When I first considered the Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy to review, I suspected that this might be sort of like an institute study guide—heavily influenced by the male authors, with cross references to what we are “supposed” to learn, and so on—the kind of thing that sometimes tires me when I read about scripture. Thus, it took me a little while to prepare to read this book.
I include this detail because I love the Book of Mormon. We’ve been reading it as a family every night—or at least almost every night for a few years now. Our scripture reading is one of my favourite times in the day; in part because of the spiritual aspect, but also because it is a family routine that we have worked past (Knock on wood!).
But mostly, in our family readings, my children pick up on tiny nuances—quickly creating family treasures-- that I had not previously considered in previous personal study. Speaking of that-- sometimes in my individual study, I have been drawn to personal interpretations of some passages that are very important to me. Because of this, the Book of Mormon is personal, and sometimes, scripture study guides seem to ignore the personal, and focus on what some anonymous author thinks I “should” be learning from that passage of scripture.
Thus, it took a bit of courage for me to open the book and get into.
Gratefully, this book is nothing as I had imagined. It is beautiful, every whit, and in no way tells me what I “should” be learning.
Importantly, Emma Smith’s testimony is included in company with the testimony of the three and the eight witnesses, as well as her husband’s testimony. Having a woman’s witness is important for so many reasons, and it is a relief that the author also felt that including her voice was imperative to this printing.
The configuration of the text makes it easy to read. Bruce R. McKonkie’s chapter headings are gone, with softer, simple descriptor notes meant to simplify study. Plus, the layout is lovely. It is absent of the two-column newsprint style that is so familiar in scripture, making it more like I was reading a book. In this, I felt more allowed to sink in and enjoy the prose, wording, and message. In in many places, the most poetic parts are formatted as just that—poetry. As we also love reading poetry as a family (we might have a history of sneaking in poetry books to read during church), this format allowed my family and I to enjoy the lyrical and expressive flow of those words in a way the breathed new life, and warranted repetition.
Another magical thing about this book is the artful interweaving of Royal Skousen’s scholarship. Skousen spent –who knows how long- researching every detail in the translation and printing of the Book of Mormon throughout history. His work uncovered typos and printing errors, among other misplaced morsels in the texts of the Book of Mormon. These corrections are included in this book, neatly placed on the same page of the correction—offering a new way to pause, study and enjoy the work of many hands in this book of scripture.
Lastly, the woodcut prints by Brian Kershisnik. They are delightful. My only tiny criticism is the lack of females represented in the woodcuts. To be clear, there are female in some of the images, but I am always looking for more images of women represented in scripture. So I am a tough critic. But even with that, the woodcut prints added a combination of strength, grace and beauty to the book, in a way that only quality artwork can convey.
I quite frankly loved this rendering of the Book of Mormon, and hope to purchase copies to use for our family reading.
There are many published editions of the Book of Mormon out there, and I have used and reviewed many of them. In my opinion, this is the very best.
Reorganizing the text into paragraphs and sections proves immensely helpful for understanding its narrative organization, especially when poetry is formatted into poetic stanzas. Modern punctuation, particularly the inclusion of quotation marks, makes the sense much easier to follow -- no more hunting around to figure out where direct speech starts and stops. This edition also does much of the heavy lifting for you in terms of textual comparisons: when a Nephite prophet interprets a biblical prophet, the biblical quotation is printed in bold so that you can immediately tell what is quote and what is commentary. Differences between a Nephite quote and the original biblical text are also marked so that you can quickly tell how the Book of Mormon is adapting biblical passages. Descriptive section headings also make the meaning of the text much more clear: instead of a homogenous mass of words, this edition shows you how all the pieces of the book are different yet also how they fit together.
The footnotes are also extremely valuable. They aren't designed to provide extensive commentary, either on doctrine or personal application. Rather, they stay focused on helping you first understand the text itself. They point out the origin of quotations, indicate when prophecies are fulfilled or where narrative threads stop and start, and make useful observations about various narrative and literary features. All of them help you make sense of the Book of Mormon's rich complexity.
Especially noteworthy are footnotes providing alternate readings based on Book of Mormon pre-publication manuscripts. BYU scholar Royal Skousen has spent decades analyzing these manuscripts and figuring out where mistakes have crept into printed editions, and while his research is extremely important, few people have the time to read thousands of pages of research to get access to these insights. This edition does that work for you and conveniently points out the improved reading right there at the bottom of the page. For example, 1 Nephi 12:18 in the current/official text speaks of "the word of the justice of the Eternal God." Skousen's research shows that as Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon translation, Oliver Cowdery had written down "the sword of the justice of the Eternal God," but as the Book of Mormon was prepared for publication the "s" in "sword" was accidentally skipped, creating "word." This new study edition of the Book of Mormon preserves the official version ("word") in the body text but lets you easily see the original dictated phrase ("sword") at the bottom of the page, and it does this for hundreds of other cases like this.
I also appreciated the restoration of the original chapter breaks from the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, which are printed side-by-side with the modern chapter-and-verse system. Research on the original Book of Mormon manuscripts suggests that those original, longer chapter breaks were part of Joseph's inspired dictation and thus go back to Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni. Paying attention to them can help us see how those ancient authors intended us to see the literary organization of their books. For example, in today's organization Alma's discourse to the Zoramites is divided into two chapters, Alma 32 on faith and Alma 33 on Christ. When you pay attention to the original chapter breaks you realize that originally Alma 32 and 33 were part of the same chapter and should not be artificially split up; in reality, this was one discourse on faith IN Christ.
The many appendices, with various charts and indices, are also very useful and represent the latest Book of Mormon scholarship. Readers will find much there to improve their understanding of this sacred text. (Contrary to what another reviewer claimed, the map in the back is not a Mesoamerican map but is deliberately geography-neutral: it simply shows the relative distance between cities, and is conceptually similar to other internal-geography maps the Church itself prints in the Seminary and Institute manuals.)
I heartily recommend this edition to anyone who wants to understand the Book of Mormon better. I've already bought several for gifts and purchased multiple copies for our family to use. Even my small children have found they prefer reading from this edition: at their age they pretty much ignore the footnotes and appendices, but the paragraphing, modern punctuation, and proper presentation of poetry makes reading the text SO much more intuitive for them, and the section headings help them see the big picture so they don't get lost. I love the Book of Mormon and look forward to re-reading it many more times in this edition -- try it and I think you'll love it too.
I received a review copy of the Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon from Deseret Book, and I have loved every minute of using it.
This edition is an update of Grant Hardy's previous edition published by the University of Illinois Press. Whereas the earlier version had to use a public domain edition of the Book of Mormon (the 1920, I believe), for this volume the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints licensed them to use the current 2013 edition of the text. In my opinion, this shows a large amount of confidence in the work of Grant Hardy and his publishers.
The textual reformatting alone is worth the price of purchase. Some who have struggled with the double-columned chapter and verse organization of the traditional scriptures will find themselves able to read and process the doctrines, teachings, and history of the Book of Mormon more easily than before. Hardy also includes some of the incredible textual history done by Royal Skousen, providing potential alternate readings for some passages.
As a final note, the twenty woodcut images done by Latter-day Saint artist Brian Kershisnik - unique to this volume - are a wonderful addition to the text. I wish there were more of them. They're a great edition to the growing corpus of Book of Mormon art and help readers visualize the story of the Book of Mormon in a different way than the traditionally-included art by Arnold Friburg.
All in all, a wonderful volume, and a great addition to the shelf of any student of the Book of Mormon.
The book looks great, and I liked the notes that showed differences from the original 1830 edition. but overall I was disappointed in how little it adds. Anyone who has been studying the text for a while, along with various commentaries, might enjoy having these references in the same book as the text, such as the section on Literary Parallelism, but there's not much new in terms of content. Details such as including the false first-hand attribution to Joseph Smith of a third-person journal entry by Wilford Woodruff raise questions about the care of the research in the notes.
Navigation on my iPad and phone are difficult because you can't go from chapter to chapter. If you want to read Alma 44, for example, the menu takes you to Alma 1 and then you have to scroll all the way down to Alma 44. I expected sub-menus for each chapter.
I was very disappointed that the book incorporates the Mesoamerican geography based on John Sorenson's book, including Sorenson's map, but since the Maxwell Institute published Sorenson's work, I suppose that was inevitable. It would have been much better to at least include the actual teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah instead of omitting these teachings and dismissing them as "the statements of nineteenth-century leaders."