Presenting the Maxwell Institute Study Edition of The Book of Mormon

09.23.2018 | Blair Hodges

NOW AVAILABLE

“The Book of Mormon,” Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “is like a vast mansion with gardens, towers, courtyards, and wings. There are rooms yet to be entered, with flaming fireplaces waiting to warm us…Yet we as Church members sometimes behave like hurried tourists, scarcely venturing beyond the entry hall.”[1]

If members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometimes shuffle quickly through the mansion, Professor Grant Hardy of the University of North Carolina–Asheville believes people outside the Church often do little more than peek through a window or stare at the façade. In 2003, Hardy published his Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon with the University of Illinois Press to help scholars and students beyond the Church engage more closely with a scripture that may “someday join the Bible, the Qur‘an, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Lotus Sutra as one of the world’s most influential religious texts.” Despite being widely available, Hardy recognized the Book of Mormon’s complicated and lengthy narrative—printed in columns of small text packaged in a simple blue cover—could prove daunting for readers who could “fail to perceive the literary and spiritual strengths” that practicing Latter-day Saints might be more likely to treasure. For the Reader’s Edition he reformatted the 1920 edition’s public domain text into a more readable font set in modern paragraph style with updated punctuation, new content headings, and other guides to help beginners explore the mansion.[2]

For the past fifteen years, the Reader’s Edition has provided a comfortable reading experience to non-Latter-day Saints engaged in academic research on Mormonism. Hardy himself published Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide with Oxford University Press—an entire book examining new aspects of the text he noticed while working on the Reader’s Edition.

“In many ways,” editors of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies noted in 2016, Hardy’s Reader’s Edition “marked the possibility of a turning point in Book of Mormon studies, with the Book of Mormon being brought to the attention of the broader academy. We as editors see his work as transitional in a crucial way.”[3]

Hardy has helped raise the Book of Mormon’s profile in the broader academy, but as a Latter-day Saint he also wants fellow Church members to better enjoy its gardens and towers, to spend more time in its courtyard and wings. Together with Brigham Young University’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, the BYU Religious Studies Center, and Deseret Book, Hardy is preparing the Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon (MISE). The book was also made possible by funds generously provided by the Maxwell Institute’s Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies.

What’s new about this Study Edition?

The Maxwell Institute Study Edition will be the first edition ever to combine the Church’s current official version of the text (2013) with the results of Royal Skousen’s groundbreaking Book of Mormon Critical Text Project. To Hardy, Skousen has created “a corpus of textual analysis that will last for many generations to come”; his meticulous research of the earliest text of the Book of Mormon from its original and printer’s manuscripts up through its current English editions can “teach us how to read scripture both critically and faithfully.”[4] Few readers, however, will have the time or patience to read through Skousen’s 4,000-plus pages of variant analysis. MISE’s footnotes draw directly on the Critical Text Project, directing readers to nearly 200 variants from the Book of Mormon’s original manuscript and about 200 from the printer’s manuscript that could make the current text more accurate or understandable.[5] These variants are offered as suggested points for consideration rather than authoritative replacements of the Church’s authorized text.

Hardy also thoroughly revised the headings, paragraphing, punctuation, and poetic forms from the Reader’s Edition. MISE highlights original chapter divisions—which research suggests were part of the original text as it was revealed[6]—to better acquaint today’s readers with how the text was deliberately constructed by its ancient authors and experienced by its nineteenth-century audience.

Observations from decades of LDS scholarship produced by FARMS, BYU Studies, the Religious Studies Center, the Maxwell Institute, and other scholars and students of the sacred text are distilled in MISE’s brief, thoughtfully considered footnotes. The main focus always remains, however, on the text itself—its wording, structure, and interconnections—allowing the scripture’s sacred message to be heard anew. The Book of Mormon’s narrative complexity and coherence—highlighted in this edition—offer some of the strongest evidences of its historicity and miraculous translation.

Newly commissioned charts and appendices will help readers keep straight the names and relationships of various individuals, places, and records, in addition to examples of chiasmus and testimonies from Joseph Smith and other witnesses—including several women—of the text and its translation.

The aesthetics of reading is also being carefully considered as MISE is prepared for publication. Reformatting the text to align with twenty-first century expectations can do a lot of heavy lifting for readers—When does direct speech begin and end? Whose voice are we hearing? When are new topics introduced or themes revisited? This exquisitely produced volume will present the official LDS edition of the Book of Mormon in an attractive, accessible version using helpful features that have been part of standard Bible publishing for decades: paragraphs, quotation marks, poetic stanzas, section headings, superscripted verse numbers, and more. These additions are clearly set apart from the official text as guides to facilitate better reading experiences and spiritual insights. MISE will also feature approximately twenty beautiful and original woodcut art pieces by popular LDS artist Brian Kershisnik.

Perhaps the most significant difference between MISE and the Reader’s Edition is that the latter was expressly an academic work, designed for religiously neutral scholarship, while MISE is edited and presented from an explicit position of faith and is intended primarily for readers who regard the Book of Mormon as revealed scripture. Readers will come to know the ancient editors Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni much better as they encounter familiar words in a fresh format. The edition is designed to build and sustain faith by encouraging readers to enter into a deeper relationship with the sacred text, and with the God who preserved and revealed it.

Even 188 years since its publication, the Book of Mormon awaits further exploration. “All the rooms in this mansion need to be explored,” Elder Maxwell implored fireside attendees at Brigham Young University in 1990, “whether by valued traditional scholars or by those at the cutting edge. Each plays a role, and one LDS scholar cannot say to the other, ‘I have no need of thee’ (1 Corinthians 12:21).”

The Maxwell Institute, the Religious Studies Center, and Deseret Book are excited to bring this cutting-edge study edition of the Book of Mormon to English-speaking Latter-day Saints, with a recognition that much more remains to be discovered.

Available here.

 

*Adapted from a forthcoming article in BYU Religious Education Review magazine. 

NOTES

[1] Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft Inc., 1988), 33.

[2] Grant Hardy, ed., The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (Urbana, IL.: The University of Illinois Press, 2003), vii.

[3] “Editors’ Introduction,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 25 (2016): vi.

[4] Grant Hardy, “Approaching Completion: The Book of Mormon Critical Text Project: A Review of Royal Skousen’s Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon,” Brigham Young University Studies Quarterly 57:1 (2018), 167.

[5] The forthcoming article from which this post was adapted will include variant examples.

[6] Royal Skousen, “Changes in The Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014): 163.