Review by Kristine Hansen
The rationale for this reader's edition of the Book of Mormon is one that I can applaud. In the words of editor Grant Hardy, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, the Book of Mormon is "one of the world's most influential religious texts" and therefore "worthy of serious study" (vii). However, as Hardy notes, it may often be ignored, particularly by those outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, simply because it is difficult to read. Its length, complexity, and sometimes archaic language are one obstacle, but Hardy believes its formatting in columns broken into chapters and verses is another. Also, the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon includes numerous footnotes that cross-reference doctrinal concepts with related passages in the other standard works of the church.
This visually daunting format, Hardy believes, may militate against readers' grasping the overall narrative as well as hinder their understanding of the complex intertextuality of the book, composed as it is of various ancient records compiled, abridged, and edited by Mormon and then translated by Joseph Smith. So to help readers find the text more accessible and readable, Hardy has taken from the public domain the 1920 edition of the Book of Mormon and reformatted it "in accordance with the editorial style of most modern editions of the Bible" (vii). In place of the 1920 edition's footnotes, he has written footnotes of his own and added several appendices, all of which aim to help the novice reader become familiar with the provenance, stemma, authors, translation, language, and internal consistency of the text. All in all, I find the results praiseworthy and believe this edition of the Book of Mormon will become a useful tool for scholars, teachers, students, and parents.
The reformatting of the text has several noticeable features. First, Hardy presents the text in paragraphs and, where he deems appropriate, in poetic stanzas. The text still has the chapter numbers, which are set in a large stylized font, and verse numbers, which are very small superscripts, usually—but not always—at the beginning of a sentence. Occasionally, a verse is divided so that the first part belongs to one paragraph and the second part to the next. The text still includes the headnotes that preface some of the books in the Book of Mormon, but it leaves out the chapter summaries that are a feature of the 1981 edition. Instead, Hardy has added headings of his own throughout the chapters to help the reader follow the narrative or grasp the points made in a sermon. For example, 1 Nephi 1 has these headings: "Lehi's Visions and Call" and "Lehi Prophesies to the Jews." And Alma 5, entitled "Alma's Sermon at Zarahemla," has headings that indicate main topics of the sermon, such as "Imagine the Judgment Day" and "Repent and Prepare." I found the headings in Jacob 5, Zenos's allegory of the olive tree, particularly helpful, as they indicate the various transplants, decayings, and remedies attempted to save the olive tree.
The poetic passages are the most striking feature as one thumbs through the book. Not only are long passages, such as the chapters from Isaiah, set as poetry, but short passages as brief as two lines are similarly reformatted whenever there is a form of parallelism that has been noted in the Hebrew Bible. So, for example, Alma 5:40 looks like this:
For I say unto you that:
Whatsoever is good cometh from God,
and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.
Appendix 5 gives a brief summary of synonymous, antithetic, synthetic, and climactic parallelism, along with illustrations of each, and an explanation of chiasmus. Only a few short chiastic passages are printed in the text in such a way as to reveal their structure, but several longer examples are given in appendix 5. Here Hardy also outlines his criteria for deciding which passages to set as poetry: Where the language is "more refined and elevated" than usual and "where appropriate," he highlighted the language in indented, parallel lines.
It would have been helpful to know how Hardy defined because I found some of his poetic passages dubious, especially where the context did not seem to call for the use of poetry. For example, when Amulek rebukes the lawyers in Alma 10:17–18 or when Alma cautions his son Shiblon in Alma 38:11–12, the lines are set as poetry. While it is true that these brief speeches contain parallelism, calling rebukes and cautions poetry along with psalms, hymns, and prophecies required me to mentally stretch the category. But Hardy acknowledges that "literary analysis of the Book of Mormon is in its beginning stages" and that readers may disagree with his choices. He also notes that because readability is his primary goal, he has not attempted to "highlight all the possible literary twists and echoes and symmetries" (663–64). I find this last choice wise because even more variation in the formatting would make the text visually too busy.
Other noticeable and helpful features include the use of quotation marks around direct discourse, the addition of parentheses and semicolons to "clarify relationships among phrases," and the occasional use of italics "to show how Book of Mormon prophets quoted and commented on earlier prophecies (as in 1 Nephi 22)" (xx). Yet another feature that is likely to help the first-time or non-Latter-day Saint reader is the addition of subscript numbers to names that are given to more than one person or place (e.g., Moroni). These subscript numbers appear only in headings, not in the paragraphs, and they correspond to appendix 8, the "Glossary of Names," where one learns that Moroni1 was a "Nephite military commander (ca. 100 BC)," first mentioned in Alma 43:16, but that Moroni2 was the "son of Mormon, last of the Nephites (ca. AD 400)," first mentioned in Words of Mormon 1:1. I find this glossary particularly helpful; Hardy boasts that it "includes several names that were missed in the index of the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon" (690).
The text is relatively uncluttered with footnotes, which may make it seem less formidable to many readers. Some of the footnotes directly highlight the internal consistency of the text and therefore the improbability that Joseph Smith simply made it up. Such notes include cross-references to specific past events or quotations of earlier figures in the text as well as indications of prophecies fulfilled and where those prophecies were first uttered. Other footnotes provide insight into how the book was compiled from various sets of plates and then edited; these notes indicate where a narrative line has been broken off and where it resumes, if it does. Footnotes concerning dates of various events are rendered according to standard practice until the beginning of the reign of the judges at the end of the book of Mosiah. From that point on, dates are rendered as an exact negative or positive number corresponding to the sign of Christ's birth. Thus, the note for Mormon 8:6 reads "+ 400 years" rather than "AD 421," as it does in the 1981 edition. Still other footnotes contain comments on editing and sources, glosses or clarifications of names, alternate spellings and plausible alternative punctuation, and indications of chapter breaks in the 1830 edition.
I think an additional kind of footnote would have been helpful, one indicating where significant wording changes were made in the 1981 edition. Hardy's appendix 6 lists the 50 most significant variants among the original and printer's manuscripts, the first three editions, the 1920 edition, and the 1981 edition; but the reader would not necessarily know when to turn to this appendix to see which manuscript or edition exhibited which variant. In the case of 2 Nephi 30:6, for example, not knowing that the 1981 edition changed the phrase a white and a delightsome people to a pure and a delightsome people might have unfortunate consequences. With just 37 additional footnotes indicating differences between the 1920 and 1981 editions, Hardy could have avoided this potential problem.
But that is my main quibble. I find the remaining appendices very helpful and likely to benefit not only non-Latter-day Saint readers but also long-time readers of the Book of Mormon. In addition to the testimonies of the Three and the Eight Witnesses, appendix 1 contains the less frequently published or discussed testimonies of Mary Whitmer and Emma Smith about the reality of the plates. Appendix 2 gives a useful chronology of the translation process along with various photos related to stages in that process: the hill from which Joseph removed the plates, characters copied therefrom, the first page of the printer's manuscript, copies of the first edition, and the Nauvoo House cornerstone, where the original manuscript was deposited and mostly ruined.
While these appendices are largely focused on establishing external validation for the text, appendix 7 provides more evidence for its internal validity through various charts and maps. Some are adapted from FARMS publications by John W. Welch and others, such as a chart showing how the plates were passed from one scribe to another, a chart showing which books of the Book of Mormon come from which plates, and a chart of the Jaredite kings. Other charts, however, are apparently Hardy's creations. His chart giving a chronology of the narrative begins with the "mid-third millennium BC" and proceeds to AD 420, giving scriptural references for each period and a summary of what happened, if anything, during that period in three places: the Land Nephi (south), the Land Zarahemla (middle), and the Land Desolation (north). Another chart showing leaders of the Lamanites and Nephites gives dates and categorizes leaders by their status as kings, "dissenters and colonists," "missionaries and heretics," or leaders in political, religious, or military affairs. There is also a map of the probable route of Lehi's journey on the Arabian peninsula and a hypothetical map of "relative locations of Book of Mormon sites based on internal references" (689). I would have found these charts and maps very helpful as a seminary student years ago, just as I do today.
Hardy's whole aim in preparing this edition was to show that "the Book of Mormon offers a much more sophisticated and tightly structured narrative than one might first assume, particularly given Joseph Smith's background" (xxiii). His primary audience appears to be non-Latter-day Saint scholars, whom he invites to subject the book to "more sophisticated literary and historical analyses than have long been the norm" and to "enter more deeply into the world portrayed in the text" (xxiii). To that end, he also includes a four-page list of suggestions for further reading at the end of the book, and he particularly singles out Terryl Givens's By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion as "the best introduction to the Book of Mormon" (707). I believe that non-Latter-day Saint readers of Givens's book could do no better than to pick up a copy of Hardy's work to learn for themselves what this scripture contains.
For Latter-day Saint readers, Hardy is careful to note that his edition is not intended to replace the 1981 edition. But I think that many such readers would find it a valuable supplement to their study of that edition. In fact, I would recommend that missionaries consider taking it to their fields of labor to study, as it would give them information not present in the 1981 edition that would help them answer their own questions and those of their investigators. Particularly, I believe seminary teachers and parents would find that young people would respond positively to reading the Book of Mormon in this format. All royalties that Hardy receives from the sale of the book will be donated to the Humanitarian Services Fund of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—a noble gesture that underscores Hardy's commitment to increasing people's understanding of the Book of Mormon.