeper dive into various chapters.

    (Sorry if this posts twice. I’m having trouble getting it to post from my phone.)

  13. J. Stapley says:

    Good calls, Sharon. Here is a link to the MTS volumes:

    http://www.mormontheologyseminar.org/

  14. Another classic is Faulconer’s The Book of Mormon Made Harder:

    https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/mi/16/

  15. That scholars archive link has a lot of good stuff now available for free in it. The formatting sometimes leaves a little to be desired, but “free” overrules a multitude of nitpicks.

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