A Marvelous New Book of Mormon Study Edition

Blair Dee Hodges (blairhodges@byu.edu)) is a public communications specialist at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

“The Book of Mormon,” Elder Neal A. Maxwell once 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]

While members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometimes scoot quickly through the mansion, Professor Grant Hardy of the University of North Carolina–Asheville believed people outside the Church often do little more than peek through a window or stare at the facade. In 2003, Hardy published his Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon with the University of Illinois Press to help scholars and students of other faiths engage more closely with a scripture that may “someday join the Bible, the Qurʾan, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Lotus Sutra as one of the world’s most influential religious texts.” Though the Book of Mormon is widely available, Hardy recognized that its complicated and lengthy narrative—printed in columns of small text packaged in a simple blue cover—could prove daunting for readers who would “often 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 members of other faiths engaged in academic research. Hardy published Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide with Oxford University Press—an entire book devoted to examining new aspects of the text he’d 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).

What Is New about the MISE?

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. The 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. The 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 the 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 appendixes 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 the MISE is being 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 2013 text as guides to facilitate new reading experiences and spiritual insights. The MISE will also feature approximately twenty beautiful and original woodcut illuminations by popular LDS artist Brian Kershisnik.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the MISE and the Reader’s Edition is that the latter was expressly an academic work, designed for religiously neutral scholarship, while the 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 even better as they encounter familiar words in a fresh format. The MISE 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.

Examples of Textual Emendations Included in MISE

The MISE will use the current, official 2013 edition of the Book of Mormon, and the footnotes will include nearly 200 variants each from the original and printer's manuscript respectively. Roughly 140 of Skousen’s textual emendations of probable and possible wording of the original dictation are also included in the footnotes. Many emendations based on the earliest available text could correct inadvertent errors in transcription, copying, or typesetting introduced during the course of its transmission and publication over many years.

A few of Hardy’s favorite examples include the following:

1 Ne. 13:12

CURRENT: “And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters”

ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT: “a man among the Gentiles which were separated"

In 1837, Joseph edited the Book of Mormon text, changing nearly every “which” that referred to people to “who.” He did this rather routinely, even perfunctorily, and in this case the original reading probably makes more sense. It was the Gentiles who were separated from the Lamanites by an ocean, not just one man.

1 Ne. 15:35

CURRENT: “And there is a place prepared, yea, even that awful hell of which I have spoken, and the devil is the preparator of it”

ORIGINAL: “the devil is the proprietor of it”

A fresh, provocative image, more readily understandable than the obscure word “preparator.” In this case, Oliver Cowdery apparently couldn’t make out the spelling of the word in the original manuscript (written by another scribe) and came up with “preparator.” While editing the 1837 edition, Joseph Smith wrote “father,” which he later changed to “foundation.” The editors of the 1981 edition reintroduced “preparator.”
 

2 Ne. 2:11

CURRENT: “If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.”

Although this is the reading of the earliest extant manuscript (P), Skousen suggests there was a copying error and he emends the verse to read “neither happiness nor misery,” which preserves the parallels and reflects the wording later in the same verse: “nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.”

Jacob 7:26

CURRENT: Jacob describes himself as having been “born in tribulation, in a wilderness”

In both the original and the printer’s manuscript, the reading is “in a wild wilderness.” This evocative, redundant adjective was apparently deleted by the typesetter of the 1830 edition.

Alma 39:13

CURRENT: “but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the original manuscript read “acknowledge your faults and repair that wrong which ye have done,” which seems to accord more fully with the requirements of true repentance. The problem is that a stray inkblot through the top of the “p” led Oliver to read the word “repair” as “retain” when he was copying for the printer’s manuscript (his cursive r’s and n’s look very similar). From 1830 on, the verse read “acknowledge your faults and retain that wrong,” until the editors of the 1920 edition realized that didn’t make much sense, so they just dropped the “retain.”



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

[2] Grant Hardy, ed., The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (Urbana: 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, no. 1 (2018): 167.

[5] [ADD PULL-OUT BOX WITH A FEW EXAMPLES OF VARIANTS. Call attention to it either in footnote, or in a parenthetical in the text as per the editor’s wishes.]

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