Editing and illuminating the Book of Mormon, with Grant Hardy and Brian Kershisnik [MIPodcast #90]
We’re extremely excited that the Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon has finally been published. We see it as a watershed moment in the history of Latter-day Saint scripture publishing. It’s the first study edition ever published by a church affiliate, and it includes new formatting, useful footnotes, original artwork, and more.
Editor Grant Hardy and artist Brian Kershisnik join us to talk about the new edition and all the work that went into it, on this episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast.
Grant Hardy is a professor of history and religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is the editor of The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (University of Illinois Press) and author of Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (Oxford University Press), in addition to several other books and articles on Chinese history, ancient historiography, and studies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Brian Kershisnik is an American painter. He studied art at the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, and the University of Texas at Austin. He started a studio in Kanosh, Utah, in 1991 and in 2006 he established another studio in Provo, Utah, where he currently lives with his wife, Faith, their dog, and thousands of bees. His notable works include a portrait of Leslie Norris, Nativity, and She Will Find What Was Lost.
BLAIR HODGES: It’s the Maxwell Institute Podcast. I’m Blair Hodges.
We are extremely excited that the Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon has finally been published. It was published in partnership with BYU’s Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book. This is a watershed moment in the history of Latter-day Saint scripture. It’s the first study edition ever published by a church affiliate, with new formatting, useful new footnotes, original artwork, and more. Editor Grant Hardy and artist Brian Kershisnik join us to talk about the new edition and all the work that went into it on this episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast.
Questions and comments about this and other episodes can be sent to email@example.com.
BLAIR HODGES: Grant Hardy, welcome to the Maxwell Institute Podcast today.
GRANT HARDY: Thanks. It’s a pleasure to be here.
HODGES: And Brian Kershisnik joins us as well.
KERSHISNIK: Glad to be here, Blair.
HODGES: So we’re talking about the Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon. Grant, you’ve worked with a lot of religious texts from different religious traditions. What are some of the texts that you’ve done academic work with?
HARDY: So I did a graduate course in Chinese Buddhist texts. That was sort of the technical thing. Then I’ve had an opportunity to do a teaching company course on sacred texts of the world that allowed me to do a broad survey of texts from different religious traditions. So from Hinduism, like the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita and the Qur’an of course, and Sikh scriptures and the Torah and Chinese Confucian classics, just sort of the whole gambit.
HODGES: This seems like a really simple question, but I think it’s one of the most complex questions out there. What makes a text religious?
HARDY: I’m not sure that it’s anything inherent in the text itself because the term “religious text” spans such a wide variety of genres and approaches. What makes a text scripture is that believers give that text a certain authority. It’s not like a favorite novel or something that inspires them or that they like to read, but it’s something that they feel has a claim on their life, and allows them oftentimes some access to something beyond the mundane, the ordinary, the supernatural, the divine.
HODGES: And what are some of these different genres that you’ve referred to?
HARDY: So there are narratives, stories, sacred stories, and then there are revelations where a divinity is speaking directly to a prophet, to a mortal. There are law books that are law codes, that are seen as scripture, we have that in the Hebrew Bible. Poetry can be seen as scripture, as in the Sikh Adi Granth, which is just all poetry. So the idea of scripture can incorporate lots of those different kinds of texts.
HODGES: Yeah and you see something like the Bible incorporates some of those different genres within itself; you have law code type stuff, you have narrative, you have some poetry.
HARDY: Sometimes coming from a Protestant background people think of the Bible as a book. But it’s not a book. It’s a library of, as you say, different types of writing, written by different people from different perspectives over about a thousand-year period.
HODGES: So as you have been working and learning about these other religious texts, is there anything from that study that you brought to the Book of Mormon? It’s a text that you revere as a believer in the divinity of that text, but also using your scholarly tools to look through that text. So from the studies of other religious texts, what have you brought to your study of the Book of Mormon?
HARDY: Part of it is a recognition of how unusual the genre is of narrative scripture. There’s some in the Bible, but of course it’s not the entire Bible. The Psalms are not narrative, the wisdom books are not narrative, so there’s some of those histories, and when I looked at the Book of Mormon I was able to see, or perceive, I thought, some poetry and some narrative.
Most scriptures, particularly in recent times, recent times means since the Qur’an, are revelations that are exhortations, they’re commandments that come, like the Doctrine and Covenants. The Doctrine and Covenants is a much more typical volume of recent scripture.
The Book of Mormon does theology, but it does so within a narrative, so you do get sermons and speeches that try to explicate some doctrinal points, but it’s always told by someone at a particular time, to a particular audience, and then that’s chosen by a narrator as part of a larger collection. There’s always this backstory, even for parts of the Book of Mormon that are not necessarily “it came to pass that so-and-so did such-and-such.”
HODGES: Then how about the other way? Was there anything about your study of the Book of Mormon that informed your study of other religious texts? Or that helped you in your study of other religious texts? That’s probably a trickier question.
HARDY: It is a trickier question. Some of my work on the Book of Mormon has been done for members of the church, for Latter-day Saints, but I teach at a state university and a lot of my work has been done through academic presses, from Oxford or from Illinois, and I’m very aware, or try to stay aware of what it means to be invited to read the Book of Mormon as an outsider.
Of course that’s the perspective that I have with other texts, is to try to learn how to take a text that means a great deal to someone else, that kind of informs their life even, or gives it shape, their mental world, and that may not be a mental world or belief system that I share, but I want to treat that respectfully and with dignity and with an awareness of what that means to others. I guess it’s the golden rule. I want to treat other people’s scriptures that I hope that they would treat my scripture.
HODGES: So more than ten years ago you published The Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon, similar to this edition, with the University of Illinois Press. When you finished that edition, and we’ll talk about some of the differences, did you think your work was done? Did you think, “Okay, I have this reader’s edition out, I’m good to go”?
HARDY: No. The reason was I always knew that the University of Illinois Press one, The Reader’s Edition, was aimed at scholars, at academics, at outsiders. So I wrote the introduction in a way that would make sense to outsiders. I had always hoped that more members of the church would be able to read and appreciate the Book of Mormon in this new format, but most Latter-day Saints don’t look to university presses when they go for scripture study sorts of things. So I had always hoped there would be a way to bring that to a wider audience of my fellow believers.
HODGES: Yeah. So that’s kind of the genesis of this current project. What are some of the differences then? You mentioned one, which is that The Reader’s Edition was sort of geared more toward outsiders written at an academic press. What are some other differences between that version and the one that the Maxwell Institute just published?
HARDY: Well there are some obvious similarities, so that both of these versions of the Book of Mormon are formatted like modern translations of the Bible, with paragraphs and quotation marks, and indented primary source documents, and poetic stanzas. That’s not particularly original. That’s going to be the same.
What this new study edition does is it integrates the work of Royal Skousen’s Textual Criticism, not in the text itself, the text itself is the 2013 edition that the church generously allowed us to reproduce, but in the footnotes are several hundred examples of readings from the printer’s manuscript or the original manuscript that I think will, actually there are often better readings that were lost accidentally in the transmission of the text. So that’s an important thing. Then also for—
HODGES: And let me say real quick, too, on Royal Skousen for people who don’t know his work. He’s done a critical text project, he continues to do a critical text project of the Book of Mormon, he’s a scholar who has meticulously gone through the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, and the printer’s manuscript was a copy of that manuscript—
HARDY: And twenty editions.
HODGES: Yeah, and then twenty editions of the Book of Mormon, and he has meticulously looked through every single one of them over a quarter of a century this has taken him to find every little variant, every little scratched out word, or something that has changed.
HARDY: There is punctuation in the editions, and he has compared all the punctuation in all the editions.
HODGES: Yeah, so he’s gone through and done this, and then you’ve gone through that work, probably one of the few in the world that’s actually gone through every published—
HARDY: More people should do that. It was a great adventure.
HODGES: That is such a huge project. So while it’s really worthwhile, you’ve also by going through, narrowed it down to some of the things that are more relevant.
HARDY: To the variants that I thought would be most helpful for the current edition, which is a different project than what he’s done in reconstructing the earliest text.
HODGES: Right. We’re grateful for him for giving his blessing to use that information, his research in this project as well.
HARDY: He’s a great friend. I really admire his work.
HODGES: Good. Alright, so go on. You were talking about the differences.
HARDY: So another difference is in the Book of Mormon there are lengthy passages, sometimes a chapter or more that are taken from Isaiah or from Matthew, and sometimes there are differences between the version in the Book of Mormon, in the English Book of Mormon, in the King James Version, they’re quite similar, but there are occasional differences. I’ve indicated where those differences are with bold and sometimes with some footnotes. In those cases the Book of Mormon functions almost like a commentary, and you can more easily see where Nephi or Jacob has added something in. So that becomes readily accessible. Those differences.
HODGES: Then there’s some additional things. There’s a new introduction that you mentioned, and then some new charts.
HARDY: Well an old introduction. It uses the church’s official introduction. I did write an editor’s introduction that talks about the history of the text a little bit, and then some material at the end, which is different. Those are materials that I chose mostly with college students in mind, thinking about what would be most useful for a college edition of the text.
HODGES: Your introduction says that this edition was prepared with the issue of readability first and foremost. What makes a text readable? More readable or less readable?
HARDY: Paragraphs. There’s a reason why every other book that you read is in paragraphs. The verses are great for finding specific sentences, but they kind of chop up the story a little bit. So paragraphs help a great deal.
Also, and this is an aesthetic thing, Brian probably will appreciate this, but to have a text that goes all the way across the page instead of in double columns is a little easier on the eye.
I also tried to bring out features of the text that are there but are sometimes hard to see so it fits. The Book of Mormon is a complicated text with lots of different parts that fit together. So for example, in Second Nephi when we start with chapter six all of a sudden it’s a sermon from Jacob, and it goes from chapter six to chapter ten and then we’re back to Nephi for eleven. So I have little headings that say, you know, “The speaker here is going to be Jacob for the next five chapters.”
HODGES: Yeah, it’s funny. Grant’s like counting out like oh wait, let me check on that. He’s counting here to check it out.
HARDY: It’s four or five.
HODGES: I’ve been really fortunate to be involved with this project for a year. We’ve been trying to get this all ready for four years or so.
HARDY: It started out as a Maxwell Institute endeavor when you invited me to teach that summer workshop in 2015.
HODGES: Yeah, and you brought this spiral bound thing that we printed out for everybody.
HARDY: And we gave it to students. A draft to road test it a little bit.
HODGES: Yeah, it’s been so fun.
KERSHISNIK: I was trying to remember when you first contacted me about the images. That was at least two years ago, wasn’t it?
HARDY: It’s been a while.
HODGES: Yep. There were a few artists that I was thinking about. Morgan Davis, who works here at the Institute, knew Brian already and so I’m kicking these names around and Morgan had said, “Of course, I know Brian Kershisnik.” Okay, that’s great, and I had seen Brian’s art before.
HARDY: There are many talented LDS artists who we thought of, but Brian was our first choice. We were overjoyed when he accepted. No, you were our first choice.
KERSHISNIK: It was, well I imagine we’ll talk about this a little later, but because I don’t do illustrations, this is an unusual project for me, but it felt good and because I know Morgan it felt very much like a project with friends.
HODGES: So from beginning to end too, because I remember after the book was printed and Brian you received your copy, or a copy or copies, you texted me like, “Hey, do you know what this footnote means? This is very strange.” And you had me go look at this footnote. Do you remember which footnote it was?
KERSHISNIK: I do. I feel silly, but it’s a footnote that says, “Or.” So I was looking in the key for what “O-R” was referring to. I’m not a scholar
HODGES: But the thing that threw us, what threw me was the fact that it said “or” and then it had words there, but to me I wasn’t seeing the difference. So I was like, “Why is it saying ‘or’?”
KERSHISNIK: But it was the same words, but it was usually alternative punctuation, which is to clarify the words.
HODGES: Right, so in the University of Illinois Press edition, didn’t you do all the punctuation for that?
HARDY: No. I played around with the punctuation a little bit, because the punctuation is not sacred in the same way that the text was. It was added by the non-Mormon typesetter John Gilbert for the 1830 edition, and he did a pretty good job just going through the text cold and putting in commas and semicolons as he’s reading it for the first time.
The punctuation that we have in the official text now, the 2013 edition, is pretty much his punctuation. He did a good job. But there are places where if you change the punctuation it makes a difference in the meaning, and sometimes clarifies things. So rather than put those in the text itself, because we pretty much kept the punctuation that was there, except for when I needed to switch things to add quotation marks or poetry, but the punctuation is the standard punctuation, but I put in footnotes saying here’s how it would look with commas in a different place.
KERSHISNIK: Dashes often.
HARDY: And dashes. And sometimes some parentheses, to say oh this looks like a parenthetical comment, if I were doing the punctuation I might do it a little bit this way. Actually a lot of that comes from Royal’s work as well.
HODGES: Yeah. What’s interesting, like I remember at the little seminar that you did here at the Institute several years ago, one of the exercises that you had students do is to take an unpunctuated page and punctuate it.
Just that exercise brings you into a text in a way that I’d never encountered it before, and could introduce some interesting alternate readings just based on, you know, it sounds like we’re being really nitpicky about parentheses and dashes, but they can actually make pretty big differences in how the text sounds.
HARDY: So the study edition has kind of two functions. One is I think it’s a little easier to read. Not easier, but it flows more because of the paragraphs and the long lines and such. For that reason I think it’s easier to sit down and read twenty or thirty pages of the Book of Mormon, or for people who are new to the Book of Mormon it will just help them sort of get through and get the basic idea. There’s something to be said for kind of speed-reading to get a big overview, a big chunk of it.
At the same time, it’s a study edition because with those footnotes at the bottom to say here’s what the word was in the original manuscript, and then it invites you to say so what difference would that, just changing one word, make in how I understand this verse? Or what difference would it make in putting in a dash here? Or some commas? So it draws attention to the exact words. At the same it allows people to read fairly quickly.
HODGES: Yeah, you mentioned the footnotes. Ardis Parshall who writes at the Keepapitchinin blog wrote a review of the book shortly after it came out. One of the things she said at the beginning was, “When I opened this up I expected a lot more assistive things in the text. I look at the footnotes and actually felt disappointed.” There seemed to be few footnotes here, but as she started looking into them she saw this as a strength. Talk about the footnoting.
HARDY: So it’s not a study Book of Mormon in the way that a typical study Bible would be, which has a lot of footnotes. That’s a project for another day. In this version there are fewer footnotes than in the standard version, and I think in some ways that’s a strength because you get the feel pretty early on of what I footnote. So if somebody quotes something you can go down and see where did that happen before, or if there’s a reference to an earlier event you can look down to the bottom page and it’ll tell you where that is. Then there’s dates and some notes on chronology.
So those are pretty straightforward footnotes, not a lot of them, and then all the textual footnotes. Then there are several dozen footnotes where I give some representative examples of the kinds of things that you could see if you were reading carefully with some intertextuality, where significant phrases are picked up that were used earlier.
I give several examples of something called “inclusios,” where the same phrase will be used at the beginning and the end of a passage that will mark it off, and the passage could be shorter than a chapter or it might be several chapters, and I think that’s a way that ancient authors used to signal some mileposts in the text to help the readers understand how these stories fit together.
HODGES: One thing I noticed too is this is work that you’ve done a lot of yourself, but that you’ve also been in collaboration with other readers who have helped you sort of notice some of these things. One of these readers is your wife, Heather Hardy. I’m interested to hear about that dynamic and what she brought to this text, because I feel like her fingerprints are in there and I’d like people to know about that.
HARDY: She is not going to want me to talk about this. But I will tell you she reads through everything that I do very carefully and most of those more interesting footnotes came from Heather’s observations that she made.
So she spends a lot of time reading the Book of Mormon, and then—this is I guess a family tradition—every day for lunch I call her up just to see how things are going and sometimes we end up talking for half an hour or forty-five minutes. It’s great to be a professor and have some flexible time. Oftentimes it’s about things she’s noticed in the Book of Mormon that morning. She reads it all the time.
HODGES: Heather Hardy is an excellent reader.
One of the things that you added to this book as well in the beginning is Emma Smith’s testimony of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon. So like the church’s edition of the Book of Mormon, we have the testimony of witnesses who say they beheld the plates, and three of them saw the angel and the plates, eight of them saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and to those witnesses you add Emma Smith. Talk about that decision.
HARDY: In the reader’s edition I put Emma Smith’s testimony, and it’s the famous interview that she did with her son where she talks about how Joseph would dictate the manuscript and then take breaks, and then come back to it without having things read back to him.
HODGES: And the plates were covered.
HARDY: Right. I put that at the end in an appendix along with some other statements by people who had been part of that process, but for the study edition I put it up front with the three and eight witnesses because I find her testimony remarkable.
The testimonies of the three and eight witnesses take the form of, they sound like legal affidavits, maybe they’re written out and then all of them sign. Her testimony is so individualized and so personalized, and she’s not particularly intimidated by… I think she was better educated than Joseph was—
HODGES: It seems like it. She’d even say he couldn’t dictate a letter.
HARDY: It’s miraculous to me. I think in today’s context that testimony might be more persuasive in a different way than the three and the eight witnesses, and it’s also a way to bring into the foreground a woman’s testimony.
I love the Book of Mormon. It is not a perfect book. One of the ways that I think it’s deficient from a modern perspective is there aren’t enough women in it. When Nephi and Mormon were thinking about their future readers, apparently they didn’t understand how much we would want to read about mothers and daughters and husbands and wives, and so to get another woman’s voice somewhere in the foreground seemed like a good thing.
HODGES: Were you bothered at all, it’s pretty removed from the translation itself, it happens decades later, what are your thoughts about that? In terms of it’s not a contemporary witness statement, it’s something that came after the fact.
HARDY: It is. And that’s a problem with historical recollections long after these events have passed, but at the same time it is her voice and her words, so it gives it some immediacy.
There’s another great story from Mary Whitmore, who is the mother of the Whitmore family and she tells a story of how an angel came and showed her the plates at a time when she was tired and—
HODGES: She was keeping house while they were translating.
HARDY: Yeah, doing all the work. Exactly. Who wouldn’t be tired and feeling a little unappreciated? It’s a marvelous story, and we have two version of that story told by her son and her grandson.
I didn’t put those in the front because it’s not her words. It is in the appendix. It’s a story that we should know and we should celebrate, but it lacks that immediacy, even though in Emma’s case it’s not at the same time, but it’s things that she experienced.
I think maybe that’s something that a lot of people don’t appreciate, that Emma was Joseph’s first scribe, and she may have done a considerable amount of the lost one hundred and sixteen pages. She’s really important. She was with Joseph when he went to the hill to actually take possession of the plates. So she’s in this story from the very beginning, so it seems like she deserves a little more ownership.
HODGES: And became in some ways alienated from her own family over the relationship with Joseph.
HARDY: Well and then became alienated from the Utah church and from Brigham. I think that’s part of the reason that we haven’t really embraced her. But a lot of time has passed.
HODGES: And you see a little bit of Emma resurgence. You see Emma in art now. The film Jane and Emma is fantastic. But I think you’re right, that Emma in some ways faded for those reasons in some ways.
KERSHISNIK: I love the kind of homely detail of her feeling them through the cloth, kind of thumbing through pages, that this is a material other than what we have generally imagined. We call them gold plates, but they are gold in appearance. That was a puzzling, peculiar, very visceral detail.
HODGES: And she included it. It’s a tactile thing.
HARDY: I think about that all the time, because I feel like that’s how I approach the Book of Mormon, but instead of the cloth over the plates, this is dealing with the English translation. I can sort of feel what’s going on back there, but I don’t have the direct access.
The other story I like is where she says that the plates were around and she would move them when she dusted. It seems like a very mundane kind of… she just accepts them for what they are.
HODGES: That’s Grant Hardy. He’s a professor of history and religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He edited the Maxwell Institute’s Study Edition of the Book of Mormon. He’s also written a book called Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide from Oxford University Press. He’s done other work in Chinese history, ancient historiography, and studies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
We’re also talking with Brian Kershisnik, who is an American painter and artist who did woodcut illuminations for this. We’ll talk about why we use that term “illuminations.” But I wanted to say, Grant mentioned women in the Book of Mormon. There aren’t many in there. One of the questions I’ve heard from people is the woodcuts themselves there aren’t a lot of women in those. So let’s start by talking about that aspect of things.
KERSHISNIK: Right. Well I always feel like images associated with scripture need to be subservient to the words. So because there is generally one image per book or major author shift, so in two of the books there are actually two images, in Alma and Mormon I believe it is—
HARDY: Yes. The last two chapters of Mormon were written by Moroni.
KERSHISNIK: So you want to come up with an image that is emblematic of the whole book, and so my approach was to include women where I could without being irresponsible with the text, because the text itself doesn’t mention women a lot. But, for example, when Alma is baptizing he baptized men and women, so I chose to have him baptizing a woman in that image.
There was an early decision, because initially these images were going to be very small to focus mostly on hands. There was a set of drawings that was always just hands, focusing in on hands. That solved the problem of not trying to decide what fashion these people were wearing. We have no idea what their clothes looked like.
So in Third Nephi when everyone went forward to feel the wounds in Christ’s hands, the women would of course do that too. It’s a little trickier to indicate whether these are masculine or feminine hands. But in my mind it’s the hands of a young woman.
HODGES: There’s also one in the Helaman woodcut as well, looking down into the—
KERSHISNIK: Right. The angels in the pillar of fire. Whenever I depict angels it’s either a mixture of men and women, so it just seemed because it was not indicated otherwise I was presumptuous enough to suggest that one of those visitors was a woman.
HARDY: One of the things that I love in your illuminations, your woodcuts, is how many of them show the process of either reading or writing, which goes really well with my work because I try to focus on the narrators and what they’re trying to do.
But reading and writing is not a gendered thing—well it probably was in the ancient world—but in our world it’s not a gendered thing. Some of the warfare is going to be clearly gendered, but I like the fact that I hope that’s something that women could look at that and then think about their own writings and recordings of sacred experiences and how they would do that and what that would mean to posterity, to others.
KERSHISNIK: The text is, of course, that I’ve put in the woodcut is random markings.
HARDY: The script you mean.
KERSHISNIK: Yeah. Partially because—
HODGES: It’s not the real reformed Egyptian? I thought that you—
KERSHISNIK: I admit that’s partially because these were going to be very small, and it was impossible to see any of it, but because they’re printed quite large you can see some of that text. I don’t have access to the reformed Egyptian alphabet. Initially there are examples of it. Didn’t Martin Harris save some? But I didn’t refer to those, because I didn’t think it was going to be legible.
HODGES: Even that characters document is sort of questioned in terms of its authenticity.
HARDY: I’m sure we’ll talk a little bit more about the process of how these illuminations came about, but the origin was there was an edition of the Bible that I am quite fond of, this is the Harper Collins New Revised Standard Version. I have to get it right. The NRSV. In this edition, which is really nicely done, it has sort of a ragged right margin in full-page lines. In this edition at the beginning of every book is a small woodcut, and it’s maybe two inches by two inches? Something like that.
HODGES: Maybe even three by two or something.
HARDY: They’re pretty small. That’s what I had in mind when we started.
HODGES: They’re very basic. It would be things like a leaf or a horn.
HARDY: They’re very abstract. I don’t think there are any people in them.
HODGES: I’m pretty sure that there’s not.
HARDY: There are just some objects.
HODGES: A crown.
HARDY: Or a pair of scales for the Book of Judges. That sort of thing. So I thought that’s really lovely. We should do something like that.
HODGES: And you stuck some clip art in to the first edition.
HARDY: I did. Yes. Some clip art. Some were just taken from that edition. “Just draw something like this.” When Brian started sending drawings they tended to be about people, which I think is something that you—
KERSHISNIK: Which is what I do. All of my work essentially.
HARDY: And they were really lovely. We said these can’t be two by two. We need to give these more space. So they ended up being actually full-page illuminations. That’s when the script becomes legible. Not legible, but you can see something.
HODGES: Brian, one thing that we did too with Grant, Grant didn’t say, “Okay, I want this for this book; I want this for this book; I want this for this book.” He said, “We’re doing probably about one of each for each book. Go at it.” What was your process like?
KERSHISNIK: Just reading the book and making notes and sketches. Generally I don’t approach the project by envisioning it and then executing it. I execute it and then envision it.
HARDY: Then explain why you did what you did.
KERSHISNIK: I’d try to figure out if I like it or not. So I’m, not as a scholar, but as someone who has studied the Book of Mormon for almost as long as I have been able to read, I’m familiar with the stories. But it was interesting to say okay, I have one image for this book. What is it?
My feeling is always to draw the reader into the words. The words are the primary experience and the images are a nice design break and such, but hopefully to maybe suggest something about the words, but not to replace the words. We have the idea of the size of the Liahona, I think probably from Friberg’s image. It’s a grapefruit size. That image persists for me, probably from his images. Minerva Teichert’s is more of a basketball size. The fact of the matter is we have no idea. It was portable.
HODGES: But maybe they rolled it.
HARDY: Maybe it was like BB-8. [laughter]
KERSHISNIK: As I am in my own work, I was very playful. In some of the early images that I did—
HODGES: Talk about the deleted scenes.
KERSHISNIK: Yeah. It was apparent. I feel like one of the reasons I’m involved in this is because of the respect I have for Grant and his work. There was some pushback. There were a lot of fairly martial images.
HODGES: It’s a war book in a lot of ways.
KERSHISNIK: In my perception of what you were saying is that has already gotten a lot of attention, let’s focus on some other things. I think that was sensible. But because there was some pushback on the martial images, I kind of let fly decapitated Shiz, you know, gasping for air. Some pretty horrific, gross… Ammon cutting arms off. Surprised Lamanites as their arms are being severed. Some of that was kind of gross. But that was just being a little bit grossly playful with it.
HARDY: But there are some military images.
HODGES: Alma, yeah.
HARDY: Well at one point it looked like kind of a running joke, that you would have a similar image of guys with spears, and then there would be more guys with more spears, and then the next time there would be even more guys with more spears.
KERSHISNIK: Towards the end of the book, I can’t remember the initial proposal, and it was exactly that. There was war. And just wait, there was more war. And in the end, there was even more.
HARDY: We still got that. I think Jarom and the last half of Alma, we’ve got two of those images.
KERSHISNIK: And that last half of Alma image was actually done for the conclusion of the book, for the last war. So when we decided to split up Alma into two images I brought that back.
HARDY: We should talk about that. We split up Alma into two images because first of all it didn’t seem fair that Jarom got an image and sixty-three chapters of Alma got one image, that’s part. But also there’s a break in Alma forty-five where Alma hands over the records to his son Helaman, and then Helaman takes over.
HODGES: So there’s a record transfer.
HARDY: Yeah. So even though it’s one book, there’s an important transfer that happens there. So to kind of mark that so that people had that in mind as they’re reading, the first image is of a seedling—
HODGES: Alma chapter 32, the seed.
HARDY: Yeah. And so much of the first part of Alma is about missionary work and about sermons and about nurturing faith and trying to help people see the truth and convert, but forty-five on is mostly war. So that made sense I think to do those two.
KERSHISNIK: Well and I was glad we didn’t do an image for every author shift in Omni. We just have a page or so for I think five authors.
HODGES: All of the author shifts, yeah.
KERSHISNIK: And they’d all get their own picture.
HODGES: My favorite one is the one from the one hundred and sixteen pages, which is the blank page at the very beginning of the book. People don’t know that, but that’s the most interesting woodcut, was just the blank page.
KERSHISNIK: Interestingly, speaking of lost pages, I lost all of the final drawings that I did for the woodcuts. Fortunately I had scanned them, so I had the information I needed for the woodcuts, but they slid out of my bag on an airplane with my iPad. I noticed that my iPad was missing and was able to retrieve it, but never got the drawings back.
HODGES: They’re out there somewhere. The lost images.
HARDY: Do you feel a kinship with Joseph Smith?
HODGES: Yeah, when Brian returned and told me that those pages were lost I was so mad and I said, “I know I should have kept those with me.”
Another thing I wanted to ask too was about the cover image, how the cover image came together.
KERSHISNIK: Well that image was cut at least three times and possibly more. We decided in designing the book there were two horizontal images at the beginning and at the end, and the cover image was actually done as the title page image. Because it was horizontal I decided to crop it somewhat oddly. I had feelings, I certainly have done images of Jesus in my life, but I feel like too much attention is given to getting a picture that looks like he actually looks, and I feel like the way we get to know Jesus is working with him. Not by finding the artist that makes the most accurate picture.
HODGES: Yeah, we don’t have like a contemplative tradition where we have an icon of Christ and meditate on that.
KERSHISNIK: Right. So the sheep are, they’re us. I suppose that I was interested in kind of our engagement with Jesus. I chose not to draw his face. So there was Jesus holding sheep, from the scripture about other sheep I have—
HARDY: Yeah, but as you say, the other sheep I have sort of refers to the Nephites. But there is a sense in which we’re all his sheep. It’s a broader image I think.
KERSHISNIK: Yes. He is the good shepherd and we are the sheep. Because these images are in black and white I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me early on to use a black sheep. Just for design reasons it’s superior.
So in the initial ones, I did have some black sheep in the crowd but he was holding a white sheep and he was in a white robe, and my recollection, Blair, is I heard from you about making this adjustment.
HODGES: This was really hard because you had done all the work. You were pretty much done with the carving part of it. Also, let’s take a minute to explain that in a minute. But I knew that was done and my wife and I were driving up to Logan and I’m listening to a radio interview with LaShawn Williams, who teaches at UVU. She’s a Latter-day Saint. She’s a black member of the church. She mentioned in an interview how she was sitting in church once and saw this image of Christ holding a black sheep. I’m pretty sure it was the Minerva Teichert Christ in a red robe where he’s holding a black sheep. She said to that point in her life she can never remember seeing Christ with a black sheep like that, and that in that moment sitting in that room, she identified so closely with that sheep, she saw herself presented in a church meeting this way.
I got my phone out right then and started writing this email to you and Grant and Morgan, and said, “Hey, this may be way out there, because we’re really far along in the project, but maybe think about this.” Everybody just said oh, that makes complete sense.
KERSHISNIK: There were a couple of things. One is just graphically it was going to work better.
HODGES: Oh yeah. The contrast.
KERSHISNIK: And the other things was in the previous two cuttings, a lot depended on the look on that lamb’s face, and neither of them, the previous ones, was I satisfied with. I was going to recut just the head. It would have been a nightmare to print.
So when you suggested what about him holding a black sheep, I thought I’m just going to recut this block. It needs it. It’s very similar in many ways to the other ones that I’ve cut, so I’ve had some practice.
HODGES: And there was a cool moment too when Faith came in and you were drawing the eyes, do you remember that?
KERSHISNIK: No, remind me.
HODGES: Yeah, she says, “Oh, cat eyes go this way. Sheep eyes go this way.”
KERSHISNIK: Yeah, she reminded me the pupils are kind of horizontal. Faith was a great help.
HARDY: Maybe you should explain who Faith is?
KERSHISNIK: Faith is my wife. She’s an artist as well. So she was making suggestions all along. She actually has a better memory of details like that. So there was some discussion about using the black sheep.
Of course there’s the Minerva Teichert image that you mentioned. There are a couple of reasons why that ended up being a really good idea. I love that shepherds use their colored sheep. It is not a different breed or race among sheep. It just turns up about every hundred births there’s color in the sheep, and so they use those, if they have seven hundred sheep when they’re bringing their sheep in, they just count seven dark ones and they know they’ve got their herd. It just seemed like a beautiful metaphor for you can gauge the health of your herd by keeping track of that minority.
Anyway, there’s also of course the idea of the black sheep of the family, referring to the outsider, which there might have been some resistance to that, but the decision in the end was that is inclusive. Jesus holding the black sheep means you too. If you feel excluded for some reason, no, this is—
HODGES: It centralizes those who feel excluded.
KERSHISNIK: Yeah. Whatever the color of your skin, we’re all black sheep in some way.
HDOGES: Isaiah says “all we like sheep have gone astray.” That’s what I like. It can function on all these levels. This is what you mean, too, by “illumination.” How is that different from illustration?
KERSHISNIK: It’s probably just me being a knucklehead, but part of it is that you want to shed light without invading too much. Illustration feels to me, the word feels to me like you’re doing too much of the work for people. A careful, good, deep reading of any text, let alone a religion text, involves a huge amount of imagination. Take yours into the text. I think that there is a tendency to kind of want someone else to do that work for you. So illumination implies that you’re shedding a little bit of light on a possibility. Illustration, the word just suggests to me that this is what it looked like.
Certainly the image I had growing up my whole life was of Nephites going into battle in Roman armor because of Friberg’s kind of amazing illustrations, but they kind of defined what stuff looks like, and the problem then is that if we don’t then ask the question, it’s fine to put them in Roman armor, but we also at some point need to ask ourselves a question. Is that likely what they were wearing?
So anyway, I decided to hold back a little bit from suggesting details and just try to shed some light.
HODGES: Yeah. I think of an illumination as something to ponder and something to sort of draw out thought, as opposed to just to show something and to give thought, to say what it is.
HARDY: I like them. I grew up with the Friberg images as well, it’s sort of informed my imagination—
HODGES: They’re in every copy of the Book of Mormon that the church prints still.
HARDY: Absolutely. But I like the woodcuts that you’ve done because they’re a little softer. They’re not hyper-masculinized the way that Friberg’s are. They’re more suggestive. They’re a little less explicit. I think that allows people, as you say, to sort of fill in the gaps or to imagine themselves a little more.
KERSHISNIK: The medium lends itself to that. It’s black and white. There’s not a sense of, you know, this is a photograph of that circumstance. There are elements of the image and the way I make images that are a little bit surreal, so they don’t suggest that they’re replacing an actual vision. They are suggesting what someone thought of… I feel like I return to kind of the sadness of the authors. That’s me imposing my own feeling about what Mormon is feeling when he’s writing, or what Moroni—
HARDY: No it’s not. This is what they… and I think they go nicely with my editing where I tried to bring out the narrators without putting a lot of my ideas about what the text means. The Book of Mormon is a tragedy.
HODGES: It is a tragedy.
HARDY: People die. The civilization… And that comes through your images.
KERSHISNIK: Moroni is in the woods weeping, writing on a stump. My heart breaks for lonely Moroni. His life did not end happily.
HODGES: His life didn’t end happily at all. The Book of Mormon sort of ends on a low note.
HARDY: But a promise of good things to come.
HODGES: With a promise of good things to come.
HARDY: These are people who didn’t see the promises fulfilled in their own life, but we’re confident that we—
HODGES: But we’re passing them to you. See that’s Grant Hardy. That’s why we bring Grant Hardy to the interview today. That’s why you’re here, Grant.
HARDY: That’s in Hebrews. That sort of faith.
HODGES: Yes. We’re talking with Grant Hardy and Brian Kershisnik.
Okay, Brian, I challenge you to describe in about sixty seconds from beginning to end the process of creating that print. Each of these prints, the actual process of what you do.
KERSHISNIK: Okay, so you do a lot of drawings, you decide which are the best ones, you show them to other trusted people around you involved with the project, you hone down the best image. You do a few drawings of that too to get it contained, graphically strong, and then that is traced and reversed because it has to be reversed onto a block, the block has been prepared and sanded and toned, it is transferred onto the block with a transfer paper. That drawing is strengthened with a Sharpie.
HODGES: Yeah, so the transfer paper is sort of this very onionskin type paper that you put on there and when you draw on it, it leaves this blue line. And then you trace that with Sharpie.
KERSHISNIK: You draw on it with Sharpie and make any adjustments you want to there, and then you get the knife and you breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, and start cutting away wood. The first cuts are always the trickiest, but then you just get in the zone and cut away.
HODGES: And then the block is done, and then what?
KERSHISNIK: Then the block has to be proofed. So it’s sent to the printer and he prints it, and it comes back to me—
HODGES: He basically puts ink on it, right?
KERSHISNIK: Yeah. He rolls ink, runs it through a press that presses it into the paper, and that shows you aspects of the drawing that you hadn’t noticed, so then you either have to start from scratch again or you adjust or amend the block and send it back for proofing. Usually that happens at least twice before we’re good to go.
HODGES: I think that was sixty seconds. And if it wasn’t, delete my insertions because that was really good. Well done. And it was a great privilege to see at different stages those kind of come into existence.
KERSHISNIK: I would say there were a lot of conversations with Grant, email with you, Blair, and with Morgan Davis, and with my wife of course. My son helped do a lot of the delegatable carving I call it. If there are just a lot of horizontals in the background, then I could turn that over to my son who helped me with a lot of that.
HODGES: A father and son carving together.
KERSHISNIK: That’s right.
HARDY: Working on scripture together.
KERSHISNIK: He made some decisions about the shapes of those letters. I would say, “I just need this filled with text.”
HARDY: I’ve never worked on a project like this before with an artist. I have an idea about how much work goes into editing and writing and rewriting, but to see that from the visual perspective was just a lot of fun. We did a lot of drawings early on. I gave some suggestions, Brian had suggestions for each of the books, but it made me think about the text in different ways. Like in the early drawings—these are things that didn’t make it in the final, but you had in Helaman where Samuel the Lamanite, but instead of having him on the wall you have him, I think, climbing up the wall. I said, “oh yeah. How would he have gotten up there?” That’s a thing I’ve never thought about before in the text.
So there are just all kinds of… You brought a unique perspective to these stories as you tried to visualize them.
KERSHISNIK: Part of just the way I approach imagery is to try to look at it very personally. For example, in the Third Nephi image, which is possibly, well I think it’s possibly the most intimate image of hands, with the thumb in the wound, Jesus Christ’s wound. To kind of feel like, okay, I’m next in line, this is happening right in front of me and I’m about to do that. It helped me to kind of imagine myself there, and like you say, to imagine, well, he wasn’t welcome on the wall, he wasn’t welcome in the city. He had to climb up. So I had to show what kind of clothes he would be wearing to do that so I ended up not utilizing that image.
HODGES: Do you have a favorite one, Brian? Is there an image that you sort of could meditate on that you feel connected to?
KERSHISNIK: You know, I have this connection to Moroni at the end of the book. I mentioned that kind of sad image of him kind of alone and crying and writing, and I don’t know why that it is. I put him in woods. I’m making some assumptions in doing so, but he was in the wilderness fleeing and there is, we mentioned it a little bit earlier, but there is an aspect of discipleship in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is maintaining a certain optimism, notwithstanding the details of the present are very bleak.
I feel like Jesus says, “I will not leave you comfortless,” that word is orphans. I won’t leave you orphans. Kind of the flip side of that sentence is, “You’re going to feel like orphans. And just remember that I’m coming after you.”
There’s some aspect of Moroni’s discipleship. It never feels to me like he is a general like his father was a general. He was a leader and he was a good man and he was a smart man and put in a position of authority, but he just feels to me like one of the people in the book that is approachable and my heart breaks for him. So I return to that image often.
HODGES: How about you, Grant? Any image for you?
HARDY: Some of the images are things that people would expect. So for example, for First Nephi we thought about a Tree of Life, but that’s been done a lot, and instead we did the Liahona, but still that’s something that I think makes sense to most readers. And in Ether the touching of the stones that is a classic image.
There’s one image that’s not so expected, and in this editing, including in the images I was hoping that would bring up things that were in the text to highlight the work of the narrators, but there’s one woodcut where I’m pushing back a little bit against the narrator. That’s in Helaman. Because I think that Helaman five is one of the most important chapters in the Book of Mormon, and I think Mormon underplays it. So we’re going to give it a little more emphasis.
So this is the image of Nephi and Lehi, the later Nephi and Lehi, who are in the prison and then the fire comes, the flames, and the angels look down. It’s an extraordinary experience, but Samuel the Lamanite would be great as well. But I really like this one. It’s an extraordinary experience for them. It has extraordinary political implications because the Lamanites who are part of that experience actually go as missionaries to the Lamanites and they convert a lot of them, and then the Lamanites give back half of the land that they had taken from the… I mean, you’ve see chapters and chapters with all this war, with Captain Moroni, and that’s what we focus on, and apparently Mormon wasn’t that… But that’s more amazing. They just give back this land.
Then later on when Christ comes, when the Savior visits the Nephites, he talks about a baptism of fire and he said, “That’s what happened to the Lamanites in the prison.” So he actually thinks that’s a really… So it’s not just me trying to push back. Jesus liked that chapter too.
HODGES: I have to say, Grant, too, he also said, “Where’s Samuel the Lamanite?”
HARDY: Oh, that’s true. That would have worked as well.
HODGES: You’ve got to be careful now.
HARDY: But this was a really hard challenge, was to come up with just one image that represent, but in that case because it’s a little less expected, because Arnold Friberg didn’t do that particular image—
HODGES: He did Samuel. He did him up on the wall.
HARDY: He did. So I’m quite fond of… and also it’s just so nicely done with the angels looking down, it seems like classic sort of Kershisnik art a little bit.
KERSHISNIK: Well and I also mentioned that leaving them as silhouettes, which I think worked really beautifully, I had them drawn in, as you saw, in certain previous—
HARDY: One had a beard. One didn’t, I remember.
KERSHISNIK: It was Faith’s idea to leave them as silhouettes, which I thought was really great. She made a lot of suggestions while working on that particular image.
HODGES: Yeah. As for my favorite, there are two that are sort of burned in my mind. I had one of them as my desktop wallpaper for a while, but it’s Jesus touching the stones and making them light. It’s a beautiful image.
The other one is Enos praying, and in this posture of exhausted supplication. There’s this urgent exhaustion, I might call it, to that image that you don’t often see.
HARDY: Can you talk more about that image? Because you did a lot of different drafts of that. Some of them were sort of from the distance, you could see his whole… And some of them were very close up. What made you decide on the final image?
KERSHISNIK: I don’t think I have a good answer. I think it was a formal decision ultimately, that I felt like that was strong. Translating the image into two colors. There were just some logistical reasons. So I would just look at the four, five, or six drawings and say, “Yeah, I like this one.”
HARDY: But you know what they all had in common, was rather than Enos in sort of a typical kneeling prayer position for modern Latter-day Saints, he was prostrate. He’s on the ground.
HODGES: That’s why I say this “exhausted” supplication, you know, typically we see pictures of people sitting and folding their arms with their head bowed in prayer.
KERSHISNIK: And that’s a fairly scrubbed notion of when you really are an extremist before God. In my own experience that scrubbed image of kneeling and folding your arms and bowing your head, but that happens often, and that’s good. But Enos, the universe was changing for Enos, and so I had him down.
HARDY: Well then he’s also, of course this is in the story, but it’s a nighttime image. He speaks about—
HODGES: The wrestle he had.
HARDY: And a process that takes all night.
HODGES: Yeah, through the night.
KERSHISNIK: Yeah, we just get a little scrap of that conversation that went on, and on, and on, and on, he’s just pleading, trying to understand, and remembering.
I don’t have the sense that it was a great repentance time for him. I suspect he was a good guy, but just it all, everything was kind of coming together. His calling, his missions, it was getting serious for him. It’s so beautiful that immediately he stops worrying about, “Ah, what about the Lamanites? What about…?” And immediately starts worrying about the others. It’s a beautiful book.
HODGES: I wonder if this is similar to other art you do. People who are familiar with the art of Brian Kershisnik have seen some whimsical images, some poignant images, pictures of dogs dancing, or jugglers juggling, joyful scenes, sad scenes, and these are scenes that are from a text that you believe in and that you are nourished by.
Was it different to create art for that purpose, or do you see similarities between the other pieces that you do?
KERSHISNIK: I try, even in the whimsical funny pieces, I try to make my livelihood worshipful. I feel like if the images are funny, this has to be someone I’m laughing with, not someone I’m laughing at. I also believe very strongly that God laughs. I feel like I’ve heard that laughter a few times. I try to relax. Part of the problem is because it’s scripture, because I believe it’s holy, there’s kind of a tendency to scrub it up, to neaten it up, and I thought, “No, this all happened to human beings. I’m a human being. Approach this as a human being.” God loves human beings.
So there were some, I mentioned earlier, some fairly whimsical, violent drawings. My initial work as a child was generally very violent drawings. I don’t have many of those left. But I haven’t been doing violent drawings for a long time. But I do actually from time to time do paintings of war, partially because of the emotions that brings up. In the woodcut of all of those faces I see fear, I see determination, I see sorrow for enemies, and sorrow for self. There are all these emotions that I would imagine would accompany a mass of people going into war.
HODGES: And you mentioned worship being involved, and not just the process of creating these for the Book of Mormon, but also the art that you do. There’s sort of a mantra that we have at the Maxwell Institute, it’s something that Elder Neal. A Maxwell once said, that for a disciple-scholar academic research can be a form of worship. So it sounds as though art for the artist can likewise be a form of worship, a disciple-artist.
KERSHISNIK: Yeah. It’s a little tricky because the whole idea of priestcraft comes into play.
HODGES: Well Paul said the laborer is worthy of his hire, too.
KERSHISNIK: Well thank you, Paul. That doesn’t simplify the text. I try to approach the word worshipfully, but I also need to sell it to buy my groceries. I don’t ever want to go up to the easel and say, “I have a mortgage payment and paintingss of Jesus are doing really well.” I don’t want—
HARDY: They’re trending.
KERSHISNIK: Yeah, they’re trending right now. I don’t want that ever to be the motivation for me to include the Lord in my imagery, yet a good day at the studio is a worshipful day. Sleeves are rolled up and you’re messy.
HODGES: Yeah, it includes sweat and laughter—
KERSHISNIK: Yeah, and tears. It’s not all neat. It’s not all the picturesque part. But there is… I came home one day from work and my wife said, “So how was your day?” And I said, “God was with me today.” And she said, “Ah, that’s where he was.”
HODGES: What about you, Grant? Same basic question. The idea of being a disciple-scholar and working on the Book of Mormon. What are your thoughts about your work being an act of worship?
HARDY: It’s a lovely quote that you read, or maybe have it memorized, from—
HODGES: I’ve said it quite often, yeah.
HARDY: From Elder Maxwell. To me, the religious community that best illustrates that is the Jewish community where there’s ideas of studying Torah, and that’s what you should do on the Sabbath, and I think there’s even a notion of God himself even studies the Talmud three hours a day, or there’s all kinds of…But there’s a sense that scholarship, serious scholarship, looking at languages, comparing texts and things, is a way to get closer to God, partly because so much of that is directed toward the word of God.
I feel that when I study the Book of Mormon, other scriptures. Some people are more sure than I am about revelation and about… they’re sure that God tells them to do things, and I’ve felt inspiration in my life, but there have been times in my life where that has been a little bit harder.
KERSHISNIK: And at those times it would have been really convenient to have them. And you’re doing what you feel you need to get it.
KERSHISNIK: It’s not always when it comes.
HARDY: Exactly. But I feel a consistency when I read scripture that this is a way God has chosen to make himself manifest not just to me, but to everyone. The more seriously we take that, and I include things like we should be learning Greek, we should be learning Hebrew, we should be doing this as carefully and with as many tools as we have, not just reading them and thinking about how we feel, but actually doing hard scholarship with manuscripts and verb conjugations. I feel like God is pleased when we give that much attention to his word. I feel that.
I particularly respond to text, but I also feel the spirit consistently with music. I think that’s a feeling that many people have, that there’s something that comes in those experiences, maybe not all the time, but fairly consistently. So for me, studying in very academic ways actually feels, at least it feels like me reaching up and sometimes that’s responded to from above.
HODGES: This is what I’ve found in talking… I’m blessed to be able to, as part of my job, sit down with people like you and talk about the work that you do, and think about the work that people do in the vein of worship.
What strikes me in what you said, Grant, is that all of those things you described aren’t necessarily solitary pursuits. I mean, you can be pretty solitary in some ways, you can cloister yourself off and study something—
HARDY: But they’re not as much fun.
HODGES: They’re not as much fun.
HARDY: In Judaism you have to have a study partner in order to—
HODGES: Right. This is just it, this is what I’m saying. Worship is not just worship in terms of just shouting “Hallelujah” or something like this, but I think some of my most edifying moments of worship come in relationship with other people. When I’m reading a book I’m with that author, and with everybody that that author was with when they were putting that together. When I’m looking at a painting or a woodcut I’m with that person that created it, and with the people who were there that I might not even know about, like Brian, your son and Faith, adding to the things that you’re doing.
So I feel like academic worship and art and these other things, they’re acts of worship because they also open our hearts to each other, and they require an openness. So for me, working at a university hasn’t made me feel like this idea of being prideful, being better than other people, this sort of elitist… I’m sure I act elitist sometimes and whatnot, but more than that it has been a humbling experience and made me less sure about everything that I thought I was sure about, in a good way, because then I have to listen to other people.
HARDY: But to return to the Jewish tradition, when you’re studying Torah, there’s commentaries. There’s tons of commentaries. It’s an invitation to be a part of a community. People have been arguing about this, trying to see things in it, trying to interpret it for thousands and so, a decent commentary will say, “Rashi said this,” or “Maimonides said this,” and then there’s a challenge to say, “Can you add something to this conversation?” Very smart, very devout people have been doing this commentary for so long, and we’re just starting that with Latter-day Saints with our own scriptures.
In this case, I was working with people in the Maxwell Institute, and of course with Heather, and back and forth on many of these—
HODGES: The Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book.
HARDY: Deseret Book came a little later on, but in the earlier process just lots of conversations and then having an artistic perspective, to bring that into these conversations was just a delight and been a joy as well.
KERSHISNIK: There’s a Rumi poem that Faith says that I misquote, that I misinterpret—but she thinks that Rumi would not disapprove—but there’s this hierarchy of communion with God, and the first one is prayer, and the next one is meditation and the higher one is conversation, which she thinks is referring to conversation with God.
But I think no, ideas come to me almost in a certain particular poignant way when I’m talking to people about the things I’ve been praying about, about the things I’ve been reading about. I really think that is a beautiful way of looking at scripture, that even if we’re reading it alone we’re with the author, we’re with everyone else who—
HARDY: Yeah, but you’re hardly ever reading scripture alone. Because—to come full circle with your question about what is scripture—it’s a text that’s read by a community who values it. So we’re all dealing with pretty much the same words here, but people are bringing different experiences, different sensibilities, different perceptions to it, and that’s something that binds us together as a community, as a faith community.
KERSHISNIK: I have a memory on my mission when my testimony of the Book of Mormon was upgraded significantly. I remember reading Ether chapter 12, and we have of course the scripture we quote all the time about weaknesses, that I maintain we misquote. Moroni is proofreading, and he’s saying to God, “Uh, Gentiles are going to laugh at this.” [laughs] In other words he’s saying this is really bad, this is weak. The Brother of Jared, he can write, but we can’t write. We don’t have the Brother of Jared’s writings. So Moroni is—And all this time when I’m reading it I’m thinking no, Moroni, you’re doing great. I’m really feeling it and comforting him.
God comes in and talks back to him and essentially says, “Yeah, ouch, huh, Moroni.” He says, “Fools mock, but they’ll mourn. People will humble themselves and they won’t take advantage of your weakness.” God is acknowledging that Moroni—I mean, I’m doing some paraphrasing here, you understand of course—but acknowledging yeah, there are problems, but if people will come with faith and an acknowledgment of our their own weakness, then weak things, I maintain he’s talking about the book, will become strong.
I just remember when you were talking about kind of a communication with the author, I remember that experience very poignantly and I’m talking to him, encouraging him, no, it’s really good. It’s really really good.
HARDY: But one of the things I try to bring out in this edition is Moroni has this task of finishing up his father’s history, and he feels intimidated, inadequate to that and he actually ends up making three different attempts. He ends it three times. He says, “Okay, that’s it.” And then he keeps—
HODGES: It’s like the Lord of the Rings movie, where there were like five endings, and you’re like, “okay…”
HARDY: Well it’s hard to know, because obviously it means so much to him—
KERSHISNIK: I’m still alive, so I guess—
HARDY: I guess I could add a little bit more. I’m not quite satisfied with what I did before, but maybe the—
HODGES: I’m glad he got to chapter 10, because that’s quite the finale.
HARDY: He put a nice bow on it.
HODGES: We’re talking with Grant Hardy. He’s a professor of history and religious studies at the University of Carolina at Asheville. He edited the Maxwell Institute’s Study Edition of the Book of Mormon, which was just published by us here at the Maxwell Institute, along with BYU’s Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book.
We also talked with Brian Kershisnik, an American painter. He studied art at the University of Utah and here at BYU, and also at the University of Texas at Austin. He keeps studios in Kanosh and also here in Provo. I’m sure you’ve seen his work. He did a beautiful image of the nativity with all these angels surrounding Mary and Joseph, and another beautiful painting, “She Will Find What Was Lost,” with angels coming down and blessing a woman. He did the woodcuts for this edition.
Brian, thank you so much for coming in today and talking with us.
KERSHISNIK: Oh, it’s a great pleasure. I love talking with you guys.
HODGES: And Grant, it was great having you here, and all this time we’ve been communicating with you through email and phone.
HARDY: That’s right. I live far away. So it’s a rare pleasure to come and talk in person about these things.
HODGES: Well thanks for doing it.
HARDY: My pleasure.
The views expressed here and in Maxwell Institute publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)