Black Friday sales are coming (Kofford Press already has theirs up), as are Christmas present opportunities, so I wanted to get this post out the door.
I have written elsewhere that you cannot fully learn from scripture unless you are also actively learning about scripture.The first is the act of a disciple and the second that of a scholar, although in an ideal world, they blur together. So this list includes both kinds of thing, and aimed at different audiences. I’ve got a section for Seminary teachers, for example.
The BoM is really kind of a double-edged sword; on the one hand, people haven’t been writing about it for 2000 years, so the bibliography is a bit more manageable. On the other hand, we tend to assume that because the Book of Mormon is easy to read, it’s easy to understand, and therefore “we don’t really need anything else.” But the Book of Mormon rewards slow, careful, deep reading and teaching.
And of course, this list is all enhancement. I don’t want to imply that if you’re not reading these, somehow you lack all spiritual insight (spiritual in-tune-ness has little to do with Oxford Press) or that you are a clueless chump who knows nothing. I can, however, testify that these books have taught me things and rid me of some of my ignorance. They’re worth reading.
For people in a hurry, here’s my shortlist. Between these five books, you will gain an understanding of the history of the text itself, its complexity, nature, historical usages and role in LDS doctrine, and useful open-ended questions to ask.
- *The Maxwell Institute Study Edition: The Book of Mormon
- James E. Faulconer, The Book of Mormon Made Harder (available in print edition or a legal pdf, click on the “download” next to “Download full text”)
- Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion
- Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon
- Brant Gardner, The Gift and the Power: Translating the Book of Mormon
Shortlist explanations The most important thing in any study of scripture is the text itself. This means paying close attention to things like (for example)
- the history of the text (i.e. “textual criticism“): Between the original manuscript, printers, various publications, the text of the Book of Mormon (and punctuation!) has shifted somewhat. What is the best reading of this or that particular verse? What are the textual changes and how did they happen?
- words: What did X mean in the English of Joseph Smith’s time? What does it appear to mean in context? How is it used in the KJV? What if these three things seem to give different meanings, how do we adjudicate between them?
- forms and structures: Why is this (sentence, paragraph, chapter, book) arranged this way, and not some other way? Is there an implicit point being made through the arrangement? What genre am I reading, i.e. poetry, prose, narrative, or something else? Why did Orson Pratt redivide the chapters (and add verse numbers) here at this spot instead of there?
With all that in mind, I strongly recommend the Maxwell Institute Study Edition: The Book of Mormon as the single best book to pick up. Simply put, this is the most useful edition you can have in paper, with a number of useful features (like setting off quotations and poetry) and minimal subjective commentary. I’ll leave description and evaluation to Ardis Parshall here.
If you find yourself so familiar or bored with the Book of Mormon, that you are unable to generate any useful study questions, pick up a copy of James E. Faulconer, The Book of Mormon Made Harder. Like the rest in that series, it is nothing but insightful, open-ended thought questions designed to spur discussion, research, and interest. Plus, it’s available in a free PDF, as well as Kindle and paper versions from Amazon.
Though in some ways outdated (e.g. Janiece Johnson’s research on early LDS usage of the Book of Mormon), Givens’ By the Hand of Mormon remains an excellent history of the coming-forth, reception, debates over, and interpretation of the Book of Mormon.
Similarly, Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide is fantastic for realizing the complexity of the Book of Mormon and the subtlety of some of its arguments. This is not PhD level reading, but neither is it light, fluffy, and devotional. There are no “theological Twinkies” here.
My last book in the shortlist is Brant Gardner’s book on the translation process and philosophy. Brant is a singular author, and if you’re looking for a commentary on the Book of Mormon, his 6-volume commentary Second Witness is the absolute best there is for trying to read the Book of Mormon very carefully and in various kinds of context. Seriously. He also has books on the Book of Mormon as (ancient) history, and various lectures and papers.
As for the rest, I don’t want to overload here, so I’m trying something new: brevity. (Hold your laughter, please.) You can see my 2016 list here. Just because I don’t list something here doesn’t mean it isn’t good. I’ll highlight more books relevant to particular sections as time goes on.
On cultural and historical context:
Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem
- We know much more about Jerusalem and the cultural/historial settings of where the people of the book of Mormon came from than we do about where they went. Some great articles in this volume.
- The print is available, but not cheap. Fortunately, a free pdf here.
John L. Sorenson
- His two Ensign articles (article 1, article 2) and a very interesting personal piece on the publication of those two Ensign articles, Correlation, and the power of cultural tradition.
- An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon
- Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life
- Free pdf via Book of Mormon Central (There’s a download button)
Joe Spencer’s works on Isaiah and the Book of Mormon general
- The Vision of All: Twenty-Five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record
- An Other Testament: On Typology
Forthcoming things I’m excited for
- The Book of Mormon: Brief Theological Introductions
- Many of these authors are friends with whom I’ve spent long hours talking scripture, history, and doctrine, so I’m hopeful for the series. The idea is to have each volume out just in time for that period of our study next year. You can see some video presentations from the authors here (the first 4 parts, I do not endorse what follows, on that playlist).
- UPDATE! NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON! Don Bradley‘s book on The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Missing Stories.
For seminary teachers especially: These are published through sources on the S&I Third-party Approved list and can thus be “legitimately” used in class.
- Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching
- The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
- Contains many articles on Book of Mormon characters, history, etc. These were later republished as a separate, smaller book.
Things to avoid: I do NOT recommend the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon published by the Heartlanders (whom I called out at the FAIR Conference for promoting fundamentalism, esp. in the Q&A, also here). See the multi-part detailed review here. It’s Hebrew by people who don’t know Hebrew, archaeology by people who don’t know archaeology, genetics by non-geneticists, and history by non-historians. In other words, if it looks at all shiny and regardless of whether it’s been recognized as crap by LDS authorities and scholars for 100 years, it’s in there. Using this book is promoting fundamentalism, creating false expectations, and setting people up for utter loss of (rigid, fundamentalistic) faith in the future, while paying $69 for the privilege of doing so.
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