Read This Book:
A Review of the Maxwell Institute
Study Edition of the Book of Mormon

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Abstract: The Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon is an important tool for personal and class study of the Book of Mormon. Not only does it provide a better reading experience, it has important features that enhance study.

Review of Grant Hardy, ed. The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Maxwell Institute Study Edition (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University / Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2018). 648 pp. $35.00 (paperback).

During the October 2018 Women’s session of general conference, President Russell M. Nelson challenged the sisters (and presumably all readers) to read the Book of Mormon by the end of 2018. This particular edition of the Book of Mormon arrives too late to help with that challenge, but the very next time Latter-day Saints are admonished to read the English version of the Book of Mormon, this is the edition they should read.

Because the Maxwell Institute Study Edition is not the official edition of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am aware of the audacity of my suggestion to read this edition rather than the official one. One reason I am comfortable with that statement is that the Study Edition is based on the official version (1981, with 2013 updates). That means the words read will be the very words one would read in the official text. It is what the Study Edition adds that improves both the reading and the study experience.

The Study Edition is not totally new, but it is clearly totally revised and reexamined. In 2003 Grant Hardy published The Book of Mormon: [Page 140]A Reader’s Edition through the University of Illinois Press. At that time, he used the 1920 edition (in public domain) rather than the official version. What he innovated in that edition was a formatting designed, as the title indicated, for the reader. The text retained all the chapter and verse apparatus that allowed a reader to engage with any and all references to the Book of Mormon’s verses, but they were formatted into paragraphs. Along with the paragraphs were section headers that provided in-context information about the subject of the following set of verses. Hardy also included a footnote to indicate where the original chapters ended, prior to the changes in the 1879 version of the Book of Mormon. It was a much nicer reading experience than the official text, which is broken into chunks by no logic other than whatever drove the decision to create a set of text as a verse.1

Grant Hardy himself is the editor of the new Study Edition, and it is clearly built upon his earlier work. Although he kept much, if not most, of the paragraphing from the Reader’s Edition, he went through the text anew and at times changed his mind on where paragraphs would begin. The reason the same person could see the text in two different ways is that there is no precise way to capture paragraphs.

Also, neither the original nor the printer’s manuscript contained much punctuation. Not only were there few periods, the capitalization was random, based more on words than on conceptual paragraphs. Having personally attempted similar paragraphing, I believe the text does not conform to the choices that drive modern paragraphing. Thus, creating paragraphs imposes on the text a logic not necessarily inherent in the text. All that means is that any two people creating paragraphs, and even the same person at different times, will create different paragraphs. The purpose of the paragraphs does not matter much. They are there to make reading easier, not to provide meaning in and of themselves.

Where the Reader’s Edition marked the original chapters in footnotes, the original chapters are much more explicit in the Study Guide. At the center of each page’s header, Hardy notes in brackets the original chapter number. To keep references clear, Hardy uses Arabic numerals for the current chapters and verses and Roman numerals for the 1830 chapters. Additionally, the original chapter numbers are shown in brackets when [Page 141]they appear within the text. Most of these appear before current chapters, but at times Orson Pratt divided the original chapter to provide ending information of one chapter at the beginning of the next.

Understanding the original chapters allows for a type of understanding unavailable in editions that follow only the modern chapters. No matter which edition we read, we can know which stories Nephi1 included. Knowing which set of stories Nephi1 thought belonged together in a chapter (for example chapter I comprises our chapters 1–5) helps us understand Nephi1 himself rather than only the stories.

An important visual change comes in the sections quoting Isaiah. Rather than simply providing the text, Hardy highlights in bold the additions to the KJV text and provides footnotes for significant removals of text. This allows the reader not only to read the text but also to identify the differences easily. This is one of the places where the concept of study and easy reading combine. The reader learns important information simply through the process of reading the text, while the visual markers supply information quickly and easily.

Those who will read this text for study will find a wealth of information in the footnotes. Some footnotes indicate references to the Bible, others to intratextual links. Good study notes help the reader understand the text better. One of the ways Hardy supplies important information is by providing a footnote for references to important variant readings.

The authoritative work in the multiple changes in the text, from the manuscripts through all published versions, is Royal Skousen’s Analysis of the Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, an exhaustive look at all changes. Hardy combed that source to provide the important or interesting variants. Most readers of the Study Edition will be unaware that the Analysis of the Textual Variants is a work in six volumes and 4,060 pages. They will therefore be unaware of the significant labor Hardy undertook to digest the possible variants to identify those he deemed worth entering in the footnotes.

The Reader’s Edition contained many helpful maps and charts, and many of those are included in the Study Edition, updated as needed. One difference is that the Reader’s Edition was written for both Latter-day Saint and secular readers, and some of the notes were directed at the secular reader. The Study Edition is clearly for Latter-day Saints, and the secular-facing notes are not required. They are replaced by excellent introductions to information important to the faithful reader. A nice touch is placing the testimonies of the three and eight witnesses before [Page 142]Emma Smith’s and Joseph’s testimonies. The statements are not new, but their placement in such prominence is.

I am sure one feature of the text will be mostly ignored, if not assumed to be an error. At the end of Words of Mormon and before the page indicating that Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates is to begin, there is a single completely blank page. I hope that isn’t an error, rather an effort to subtly remind the reader of an important distinction between what he or she has just read and the text that follows. Although we call the whole The Book of Mormon, technically, Mormon’s book doesn’t begin until Mosiah (and begins after the lost beginning to the book of Mosiah). That single blank page may be a striking reminder of a significant difference between the two parts of the text.

The Study Edition has the same text as the officially published Book of Mormon. Thus there is nothing to lose by reading this version. However, there is so much to gain that this is the version to prefer. Were I to teach a class on the Book of Mormon at any level, I would want the class to be reading this version.2 There is simply much more to be understood as one reads.

Of course, read the Book of Mormon in any format, but if you have the option, read this version. It is currently the best edition of the Book of Mormon available.

1. Orson Pratt versified the text for the 1879 version. A chapter and verse designation made it much easier to refer to the text and enable all readers to easily find the same passage. The decisions to create verses followed no specific logic. Pratt used the sentences as they were created for the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon and made selections based somewhat on size and on the meaning of the selected verses.
2. Other versions are available. The use of paragraphs rather than verses is quite common in these editions, so the paragraphing is not the reason I recommend this version. Rather, it is in the additions that provide an easier interface into a deeper and more enriching understanding of the text.

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About Brant A. Gardner

Brant A. Gardner (M.A. State University of New York Albany) is the author of Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon and The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon, both published through Greg Kofford Books. He has contributed articles to Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl and Symbol and Meaning Beyond the Closed Community. He has presented papers at the FairMormon conference as well as at Sunstone.

24 thoughts on “Read This Book: A Review of the Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon

  1. The book is fantastic, and I look forward to an updated and revised addition in due course. However, I do question the suggestion in the “General Notes”, under the subheading ‘Coherence’, where the author suggests unequivocally that there are “…two geographical mistakes… one place-name each at Alma 51.26 and 53.6.”

    Are they errors? Perhaps not.

    I think the authors conclusion is based on a simplified reading of the text, requires conjecture, and a lack of appreciation for the information that is not included. This to me is problematic when one is publishing, effectively, a commentary embedded with a publication of a standard work of the Church.

    To call them errors is not justified.

  2. Re: the comment about there not being archeological BoM evidence. As a lay person the location of NHM and Bountiful has seemed pretty jaw dropping. Am I wrong?

    • Lynn:
      No! I believe you are right. But others could easily see the kinds of things that have turned up much more cautiously. Or they may not feel all that qualified to assess the issues raised by the MHM and so forth, and especially about what has turned up even when, instead of finding evidence for the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica, but finding the Book of Mormon in what is currently known about Mesoamerica in the proper place and time. I must admit that I am a consumer of that kind of endeavour, but I am not qualified to contribute to that kind of assessment of the Book of Mormon. I feel much more confident in both assessing and contributing to what might be called a literary assessment of the text, where its meaning is more directly relevant.

  3. I own the Reader’s Edition, the “Understanding the Book of Mormon: a Reader’s Guide”, and this new Study Edition of the Book of Mormon. I am not a scholar–just an ordinary member of the Church. I prefer reading the Book of Mormon written as paragraphs with headings and explanatory material. This new Study Edition is now my reading material every day. Thank you, Grant Hardy and the Maxwell Institute!

  4. In my reply to Glen, I meant to mention Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (OUP, 2010), instead of his Reader’s Edition, as the great tour de force of literary analysis of the Book of Mormon. Both are great works, but I failed to distinguish them properly.

  5. Grant Hardy’s study edition seems to be a really nice thing. Part of its genius is in paragraphing for clarity — something like JPS’s beautiful method in their ‘Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures’ edition of the Old Testament, except that Hardy retains the exact current wording.

    ‪I want to admit that it may be a good thing to have a literary expert give us an edition of our holiest book. To be clear, I have not wanted to see Grant Hardy even touch it, simply because of his earlier comments about it. Can one be blamed? I still stand by my reluctance to fully trust a mind that has made such stunningly inane comments about the Book of Books.

    • Glen:
      I think you must have someone else in mind. Grant has written a remarkable book that has exactly none of the problems you attribute to him. Ralph Hancock told me that it was brilliantly written book, and that it settled for him the question of the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon, as well as opening up its meaning.

      • Louis,
        I should have been clearer. The negatives i mentioned are not in his excellent new book, nor even in his previous books. Rather, they are comments written or spoken by him elsewhere. In his ‘testimony’ on the Mormon Scholars testify, he states an objection that there is little or no archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon. At a FairMormon conference, when he was asked during the question-and-answer session concerning believers who harbor questions about the Book of Mormon’s historicity, he said, “Can faith in the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction be a saving faith? And I think the answer is, absolutely.”
        The new book is thrilling to me, now that I have opened myself up to it. And I am glad that Ralph is warm to it as well. But I have a problem: I cannot ignore source.

        • Hi Glen,
          Just to be clear, Grant Hardy (who was a great help to me when I began the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project for FARMS nearly 40 years ago) is a literary analyst, not an archeologist. Thus, what he has to say on archeology and the Book of Mormon need not be taken too seriously.

          Grant’s Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (Univ of Illinois Press, 2003) was a tour de force of analytic wonder for both Mormons and non-Mormons, causing some (like yourself) to call his faith into question. However, that was unfair, since Grant was presenting a strictly secular analysis of the text to a candid world — a breathtakingly powerful analysis.

          In fact, my major criticism of this new MISE edition is that Grant was too timid and thus
          (1) did not include the requisite number of explanations, illustrations, and textual improvements, and
          (2) failed to exclude irrelevant material.

          In addition, there are a number of embarrassing errors not caught in the editing process. As a consequence, we have yet to see an adequate Study Edition of the Book of Mormon.

        • Glen:
          I heard Grant’s talk at the FAIR conference. I think that Grant is simply not all that interested in archaeology. And please notice that John Clark, who is an expert on Mesoamerica is cautious about what one might call evidence for the Book of Mormon. Instead of trying to find evidence for the Book of Mormon, I think the more reasonable appropriate approach is to find the Book of Mormon in what is currently known about Mesoamerica. Others have certainly gone in this direction.

          I find those who want to read the Book of Mormon as fiction either devious or deeply confused. Since it is not always all that easy to identify which we are faced with, I am inclined to leave open the possibility that, with his wisdom and mercy, God may end up either having the one who for whatever reason struggles with the Book of Mormon as genuine history have a brief conversation with Moroni, Mormon, or Lehi, or even all three of them. Put another way, I will leave the question of where others, who I consider deeply confused or irrational about this issue, fit into the Kingdom to God. I suspect that this is where Grant stands as well.

          Try to imagine a very faithful Latter-day Saint who has served in the highest leadership positions in the Church of Jesus Christ, whose wife has never come to believe that there really was a Lehi, but has always been striving to keep the commandments.

          • Sincere thanks, Louis. Your points (and Robert Smith’s) give my heart rest. I look forward to embracing this volume; it brings so much together that is incisively good. I don’t mind eating crow if it is well seasoned. Lol

          • The notion that the Book of Mormon is ‘inspired fiction’ is effectively a rejection of the book itself, and the teachings of all the Prophets since Joseph Smith.

            It it not an idea that should be entertained by believing LDS. It is as much of a blunder as was Ex 20:14 in the 1631 Bible published by Barker & Lucas, which read “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

          • I agree with R Watson. After noticing this comment I happened to run into this quotation from a talk given at BYU by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone; I thought it particularly appropriate to the “inspired fiction” discussion:

            “I know the Book of Mormon is true, and I would rather lay down my life this instant than deny that Nephi, King Benjamin, Alma, Ammon, Moroni, Mormon, and the Brother of Jared were prophets of God. I know they were. As I stated to the missionaries, the enemies of the Church could line up four abreast from San Francisco to Salt Lake City and come to me to try to convince me that the Church was not true, and when the last one had passed by I would still know that this church is the only true church on the face of the earth.”

            I could desire that all latter-day saints were on this same spiritual level of belief in God’s book.

          • Yes Dennis. Can you imagine Joseph Smith receiving a vision from the Angel Moroni, when indeed this very angel is apparently from a book classified as ‘inspired fiction.’ Was the visitation inspired fiction too. The plates (don’t forget the 11+ witnesses) – were these part of the inspired fiction too?

            The whole notion is absurd and certainly the worst form of wresting the scriptures. 100% the false doctrine of man, incorrectly mingled with scripture.
            There is no place for it in any serious and meaningful discussion.

  6. I included a definition of “midrash” in a footnote to 2 Ne 26.14–at my mother’s insistence. She felt the same way as John. But it’s a great term and would be a nice addition to our LDS discourse.

  7. Brant Gardner’s review of the truly remarkable new The Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon is excellent. Grant Hardy has created a truly remarkable vehicle for the careful study of the founding text of the Church of Jesus Christ. And the Maxwell Institute is to be congratulated for publishing this edition of the Book of Mormon.

  8. Thanks for a useful review. I like the touch of the blank page and suspect you have correctly inferred the reason for it. I was also glad to see read that this is simply a blank page and not the annoying formerly-blank pages bearing the self-contradictory phrase, “This page deliberately left blank.”

    I look forward to acquiring this book and congratulate Grant Hardy on another valuable contribution.

  9. “The Study Edition is clearly for Latter-day Saints” I think should say “The Study Edition is clearly for scholarly Latter-day Saints”. I say that because the book uses scholarly words like midrash. I asked a number of my friends from my ward who are college educated if they knew what midrash meant and none of them had even heard of it. Even my wife had never heard me mention the word and had no idea what it meant even though she was married to me when I was going through the ancient near eastern studies program at BYU, which is where I learned what midrash meant. I’m not certain what word would work better, “exegesis” would be even worse. Maybe just “explanation”.

    • I don’t agree at all with John’s suggestion that Grant Hardy truly remarkable Study Edition should have warned readers that it is “clearly for scholarly Latter-day Saints.” If someone gives up on The Study Edition merely because they did not know the meaning of the word “midrash,” they could easily expand their grasp of the larger world by simply consulting a dictionary or, these days, doing a little google search.

      When I taught at Brigham Young University, I taught the Book of Mormon at least one semester for more than fifteen years. I was once summoned to the office of the Dean of Religious Education. When I arrived, I faced both the Dean and a Department chairman. They were highly critical of my teaching. Why? They had gotten a letter from the mother of a Freshman girl that had been sent to the Twelve Apostles and the then President of BYU, which had been routinely sent down the line to the Dean of Religious Education.

      This mother was outraged by the fact that on the very first day of class, I had made a brief introduction to how we came to have the Book of Mormon. I had explained, among other things, that Joseph Smith was a Seer, and that he had used the Interpreters that came with the metal plates until he had to return them to the heavenly messenger, and then he had used his own seer stone, which he had put in a hat and then had read a from the stone a few words at a time to his scribes.

      This mother was obviously troubled because her daughter had heard things that neither of them already knew. How dare I present accurate information to her daughter in a class on the Book of Mormon at BYU? Well, they had written a letter to this women in which they thanked her for informing them of my heresies, and also promised her that I would never again be allowed to teach the Book of Mormon again.

      I asked them what exactly I had gotten wrong. Oh, they agreed that what I had said was exactly what they believed. But, I was obviously not sufficiently aware of the sensitive nature of what we teach. Why not, I asked, try to explain that what I had taught her daughter was clearly new and fully accurate information about the recovery of the Book of Mormon? Well, she might then complain to the Apostles about them, they explained.

      I left and as I was passing the Smoot Building, out of the side entrance came the then President of BYU–that is, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who I had known for many years. He immediately asked me what was wrong. I explained. He said that he would have something to say to those two those two cowards about how they dealt with that letter. I never quite recovered from that treatment by those two fellows.

      We seek further light and knowledge. And this necessarily means discovering things we had not previously know, and jettisoning things we previously believed, does it not?

      On November 10, 2018, Elder Holland gave the 2018 Neal A. Maxwell Lecture, which is now available from the Maxwell Institute. Elder Holland was not shy about advancing, with the full approval of all of the Apostles, and in his Apostolic role, Elder Maxwell’s call for Disciple Scholars. I urge everyone to read that truly remarkable address, which for me was a vindication of my own intellectual efforts to place my best efforts on what Elder Maxwell liked to call the altar, in the hope of being acceptable to the Lord for our words and deeds. There does not seem to me to be any reason why every Latter-day Saint should not strive to in understanding of both divine and human things as they seek to become sanctified Saints.

      I published essays and helped assess and edit manuscripts for the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, which was eventually renamed the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship soon after he passed away. This was my own way, given whatever gifts I might have, to be what Elder Maxwell called a Disciple Scholar, which I believe everyone should strive to become, as far as they possibly can.

      With this in mind, I urge everyone to locate Elder Holland’s remarks on the Maxwell Institute webpage, and then carefully read his remarks.

      • My point is midrash”is a $10 word, when there are perfectly suitable $1 words that would get the same point across. I feel like using a word like this in a work that purports to be for the average saint causes an unnecessary distraction. I know, for example, if my wife had picked this book up in deseret book and, flipping through it, ran across the word midrash (as I did the first time I flipped through it) she would immediately put it down, assuming that it wasn’t written for her. The focus, in my opinion, should be on the text of the Book of Mormon, not on helping the average saint learn new scholarly words, no matter how good those words are.

        • John, it sounds like you are not fan of arcane thang, nor or esoteric fleck. Yah. There is a feeling of joy and uplift for me when I read Nephi tell of his love of ‘plainness’ of speech. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once spoke of the virtue of “Christian plain speaking.”
          But I think Louis Midgley gives people like you and me a complementary view: Narratives can still challenge us at times to, well, Learn. My Mac computer has this delightful feature where, when a word anywhere is clicked upon, its definition pops up. Who would imagine! (Speaking as a child of the 1970’s.) Academics love wordplay, but who can blame them? Words are part of their craft. Nowadays, I want to be challenged.

          But you and I might agree on another thing: Scholarly narrative should have redeeming value. I have no respect or affection for nonsense couched in sophistication. Scholarship becomes priestcraft when we are told that we must be inappropriately tolerant — that we must embrace every speaker at an MHA conference whether he be an active apostate or author of a book that proclaims our founding prophet a fraud, because hey, “they are nice people.” A little obscure word use is fine I would say, but do not try to con me with intellectualized bunk.

      • I agree. This book is suitable for everyone. In fact, the outlay makes it much easier to read, understand, and remember. This is at least the feedback back I have received from readers of this edition who are not what one would call ‘scholarly Latter-day Saints’.

        It is great to see the ‘scales of fundamentalism’ fall from the eyes of many modern day readers of the Book of Mormon as we learn more about this wonderful and complex volume of scripture.

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