Exploring the Iconic Nature of the Book of Mormon: Part IIb – The Fluid Nature of the Text of the Book of Mormon

I here continue my series of posts dealing with the iconic nature of the Book of Mormon (BoM). For my introduction to this series, see here. For the first half of the current section on textual criticism and the BoM, see here.

In my last post I gave a brief description of the various manuscripts and editions of the BoM. I would now like to examine what I have found to be several very interesting textual variants in the BoM textual witnesses. As I stated in my last post, anyone interested in BoM text criticism should consult the foundational work of Royal Skousen if she or he has not done so already (I rely heavily upon it in this current post). [1]  In the following examples I will use “OM” to refer to the original manuscript, and “PM” to refer to the printer’s manuscript. For the various editions I will use the year of publication, thus, “1830” refers to the edition of the BoM that was published in Palmyra, New York in 1830. The 1981 edition will stand for the most current edition. [2]  Now on to the examples:

1 Nephi 8:31

1981: “And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building”

OM: “and he also saw other multitudes pr∫sing their way towards that great and spacious building”

Though many have imagined Lehi’s dream as depicting groups of people “feeling” their way towards the “great and spacious building” (perhaps in correlation with the “mist of darkness” mentioned in vv 23 and 24?), the text probably should read “people pressing their way…” The OM at this point is in an unknown scribe’s handwriting (Skousen refers to him/her as “Scribe 3” or “Scribe y”) and contains an elongated “s” represented above by a “∫”. According to Skousen, since the scribe’s initial “p” looks like an “f,” Oliver Cowdery in producing the PM misread “pressing” as “feeling.” This conclusion is consistent with the rest of Lehi’s dream which “always us[es] press rather than feel when referring to the movement of people.” [3]  This apparent misreading has been reproduced ever since.

1 Nephi 11:18

1981: “Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God”

1837: “behold the virgin which thou seest is the mother of the Son of God”

1830: “behold the virgin which thou seest is the mother of God”

PM: “behold the virgin which thou seest is the mother of <the son of> God”

OM: “behold the virgin which thous seest is the mother of God”

Most textual variants in the BoM are fairly benign when it comes to questions of doctrine. This was the case with 1 Nephi 8:31. While “pressing” is certainly different from “feeling,” it is our imaginative portraiture that is probably more affected than our theological views. However, there are occasions where a change might affect interpretations of doctrine. 1 Nephi 11:18 is representative of such a variant. In preparation for the 1837 Kirtland edition, Joseph Smith went through portions of the PM and made adjustments, one of which was to insert “the Son of” in front of a number of references to God in order to clarify who was being referenced. This is the case in 1 Nephi 11:18 (see also 1 Nephi 11: 21, 32, 40). As one can see above, OM, PM, and 1830 all read “mother of God” prior to Joseph adjusting the text in 1837 to read “mother of the son of God” (represented by <the son of> in the PM above). I will not attempt here to weigh in on whether these changes represent clarifications, doctrinal reinterpretations, or something else, but merely offer the variant as an interesting example of the textual fluidity of the BoM text. [4]

“Amlicites” in Alma 2:11-12; 21–27, 43

1981: (2:11-12) “Now the people of Amlici were distinguished by the name of Amlici, being called Amlicites and … the Nephites were aware of the intent of the Amlicites”

PM: (2:11-12) “now the people of Amlici were distinguished by the name of Amlici being called Amlikites and … the Nephites were aware of the intent of the Amlikites”   NB: though the first 2 occurrences are spelled “Amlikites in the PM, the remainder (25 occurrences) are spelled “Amlicites”

1981: “Amalekites” 19 times in Alma chs 21–27, 43

PM: “Amalekites” 19 times in Alma chs 21–27, 43

OM: “Amelicites” in Alma 24:1, 24:28, and 27:2

One possible way to view this variant might help to explain an entire group of people known in the 1981 text as the “Amalekites.” As the text now stands, two particular groups of dissenters (against the Nephites) are mentioned: (1) the “Amlicites” in Alma 2–3, and (2) the “Amalekites” in Alma 21–27, 43. However, the earliest manuscript evidence (extant portions of OM) spells the name of the second group as “Amelicites.” This becomes important if we realize that while we are accustomed to pronouncing “Amlicites” with a “soft c” sound (as instructed by the “Pronunciation Guide” at the back of the 1981), the use of a “k” in the PM suggests that Joseph pronounced the name with a “hard c” sound. Assuming the scribal inclination to write down a “k” for a “hard c” sound, it is worth noting that the only difference between the  the “Amelicites” (OM) in the later chapters of Alma and the “Amlicites” (1981) of Alma 2–3 is a single “e.” Viewing the added “e” as a scribal error makes sense in the larger context of the BoM narrative . Alma 24:1 states that “many of the Amalekites and the Amulonites were after the order of the Nehors” while Alma 2:1 informs us that Amlici was “after the order of the man that slew Gideon,” i.e. Nehor (see Alma 1:15). Furthermore, Alma 43 lists this group among the Zoramites and Amulonites, descendants of King Noah who rebelled against the Nephites. Skousen’s suggestions to “Accept the spelling Amlicites instead of Amlikites found in the printer’s manuscript for Alma 2:11-12 [and to] change all 19 occurences of Amalekite(s) in Alma 17–27 and Alma 43 to Amlicite(s)” seem warranted. [5]

Alma 50:40

1981: “Now behold, his name was Pahoran. And Pahoran did fill the seat of his father”

PM: “now behold his name was Pahoran and Pahoran did fill the seat of his father”

OM: “now behold his name was Parhoron and Parhoron did fill the seat of his father”

In one last example, here’s another case of what is probably a scribal error due to the oral/aural nature of the BoM transcription process coupled with the unfamiliarity and irregularity of proper nouns. If Joseph pronounced “Parhoron” with stress on the second syllable (similar to present day pronunciation) the “r” before the “h” would have been difficult to distinguish for a scribe. This seems to be the case as Oliver Cowdery, according to OM evidence, started off hearing the “r” clearly. However, by the fifth occurrence (Alma 51:5) it appears that Oliver was not hearing the “r” as evidenced by his writing of “Pahoron.” It appears that all occurrences of “Pahoran” should in actuality be “Parhoron” [6].

There are countless other examples that could be cited and discussed (“white and delightsome” to “pure and delightsome” in 2 Nephi 30:6, PM and 1830 reading “Benjamin” instead of “Mosiah” in Mosiah 21:28 and Ether 4:1, and several lines of Alma 32:30-31 being accidentally omitted by the 1830 typesetter and not being restored until the 1981); nonetheless, even a few examples should suffice in demonstrating just how fluid the text of the BoM is (a feature prominent in any text). Refraining Beal’s words from my previous posts, “there never has been a time when we could really talk about the Bible in the singular.” [7]  It appears that the same could be said of the Book of Mormon.


1. Skousen’s The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon (CTBOM) project has been a life-long project that is nearing completion. To date, 4 of the proposed 6 volumes have been published: The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text, CTBOM 1 (Provo: FARMS, 2001); The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Entire Text in Two Parts, 2 vols; CTBOM 2 (Provo: FARMS, 2001); Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 6 vols; CTBOM 4 (Provo: FARMS, 2004-2009); The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). Two volumes are still to come: The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon and A Complete Electronic Collation of the Book of Mormon. See Royal Skousen, “History of the Critical Text Project of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11 (2002): 5-21.

2. There are a number of adjustments to the text (some to the canonical text and some to secondary text) that have been made to the edition of the BoM published by Doubleday in 2006 and to the online edition of the BoM. I will make note of such changes when/if needed. A listing of the most recent changes to the standard works can be found at lds.org.

3. Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 1:187.

4. Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 1:230-33. Skousen argues that these changes “should be considered as clarifications, not as doctrinal reinterpretations” (230). Among his arguments is that Jesus is clearly identified as the “Son of God” in earlier parts of 1 Nephi, as well as later parts of the BoM.

5. Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 3:1605-1609. See also Royal Skousen, “The Systematic Text of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11 (2002): 45-66.

6. Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 4:2635-2637.

7. Timothy Beal, The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 22.

Exploring the Iconic Nature of the Book of Mormon: Part IIa – Manuscripts and Editions of the Book of Mormon

In my last post, I introduced two lines of questioning that Timothy Beal has raised in his book The Rise and Fall of the Bible concerning biblical texts. Part of Beal’s intent in writing is to introduce the reader to how a bunch of disparate religious writings came to be known as “The Bible.” Two main points are important in such a discussion: (1) that there are a great number of biblical manuscripts in existence today, and (2) that there are a significant number of differences in how these different manuscripts read. In this current post I would like to (begin to) do something similar with regard to the Book of Mormon. While I was originally planning on accomplishing this in one post, the amount of information has proven worthy of two separate posts; therefore, this post will focus more on the first point raised above, i.e. the different editions and manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, while my next post will focus more on the second point, i.e. the variant readings found in the aforementioned editions and manuscripts.

Such a discussion requires somewhat further explanation when dealing with the unique circumstances of the Book of the Mormon—for while we in fact do possess ancient manuscripts of the bible that we can examine, study, translate, and re-translate, the Book of Mormon provides somewhat of a different situation. Though most Latter-day Saints have a firm belief  that similar manuscripts, in the form of metal records, stand behind the English translation of the Book of Mormon, these records are not available for scholars to study today. Thus, whatever an individual may think and/or belief concerning the historicity of ancient plates or reformed Egyptian, the current situation is one in which readers of the Book of Mormon (believer, non-believer, and everything in-between) experience the Book of Mormon in its 19th century translated form, and (at least to some extent) through the lens of Joseph Smith. This is not to say that there is not worthwhile work being done under the assumption that there were indeed ancient records and ancient editors [1]—only that as far as manuscript evidence goes, we can only examine what we have: and what we have are documents that date from the early 19th century forward. But, let not anyone concern themselves that there isn’t a whole lot to study, examine, and/or learn. On the contrary, there is a wealth of knowledge and understanding to be gained from a close reading of the modern manuscripts and editions of the Book of Mormon—far more, I believe, than most Latter-day Saints assume.

Just as Beal suggested that “there never has been a time when we could really talk about the Bible in the singular,” [2] one could, with good reason, say something similar about the Book of Mormon. As part of the humanist revolution that transpired during the European renaissance period, and particularly due to a renewed interest in classical languages, close readers of the biblical texts began to ask questions regarding the correctness of biblical manuscripts. This line of inquiry would blossom into its own academic discipline called “textual criticism,” a method of examining different manuscripts (in this case, biblical) in order to theorize about how, when, and why scribal alterations were made. Such examinations have revealed, and continue to reveal, much concerning scribal culture and practices. [3]  In general, however, text criticism has shown that any biblical text contains a substantial number of scribal alterations (both intentional and accidental) made at different points during its transmission. [4]  This principle alone adds a layer of complexity to the oft said/heard proclamation: “well, that’s what the scriptures say.” The findings of textual scholarship, at the very least, beg for a follow up question to such a statement: “which particular (manuscript of the) scriptures are you referring to?”

Lack of physical records make it difficult to apply these principles to the the ancient records spoken of regarding the Book of Mormon; however, it is quite possible, and worthwhile, to examine the modern manuscripts and editions that are extant. Any discussion about Book of Mormon text critical work owes much to BYU linguistics professor Royal Skousen, whose nearly completed The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon (CTBOM) has provided not only an invaluable resource for mapping out the manuscript and edition/version history of the Book of Mormon, but also for acknowledging and analyzing the textual variants that can be found through the aforementioned manuscripts and editions. [5] By Skousen’s count, there are 2o editions of the Book of Mormon text and 2 manuscripts. As stated above, in my next post I will review several of the many significant and fascinating examples of textual variants found in Book of Mormon text(s); thus, a brief mention of the available sources is in order:


The Original Manuscript (OM)

Most Latter-day Saints are more than aware of the scraps of parchment used by various scribes to record the words of the Book of Mormon as Joseph Smith dictated them out loud. Perhaps less known is the current state of what has come to be called the “original manuscript.” While OM represents the earliest text that we possess for the Book of Mormon, a difficulty exists in the fact that most of it is no longer extant. After making some editorial changes in 1840, Joseph Smith placed OM in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House. Some 40 years later, Lewis Bidamon removed OM only to find that mold and water had mostly destroyed the manuscript. Today, approximately 28% of OM remain (1 Nephi 2–13; 1 Nephi 15–2 Nephi 1; Alma 22-60; Alma 62–Helaman 3; along with a number of other more fragmentary sections [6]). Of the extant 28% of OM, the LDS church owns about 25% while the Wilford Wood Foundation, the University of Utah, and other various individuals own the remaining 3%. [7]

The Printer’s Manuscript (PM)

Unlike OM, PM is virtually 100% extant. At Joseph Smith’s direction, scribes prepared PM to serve as a guide for the typesetter (though one sixth of the type was set from OM [Helaman 13:17–Mormon 9:37]). In many cases PM stands as our earliest textual evidence in light of OM being so fragmentary. Even in the copying process from OM to PM, scribal errors entered the text. [8]


Though there are 22 editions of the Book of Mormon, some editions certainly play a more interesting role in the textual history of the Book of  Mormon. Aside from the current edition, the 1830 edition is the most well known and most referenced by Latter-day Saints today. Equally important editions include the 1837 edition completed in Kirtland and the 1840 edition completed in Nauvoo, both under the supervision of Joseph Smith. It precisely because Joseph Smith’s authority plays such a integral role in Mormon thought that these first 3 editions are of such interest, particularly the textual variants that exist between them. Numerous other editions would be published including the Liverpool, England edition, the first over-seas edition, published in 1841. Interestingly, the 1841 Liverpool edition came about at the hands of a group of missionaries who left in obedience to a July 8, 1838 commandment to “depart to go over the great waters [to England], and there promulgate my gospel” (D&C 118:4). Since Joseph Smith’s 1840 revisions would not be complete until after they departed, the 1841 Liverpool edition does not reflect any of the changes found in the 1840 edition. The 1879 edition is significant in that a committee led by Orson Pratt divided up the text into much smaller chapters and verses (nearly identical to the current edition), a process that began with Franklin D. Richard’s editorial work for the 1852 edition. The 1920 edition introduced the double-columed format familiar to Latter-day Saints today in order to appear as bibles of the time did. The 1981 edition, the most current edition contains interesting changes including the introduction of the subtitle: “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” [9]  Even subsequent changes to the peripheral text in the online version of the Book of Mormon adds to the discussion of the fluidity of texts. [10]

Having provided a brief sketch of the numerous extant manuscripts and editions of the Book of Mormon, I will, in my next post, look to address several of the more interesting textual variants that I’ve come across in my (admittedly limited) study of Book of Mormon text criticism. At the very least, the existence of multiple editions and manuscripts suggests that while the situation is not identical to that of the biblical documents, Beal’s question about the use of “The Bible”  is not all together unrelated to the question of the Book of Mormon as compared to the iconic Book of Mormon.


[1] I have particularly enjoyed Grant Hardy’s volume, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). Hardy’s volume, interestingly enough, attempts to look at the narrative of the Book of Mormon without becoming too entangled in questions regarding historicity, a goal that I think he accomplishes to a great degree. I ultimately agree with Hardy that the game of finding parallels to try and “prove” the Book of Mormon to be this or that has become fatigued and stagnant in many regards. Nevertheless, I am intrigued by some of the possibilities presented by Hardy regarding individuals authoring, editing, compiling, and/or abridging records and find his book a valuable catalyst for discussions about the Book of Mormon regardless of one’s religious views.

[2] Timothy Beal, The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 22.

[3] On scribes and scribal culture, see: David M. Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Philip R. Davies, Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures, Library of Ancient Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998); William M. Schniedewind, How the Bible Became a Book: The Textualization of Ancient Israel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

[4] For a brief overview of biblical text criticism, see Moshe Goshen-Gottstien, “Hebrew Bible Textual Criticism,” 19-26, and Kurt Aland, “New Testament Textual Criticism,” 27-34, both in Methods of Biblical Interpretation, Forward by Douglas A. Knight (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004), a condensed version of John H. Hayes (ed.), Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999). For a more exhaustive treatment, the classic works are: Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 3d ed. revised and expanded (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012); Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[5] Skousen’s The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon (CTBOM) project has been a life-long project that is nearing completion. To date, 4 of the proposed 6 volumes have now been published: The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text. CTBOM 1 (Provo: FARMS, 2001); The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Entire Text in Two Parts, 2 vols; CTBOM 2 (Provo: FARMS, 2001); Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 6 vols; CTBOM 4 (Provo: FARMS, 2004-2009); The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). Two volumes are still to come: The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon and A Complete Electronic Collation of the Book of Mormon.

[6] Book of Mormon references are to the current edition of the Book of Mormon. Prior to 1879, the chapters in the Book of Mormon were divided up differently.

[7] Royal Skousen, “History of the Critical Text Project of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11 (2002): 5-21 (6).

[8] Skousen, “History,” 6.

[9] Much of my information for the different editions comes from Richard E. Turley Jr. and William W. Slaughter, How We Got the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2011).

[10] For example, while the “Introduction” to the 1981 edition reads “all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians,” the online version, available at www.lds.org reads, “all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians” (my emphasis).

Exploring the Iconic Nature of the Book of Mormon: Part I, Introduction

In his recent book The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book, Timothy Beal offers an insightful and timely assessment of what he calls the “the iconic cultural meaning of the Bible.” [1]  Beal proposes two main arguments in his work. First, that “there never has been a time when we could really talk about the Bible in the singular,” [2] and, second, that there is a marked difference between what the Bible actually is and the way in which many have come to view it. This post will serve as an introduction to a series of posts interested in exploring how (if at all) Beal’s ideas regarding the Bible might apply to Latter-day Saints and the Book of Mormon.

To Beal’s first point, while the Bible is often thought of today as a book (leather bound of course, with your full name on the cover, and, if you are lucky, tabs for better scripture chasing skills and perhaps a sensible tote), in reality, the Bible contains numerous pieces of writing that span nearly 1000 years of history. Not only do these disparate texts each contain their own respective historical, textual, and literary contexts, but they have been edited and copied numerous times. Furthermore, these groups of texts were later translated as well as gathered together in particular collections that would later be canonized and held as authoritative by various religious groups. Many, in responding to such a scenario, have suggested that, “we need to get back to the original.” Beal addresses this by saying: “It’s a reasonable assumption. But it’s nevertheless wrong. There is no single, unadulterated Bible, no pristine original, at the base of this crazy biblical family tree. In fact, the very idea of the bible as a fixed canon of scriptures, not to mention believed by many to be the literal, divinely authored Word of God, would have been completely unfamiliar, indeed inconceivable, not only to Jesus and his disciples but also to the first few centuries of Christians.” [3]  That the Bible did not appear in book format all at once is only one side of Beal’s argument against there being no such thing as the Bible. Even today, a number of factors support Beal’s conclusion that to speak of bibles, in the plural, would be a more accurate descriptor. While many may assume that all bibles contain the same books, there are, in fact, a number of different biblical canons that are actively in use today among different religious groups. [4]  Furthermore, the sheer number of bibles available for public consumption, even among those that contain the same books, is staggering. This abundance is not a recent development. Beal explains that, “even in the early centuries of the print era, after Gutenberg, we find a burgeoning Bible-publishing industry with literally thousands of different editions and versions [of the the Bible].” [5]  Because of an officially endorsed version of the scriptures, Latter-day Saints are generally not accustomed to the extremely wide range of bibles available: everything from the NIV Teen Study Bible from Zondervan, to the fully armored Metal Bible, to Thomas Nelson Publishers’ Shiny Sequin Bible, to the Bride’s Bible. [6]  With such choices, no wonder “the average Christian household owns nine Bibles and purchases at least one new Bible every year.” [7]  Whether one is speaking of how the Bible came to be, the different canons in use among religious groups, or the copious editions and versions of the Bible available for purchase, Beal’s point seems worth noting: it is difficult to speak of the Bible.

Beal’s second argument regarding the way in which many US Christians perceive of the Bible is equally fascinating. While biblical consumerism is at an all-time high, biblical literacy is at an all time low. “Could it be,” Beal asks, “that biblical literacy is being replaced by biblical consumerism?” [8]  Following up on this question, Beal asks what is it that Bible believers do believe about the Bible if biblical literacy is so low but opinions about the Bible remain intact and enthusiastic nonetheless? He suggests that despite not reading and being particularly familiar with the Bible, that many Americans have nevertheless constructed an idea—what he calls an iconic view—about what the Bible is. So for example, while the Bible is made up of a plethora of writings from various authors and editors, Beal suggests that many have nonetheless come to view the Bible as univocal, in that “it speaks for itself in one, unified voice, without contradiction,” or, by way of another example, while there are many issues and questions concerning contemporary ethics and/or morals that receive little or no treatment within the biblical texts, many nevertheless view the Bible as both practical, meaning that it “promises to serve as a reference manual and a dependable guide,” as well as comprehensive, in that it “cover[s] everything human beings may ever possibly need to know.” [9]  Such an iconic view of what people want and/or need the Bible to be, Beal argues, is quickly supplanting what the Bible actually is. For Beal, treating the Bible as a “closed book of answers,” rather than an open “library of questions” is problematic in that “when we try to make a text univocal, ‘one-voiced,’ of one voice with itself, we deprive it of its richness”—or, in Derrida’s words, it becomes subject to “impoverishment by univocality.” [10]

In my next post, I begin to apply these ideas more specifically to Latter-day Saints and the Book of Mormon and see what happens.


[1] Timothy Beal, The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).

[2] Beal, The Rise and Fall, 22.

[3] Beal, The Rise and Fall, 85.

[4] For example, the Roman Catholic canon contains books not included in the Protestant canon, the so-called Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (Tobit, Judith, Greek additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ben Sira, Baruch, Greek additions to Daniel, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees). Likewise, additional books are included in canons such as those of the Greek Orthodox, Coptic, and Ethiopic traditions.

[5] Beal, The Rise and Fall, 22.

[6] See chapter 3 in Beal’s work, which discusses the “values added” by dozens of different types of Bibles.

[7] Beal, The Rise and Fall, 36.

[8] Beal, The Rise and Fall, 35.

[9] For Beal’s complete list of characteristics (authoritative, univocal, practical, accessible, comprehensive, and exclusive), see Beal, The Rise and Fall, 4.

[10] As quoted in Beal, The Rise and Fall, 148-49.

Scripture Mastery Context(s) Series: Jeremiah 16:16 – Should Missionaries be Hunting & Fishing?

“Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks” (Jer 16:16 KJV)

Seminary instructors, both full-time and volunteer, have urged countless students to commit this verse to memory in an effort to show that: “In the last days the Lord will send missionaries to gather Israel.” [1]  Even those who may have missed out on seminary needn’t look far to find this verse evoked in discussions surrounding missionary efforts (though interestingly enough it is absent from Preach My Gospel). “[T]he fishers and hunters described in Jeremiah 16:16 are missionaries of the Church,” the Old Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual explains. In like manner, if one follows the footnote attached to the word “fishers”  in the LDS edition of the Bible one will find the note “TG Missionary Work.” Similar usage of this verse occurs, both explicitly and implicitly, within various sermons, addresses, and commentaries by a multitude of LDS leaders and/or authors. [2]  Within this interpretive tradition I have heard it explained that this verse shows that some missionaries, often those serving “high baptizing missions,” will have “great success” just as a fisher brings in many fish using a net. [3]  On the other hand, some missionaries will have “limited success” as they “hunt out” those to hear the Gospel one by one. While this verse may coincidentally serve (with a bit of re-contextualizing and some creative exegesis) as a metaphorical spectrum to explain the baptism rates of full-time missionaries, an examination of the literary and historical context of this verse raises some interesting questions with regard to hunting and fishing among other things. [4]

Continue reading “Scripture Mastery Context(s) Series: Jeremiah 16:16 – Should Missionaries be Hunting & Fishing?”

“Every wo/man that striveth for mastery”: Thinking About LDS Scripture Mastery (A New Series of Posts)

**I wish I could say that my recent lack of posts at FPR has been due to the fact that I’ve been following the newest reincarnation “Further” (Bobby and Phil, minus Mickey, Billy) around the country in a VW Microbus, but other events have been the culprits. In any case, I am excited to be here with FPR at Patheos and look forward to being more involved again and “not fade away.”**

For quite some time now I have been pondering a long-term series of posts that look at the 100 Scripture Mastery (SM) verses (25 for each year’s course of study: Old Testament [along with the Pearl of Great Price], New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine & Covenants) that high school age Latter-day Saints are encouraged to memorize during their (ideally) 4-year religious education as part of the LDS Church Educational System’s (CES) Seminary program. In particular, I am interested in examining the re-contextualization of these particular verses in the context of the CES and SM program. Similar hermenuetical issues have interested me in the past as can be seen, for example, in my past post: “Levels of Understanding in Isaiah(?).”

In the first (forthcoming) post in the series, I will provide somewhat of an introduction (I’m not sure if that makes this an “Introduction before the Introduction”) by briefly attempting to trace the beginnings of both the CES organization as a whole, as well as the pedagogical approach of committing scriptural verses to memory that has been (more or less) formalized in the SM program.

In subsequent posts, I will look at individual SM verses and attempt to see not only how CES, for the most part via manuals and teacher development training meetings [1], have re-contextualized these verses, but also how this compares to how various biblical scholars have re-contextualized these verses. While I won’t pretend that my biases always view both (or any) of these re-contextualizations as equally valid, responsible, useful, and/or beneficial, I do want to stress that those that are trained (or are in the process of being trained) as biblical scholars also take part in the practice of re-contextualization or re-construction—when we’re not busy deconstructing 🙂 . Scholars’ hard work and commitment should in no way be overlooked and/or underestimated, and yet it is important to remember as one such scholar has pointed out, that “[h]istorians are text readers and have to deal with the hermeneutic problem that no text (i.e. historical source) can be understood the way it was “originally” meant.” [2] So while I view the process of contextualizing biblical verses as far more complex than providing background, in Ranke’s words, “wie es eigentlich gewesen [ist]” [3], I work from a perspective that realizes scholarship (as well as myself!) also has biases and tendencies.

All that to say that in beginning this series of posts, I do not wish to convey the idea that I am necessarily seeking to systematically “debunk” the SM verses one-by-one (though to be sure, some critique will occur at times)—the hermeneutical issues are more complex than that. Rather, I hope to see what happens when these two (thus far) strange interlocutors are put into dialogue.

Hope you enjoy the posts!



1. I think it important to point out that for a number of reasons, much [most?] of the interpretive force behind how scripture is viewed in SS and CES settings lies not with the instructors (who by all means deserve recognition and praise [especially the early morning Seminary teachers out there….zzzz…] for the volunteered time they freely give), but with the manuals provided to the respective instructors.

2. Hans M. Barstad, “History and the Hebrew Bible,” in Lester L. Grabbe (ed.), Can a History of ‘Ancient Israel’ Be Written? (European Seminar in Historical Methodology 1; JSOTSup 245; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 41. Also representative of this view is Davies statement that, “[m]odern ‘biblical historians’ do not merely parrot the biblical framework in their own historiography.” Philip R. Davies, “Biblical Histories, Ancient and Modern,” in Can a History of ‘Ancient Israel’ Be Written?, 116.

3. This oft-quoted phrase from the German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886) can be translated, “as it actually [or essentially] was.” Much debate has ensued about what the particularities of this statement mean/t; however, I use it here as a symbol to represent any idea, hope, and/or perception that historians do indeed have (even if in part) access to the “the past.”

Would Jesus “Stick to the Manual”?

Recently I was asked to fill in as Gospel Doctrine teacher. I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity/challenge of helping people gain another lens through which to view the scriptures (ancient and/or modern) since everytime I see people have that moment of enlightenment when they gain new insight into the scriptures, gospel, etc. (something that I would argue is an observable phenomenon), I feel that I get to re-live the moments of enlightenment in my own life. This process of learning, teaching, learning, teaching, etc. is by far and away the place where I feel my strongest personal connection to the gospel, the church, and God and thus rarely pass on such an opportunity. My lesson went very well and a great majority of the class were thrilled to gain some insight into the context of verses that are so often repeated that they have nearly become proverbial:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).
Continue reading “Would Jesus “Stick to the Manual”?”

Faith Promoting “Problems”

A few weeks ago my Bishop asked me to be the speaker at the monthly Bishop’s Youth Discussion. I’ve spoken at several of these events and enjoy teaching the youth so I quickly agreed. When I asked what subject I should speak on he thought for about 5 seconds and asked that I speak on the prophet Joseph Smith. This is an interesting occurrence since 9 times out of 10 church leaders ask me to speak on topics that have to with the scriptures, but in this case:  Joseph Smith. Preparing and delivering my remarks has drawn my mind to reflect on Joseph Smith, Church History, etc. over the past few days so I share a few autobiographical thoughts akin to some fairly recent posts found here by Enoch and here by TT.

In the last 18 months I have come to realize just how complex the prophet (and human being) Joseph Smith is. Never again will I look at him the same. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing only time can tell; however, I feel blessed to have somewhat of a better understanding about the history of our founder. Magic, seer stones, masons, plates and all, I feel that I am a more informed person having learned what I have learned. Many have asked me how I can know the things that I know and still have a desire to be a Mormon (just last night in fact). The answer, like Joseph, is complex but certainly entails these points: (1) I feel that the gospel as taught by the LDS Church (despite many concerns) helps me and my family to be better people, (2) I find it comforting to belong to a group of people that know how to serve and push me to serve more, (3) I love belonging to a group with such a rich history and tradition. I would be dishonest if I didn’t feel a need/want to carry on this tradition (at least the parts I like :)) (4) It’s fun! I’ve met a number of amazing people in the church that make life better and certainly a whole lot more interesting. Strangely enough though, I must say that many of the more “human” episodes in Joseph’s life (and in Church History) have helped me to feel closer to Joseph than before. Why? Because he is not just an infallible fairy tale that my parents tell me about anymore. He is a real man that makes real mistakes and is yet (according to my faith) a prophet of God. How prophets are nothing more than human and yet represent the divine is quite a paradox and yet, paradox describes my faith so adequately. I believe it was Richard Bushman in a podcast who said something to the effect of, “if you don’t have paradox in your life, then you are not living.” This is certainly not to say that I have found ways to view all the less-than-stellar moments in our church’s history (not to mention present situations/happenings) that are helpful and make sense, but I have found enough to continue. And so it is that many of the events in our Church’s history that have been seen as “problems” have, in an odd sort of way, become faith promoting problems.

The Shorter (or Longer?) Reading is to be Preferred

The release of the “Book of Commandments and Revelations” (BCR) in the latest installment of the Joseph Smith Papers has provided tremendous insights into the textual history of Joseph Smith’s revelations, most of which were eventually canonized in our current edition of the D&C. I have spent countless hours (most of which I don’t have) examining the subtle (and not so subtle) changes that occur in the textual history of many of the revelations. [1] Marquardt’s volume on the subject has been (and still is to a certain extent) immensely helpful in this regard; however, the BCR was not available to him when he published The Joseph Smith Revelations [2] and thus the BCR adds valuable insight into our understanding of the textual evolution of Joseph’s revelations.
Continue reading “The Shorter (or Longer?) Reading is to be Preferred”