In this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast, Stephen Smoot interviews Grant Hardy, editor of the newly released Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon. They discuss the history of publishing the Book of Mormon, and in particular the key features and motivations behind Grant’s earlier Reader’s Edition. While the Study Edition shares many of the features that made that earlier edition so useful—including paragraphs, quotations marks, poetic stanzas, and section headings—it also includes changes that reflect Book of Mormon research over the last fifteen years.
The paragraphing, poetic formatting and section headings have all been revised. Bolded text in the lengthy quotations from Isaiah and Matthew indicate where there are differences between the Book of Mormon and the King James Version, making it easier to see how the Nephite record can function as a commentary on the Bible. The original chapters are more clearly marked. And there are many more footnotes pointing out literary features, narrative connections, and helpful observations about events and people. Grant shares some of his favorite new insights that have been incorporated into the volume, along with why he believes Emma Smith’s testimony deserves equal billing with those of the Three and Eight Witnesses.
The Study Edition has several hundred footnotes drawn from Royal Skousen’s Critical Text Project identifying superior readings from the original and printer’s manuscripts that were lost in the process of copying, typesetting, and printing various editions of the Book of Mormon. There are also numerous footnotes suggesting alternative punctuation that clarify the meaning of particular verses. And, of course, at the end of the volume are helpful maps, charts, indexes, brief essays, and excerpts from primary sources about Joseph Smith and the translation.
Together, the general formatting of the Study Edition makes the Book of Mormon easier to read, while the footnotes help focus attention on exact words and historical details. It is significant as well that while the Reader’s Edition used the 1920 edition of the Book of Mormon for its base text, the Maxwell Institute received permission from the Church to reproduce the official 2013 version of the text in the Study Edition, so the words are exactly the same. This means that not only can this new edition be used as a study aid for college students, teachers, missionaries, and in personal study but also it can be read as canonized scripture.
The conversation concludes with comments about the striking full-page woodcuts that were commissioned especially for this volume from the noted LDS artist Brian Kershisnik, and how this Study Edition can help teach members of the Church how to better read and understand the Book of Mormon.
About Our Guest:
Grant Hardy is Professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He has a B.A. in Ancient Greek from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. in Chinese Language and Literature from Yale. He has authored books on diverse topics from Chinese history to Mormon scripture. He is the author/editor of two previous books on the Book of Mormon. Grant and his wife Heather have two children.
Latter-day Saint Perspectives Podcast
Episode 101: Reading the Book of Mormon with Grant Hardy
This is not a verbatim transcript.
Some wording has been modified for clarity, and timestamps are approximate.
Stephen O. Smoot: 00:43 Welcome to another episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast. I am your host for this episode, Stephen Smoot, filling in for Laura Hales, and I am very excited to be sitting down with the one and only Grant Hardy for this episode. We’re grateful to have you here, Grant.
Grant Hardy: 00:58 It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Stephen O. Smoot: 01:01 Before we jump into what our discussion is today, which is your new Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon, I thought it might be good to get to know you a little bit. Grant, could you tell us more about yourself, your academic background, and your personal background that got you interested in studying the Book of Mormon?
Grant Hardy: 01:19 Sure. When I went to college, I went to BYU. And my first semester of my first year, I signed up for ancient Greek because why else would you go to college?
Stephen O. Smoot: 01:29 Yeah. Why not?
Grant Hardy: 01:29 That’s the obvious choice. I was excited about that, and then after my freshman year, I went on a mission. I was assigned to serve in Taiwan and learn Mandarin Chinese. I got interested in that as well, and then came back and continued a bachelor’s degree in ancient Greek. I minored in Chinese, and then went to grad school at Yale in Chinese language and literature. I’ve been a professor since then. I’m teaching Chinese history.
Stephen O. Smoot: 01:56 It sounds like you have a remarkable academic background then with various cultures and languages, and as I understand, especially religious texts. You’ve published and done some lectures on world religious texts. Could you tell us a little bit more about the work that you’ve done in that context?
Grant Hardy: 02:13.604 Sure. I teach at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and I have a joint appointment in the history department and in the department of religious studies. I teach courses on the history of Buddhism and on world scripture. A few years ago, I did a lecture series on DVD and CD with the Great Courses company called “Sacred Texts of the World” that was 36 lectures looking at scripture from various religious traditions. I was trying to introduce those and help people make sense of new and perhaps foreign traditions.
Stephen O. Smoot: 02:46 We are here today to talk about your Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon. But before we get into that, I thought it would be good to talk about the history of the Book of Mormon or rather the printing history of the Book of Mormon.
When average Latter-day Saints think of the Book of Mormon, they probably imagine the blue missionary copy that’s everywhere that you hand out as a missionary or to your kids or whatever. But there is a long history behind printed editions of the Book of Mormon leading up to what we have here with the Maxwell Institute edition. Just briefly, could you tell us a little bit about the major milestones of the Book of Mormon printing history? Starting from 1830 to subsequent editions.
Grant Hardy: 03:31 Sure. The first edition is 1830, of course. People can look at that very easily at the Joseph Smith Papers website. The Book of Mormon was first printed in long paragraphs. The previous manuscript basically has just words. It doesn’t have punctuation. It has chapter divisions, but very little other than that. The non-Mormon typesetter put in all of the commas and the semicolons and the periods. It probably has too many commas by 21st-century standards, but he did a good job. He also put it into paragraphs. But basically, he started a new paragraph every time he came to “and it came to pass,” unless it was in two sentences next to each other. Sometimes you have these short paragraphs, and sometimes paragraphs go on for pages and pages. That’s the way the book was printed in 1830.
There’s another edition in 1837 where Joseph Smith made several thousand changes. Mostly minor changes where he’s updating the grammar and systematizing things. He changes “which” to “who” about 1,000 times, and he deletes, I think, 47 instances of, “it came to pass.” And so, he does grammatical fixes. Then in 1840, the last edition that he was personally involved with, he went back and took some readings from the original manuscript that had been lost. He fussed around a little bit with the language. Not a whole lot. The next big edition happens in 1879 when apostle Orson Pratt puts the text for the first time into numbered verses. Joseph Smith had always seen the Book of Mormon in paragraphs.
Stephen O. Smoot: 04:58 Are those numbered verses what we have today?
Grant Hardy: 05:01 Yes.
Stephen O. Smoot: 05:01 Do those Orson Pratt revisions survive today?
Grant Hardy: 05:01 He shortened the chapters. There are more chapters than in 1830, and he put in these numbered verses. They are the same verses we use today. Then in 1920, a committee under the leadership of James Talmage did the Standard Edition where it looks like the King James Version of the Bible. You have double columns and individual verses. There are little introductions to each chapter, and then some cross-references at the bottom of the page. The 1981 edition, the one that we’re most familiar with now, the one that’s current, takes that basic model and then adds a lot more footnotes to the topical guide. It tries to bring the four standard works together so they’re correlated, and you can look up topics. That’s pretty much what we use now. There were some adjustments in 2013, but those were just a couple of words. Mostly some punctuation. Hardly anything at all. We basically use the 1981 edition.
Stephen O. Smoot: 05:59 This isn’t the first time that you yourself have done an edition of the Book of Mormon. You have the study edition that just came out with Maxwell Institute, but a couple of years ago, you had what you call your Readers Edition of the Book of Mormon.
Grant Hardy: 06:11 It’s a little embarrassing to have so many editions of the Book of Mormon myself. I published the Reader’s Edition about 15 years ago with the University of Illinois Press. There are maybe three stories, all equally true, behind that edition. The first one is that when I majored in ancient Greek, I was reading the New Testament along with other things such as Plato, Aristotle, and Homer. I started to take a look at modern translations of the Bible, which are formatted differently than the standard King James Version. Modern translations of the Bible will usually have superscripted verse numbers, and then they’ll be organized into paragraphs, there’ll be quotation marks, and there will be section headings. I thought I could do this with the Book of Mormon. Not change the words, but just change the formatting, make it easier to read, and easier to understand what’s going on to capture the flow of the story. That’s the first story.
Stephen O. Smoot: 07:05 Okay.
Grant Hardy: 07:06 The second story begins in an Elders quorum meeting in New Haven, Connecticut. The missionaries wanted to encourage people to share the Book of Mormon. And so, they had a Book of Mormon that they gave to somebody every week and challenged them to give this to someone else. I got that Book of Mormon one week, and, unfortunately, the missionaries had gone through and highlighted some key verses. They then made a scripture chain throughout the book. They did that with the best of intentions, of course, but I looked at that and said, “I can’t give this to any of my friends because I’m going to graduate school with very smart people, and this will insult them. They know how to read books.” I gave away another copy of the Book of Mormon, but then I was stuck with this blue copy.
Now, I thought, what am I going to do with this scripture-chained copy? I felt bad about throwing it away. So that’s the Book of Mormon that I took a blue pen to and just started making lines to say, “If I were to divide this into paragraphs, where would they go? Is there a natural break in the subjects?” And when I started, I wasn’t even sure that the Book of Mormon would fall out into paragraphs. I mean, I guess it wouldn’t have to. It’d still be the word of God even if it just was jumbled together. But I found that it went pretty easily into paragraphs, and so that was the start of this. That’s story number two.
Grant Hardy: 08:23 Story number three. My wife, Heather, is an astonishingly good reader. I was teaching at the time, and I came home from work one day, and she said, “Oh, I read 100 pages in the Book of Mormon today.” Something like—certainly first and second Nephi—this morning. And she said, “It’s just not . . . there’s not that much there.” She said, “I went to Seminary. I went to Sunday School. I’ve read it a bunch of times. I know the stories. I know the basic doctrines. It’s really repetitive, and it’s awkward.” And she said, “I think I’ve gotten pretty much what I can get out of it.” She tossed it across the room. And I said, “Let me get you a Book of Mormon you can read. I think there’s more there. Let me see what I can do.” So, I had this project. She actually worked with me on this project, and it’s the best gift I’ve ever given anyone perhaps—other than giving my daughter’s phone number to the guy she married, but that’s a different story. I gave Heather a Book of Mormon that she could read, and she taught me how to read it—often reading it for several hours a day and sees all kinds of astonishing things and connections and patterns in it.
Grant Hardy: 09:32 The Reader’s Edition started that. In the 15 years since that was published, we’ve learned a lot more and seen a lot more in the Book of Mormon. It seemed like time to maybe upgrade a few things.
Stephen O. Smoot: 09:44 Go for 2.0 of the Reader’s Edition.
Grant Hardy: 09:46 Something like that, except a new edition of the Reader’s Edition wouldn’t quite work because that was first written as an academic version, right?
Stephen O. Smoot: 09:55 Right. Through a university press.
Grant Hardy: 09:56 Through a university press, and it was religiously neutral to say this is what Mormons believe, but this is how other people think about the text. It was meant to introduce non-Mormons to the Book of Mormon because I’ve had several colleagues who have a Book of Mormon on their shelf that was given to them by a student or something. And I say, “Oh, have you read it?” And they say, “I started it, but—
Stephen O. Smoot: 10:18 It’s hard to get into.
Grant Hardy: 10:18 It’s hard to get into, and they didn’t have much interest. It’s hard to figure out the structure and how things fit together, so I did this academic addition. I used the 1920 edition, which is in the public domain so that anybody can do that. That was easy as far as copyright goes. It was fairly successful, I think, for helping people, particularly outsiders, understand the Book of Mormon and see a little bit more of the story and the flow and how it’s put together. It did pretty well for an academic book. I think it’s sold about 13,000 copies or so
Stephen O. Smoot: 10:53.042 Oh, wow. Great.
Grant Hardy: 10:53.925 Yeah. My books on Chinese history sold much, much less than that. But it never really reached a Latter-day Saint audience, and I thought that a text like this could be really useful for ordinary Latter-day Saints.
In 2014, the Church Education System announced that they were going to do a new revised curriculum, and they were going to do the Book of Mormon in one semester rather than two semesters. I was asked by a blogger at Times and Seasons to come up with what I would do if I were going to teach the teachings and doctrines of the Book of Mormon in one semester. I came up with a sample syllabus, and I thought it would be really helpful to have a college edition of the Book of Mormon. Then in the summer of 2015, the Maxwell Institute invited me to come do a workshop where I actually tried some of these things out. That’s where I put together this newer version with the things that I would want Latter-day Saint college students to know as they were reading the Book of Mormon in more depth and with more sophistication than we often do in Seminary or Sunday School.
Stephen O. Smoot: 12:07 Two years ago, there was a conference at BYU. A Chiasmus Jubilee conference was held, and there were non-Mormon professors and academics that were presenting as well as Mormon professors and academics. One of them he was from Montreal, and I was hosting him. I picked him up at the airport and took him around town and so forth. In the middle of the conference, he asked for a copy of the Book of Mormon, and I immediately went over to the BYU bookstore. I picked up a copy of your Reader’s Edition, and I handed to him and said, “There you go.” The next morning, he had read up to First Nephi 8 or something like that, and he said, “What an interesting and engaging book.” He was all into it. Your Reader’s Edition has gone to very good use.
Grant Hardy: 12:45 Well, I think it’s helpful because as we mentioned before, I’ve worked on scriptures of other religious traditions. I’m always looking for good translations or good formatting because a lot of them are hard to understand if you’re just jumping into it without much background. Some formats and translations are very difficult. I’m trying to make it as easy as possible for people to see what’s there and hopefully to appreciate a little bit of what’s there. I’m glad to hear of your experience.
Stephen O. Smoot: 13:14 Let’s jump into the new Maxwell Institute edition and talk a little bit about some of the features. As I was reading it, I noticed you have the introduction, the Testimony of the Three Witnesses, the Eight Witnesses, and Joseph Smith, right? Stuff that everybody’s probably familiar with.
Grant Hardy: 13:27 Right. I just copied what the—
Stephen O. Smoot: 13:28.912 —just what’s in the Church edition.
Grant Hardy: 13:29 —the official one. Yeah. I wanted all that information in there.
Stephen O. Smoot: 13:32 But then I was struck by something. You also included the testimony of Emma Smith, which is not in the Church’s edition.
Grant Hardy: 13:40 Right.
Stephen O. Smoot: 13:40 I’m interested to hear your thinking behind this.
Grant Hardy: 13:43 I think Emma’s testimony of the Book of Mormon is a key historical document to understand. She was very involved in the translation of the Book of Mormon all the way as Joseph Smith’s first scribe. She did, apparently, some amount with the lost 116 pages. I guess it’s my way to sneak another woman into the Book of Mormon. There aren’t too many of them.
Grant Hardy: 14:03 In the Reader’s Edition, I put her testimony at the end of the book in an appendix. But for this one, I decided I would like to see it up front. I hope people will agree with that decision. I think it certainly adds a lot to think about the text and where it came from. The testimonies of the Three and the Eight Witnesses are really important. I think the Book of Mormon should always be published with those, but those are written, and they’re signed together, right? They’re a formal—
Stephen O. Smoot: 14:29 Kind of like an affidavit-esque thing.
Grant Hardy: 14:30 Like a group statement; whereas, Emma’s testimony is so personal, and she was in the project from the beginning. She says those wonderful things about how Joseph would dictate, and then he’d pick up from where he left off without asking things to be read back to him and didn’t use notes. I also like the fact that she’s not particularly intimidated as well. She thinks it’s from God because Joseph couldn’t . . . she knows him well. He couldn’t really write a well-worded letter, let alone a book like the Book of Mormon.
Stephen O. Smoot: 14:58 That’s good to at least be generally aware of. Of course, we have the Three and the Eight Witnesses and Joseph Smith, but there were others involved like Emma. I personally, if I can editorialize here as the host for just a second, I think it’s a wonderful decision to have Emma right up there with her husband at the forefront providing her testimony and her perspective on this. Giving it that personal touch, as you said, not just a group statement.
Grant Hardy: 15:20 Well, part of what makes scripture a living document is that it needs to be updated for generations. If not the words . . . it’d be hard to have another translation.
Stephen O. Smoot: 15:30 Yeah. Right.
Grant Hardy: 15:31 Some things we’re going to go with the traditional mode, but maybe updated in terms of the format. I think at a time when lots of people are concerned about women’s voices and making room for that, and acknowledging, validating that, and acknowledging the role that women have had, I think it is time actually.
Stephen O. Smoot: 15:51 You mentioned that there were thousands of changes that Joseph Smith made to the 1837 edition—mostly grammatical and language and that sort of thing. But throughout the Study Edition, you draw heavily from the work of Royal Skousen on the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project. And just to clarify quickly for our listeners, by “critical text” we don’t mean that Royal Skousen is critical of the text, right? He’s not passing negative judgment. He’s just applying scholarly tools like textual criticism tools and so forth to the text. That’s what we mean by critical text.
Grant Hardy: 16:19 Right. His project has been to try to reconstruct as much as humanly possible the words that Joseph Smith dictated. There’s the original manuscript and the printer’s manuscript. There are ways you can go through that information because people make mistakes when they copy by hand or when they typeset. He’s interested in trying to identify those and figure out what the original readings were. So that’s his project.
Stephen O. Smoot: 16:47 Right. Right. Throughout your Study Edition, you have variant readings that you’re drawing from, and you indicate in the footnotes that in the original manuscript it read this way, but it was later changed and so forth.
Grant Hardy: 16:59 The things that are similar with what I did before with the Reader’s Edition are the paragraphs, the superscripted verse numbers, the indentation of embedded documents, quotation marks, and the section headings. Though I’ve gone through, and I’ve redone the paragraphing. I looked at Royal Skousen’s 2009 Yale Edition where he paragraphed from scratch and tried to see where we were similar. I redid some of the poetic formatting. It’s updated in those ways. The real change though is first of all in the text. For the Reader’s Edition, I used the 1920 text. For this Study Edition, I was able to use the official 2013 edition of the Book of Mormon the Church uses.
Stephen O. Smoot: 17:40 Oh, okay. That’s significant. Yeah.
Grant Hardy: 17:42 This version can be used as scripture for people who would like to use it as scripture. I didn’t change any of the words there or any of the punctuation except for paragraphing and then some of the poetic stuff. So that’s a big change. And then, we know more about the Book of Mormon in the last 15 years. Royal Skousen’s work is a huge part of that. I’ve gone through his work, and rather than trying to bring back everything, the pre-Joseph Smith grammatical updating, I was interested in changes that have come into the text that are mostly mistakes, that are errors, where people copied wrong, and he identifies those. I draw about 200 readings from the original manuscript and about 200 readings from the printer’s manuscript that I think just make more sense of the text, and they’re basically correcting mistakes that have crept in, which is a very natural thing for copying.
Stephen O. Smoot: 18:39 Right.
Grant Hardy: 18:39 Let me give you an example.
Stephen O. Smoot: 18:40 Yes. Please do.
Grant Hardy: 18:40 Maybe an easy one. And then once you see it you say, “Oh yeah. That makes sense.” In first Nephi 8:27, Lehi’s dream, it says. “They were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers toward those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.” In the original manuscript, it says, “Those who had come up and were partaking of the fruit.” Okay. You might not notice that unless you were Royal Skousen and doing all this stuff. But “come up” just makes much more sense than “come at.” There are lots of these little changes. They don’t really affect a lot of the meaning, but they make the book read more smoothly. With these footnotes where you can see this—this is why it’s a study edition, right? It makes people read more carefully. They’ll look down and say, “What difference would just this small word make?”
Grant Hardy: 19:33 Let me give you an example of one that actually does make a difference for the meaning. In Alma 39:13, the current text reads, “But rather return unto them and acknowledge your faults and the wrong which you have done.” Surprisingly, the original manuscript reads, “Acknowledge your faults and repair that wrong which you have done,” which actually makes more sense. This is Alma speaking to his son Corianton, who has made some serious mistakes, and the idea of repairing the wrongs that you’ve done is an important part of the repentance process. But the problem is that with that “repair,” there was a stray ink blot that went through the top of the “P” when Oliver Cowdery was copying it. He looked at that and rather than writing “repair,” he wrote “retained” because it looked like a “T” with that there.
Stephen O. Smoot: 20:19 Oh, no. Retain that wrong.
Grant Hardy: 20:21 Right. And that’s what it said from 1830 to 1920. It said, “Acknowledge your faults and retain that wrong.” In 1920, they looked at it and said, “That doesn’t even make sense. We have no idea. We’re just going to drop the ‘retain.’” In this case, it actually brings back a superior reading. Then there are also about a hundred instances where there are conjectural emendations where Royal Skousen has said that all of the versions don’t seem to make as much sense as they should, and maybe here’s a mistake that could have happened.
I’ve gone through and given a lot more attention to intertextuality with the Bible in this edition. Oftentimes the Book of Mormon will quote passages like Isaiah from the Bible, except it won’t quote them exactly; there’ll be differences. And where there are differences, then I indicate that with bold where there are words that are added or words that are changed just so people have a sense of how the Book of Mormon is interacting with at least the King James text. I think that’s useful.
I also give a lot more attention to the original chapters. You may have noticed that with the headers at the top of the page, you can see where you are in those original longer chapters, because those chapters were apparently on the gold plates. When Joseph Smith was translating or reading the translation from the seer stone, however this happens, he would see something that would indicate there was a chapter break, and he would say, “Chapter,” and then his scribe would write it down. They went back later and put in the numbers and such. But when we think about what the original authors were trying to convey, and how the sermons go, those original chapters are significant. It gives people a chance to look at those and think about what difference that might make.
Stephen O. Smoot: 22:14 That brings an ancient connection, if you will, from the original authors to our modern editions.
Grant Hardy: 22:30 Well, that part of the project may uncover or reveal a little bit more of what the original authors and editors maybe had in mind as they were composing this history for the benefit of future generations. For example, with the original chapters, Alma chapter 30, Korihor’s story, is in the same chapter as Alma 32, right? Which is the one about faith and the seed. And somehow, Alma, whoever wrote that, or Mormon, when he was editing, thought that those stories went together. You should think about those at the same time. So, it offers some new ways of looking at the Book of Mormon perhaps.
Stephen O. Smoot: 23:10 Certainly. You mentioned in the introductory material to this book that you cite readability as a primary goal of this edition.
Grant Hardy: 23:17 Sure.
Stephen O. Smoot: 23:18 In what ways have you tried to enhance the readability of the Book of Mormon for your readers? You’ve mentioned some of the things already, but are there other ways or methods that you’ve tried to employ to do this?
Grant Hardy: 23:26 Right. Well, some of them are worth talking about even a little more. There’s a reason why every book you read other than the scriptures is in paragraphs, right? It’s just a nice way to get a flow of ideas. I worked really hard to make the section headings as boring as I could because it’s not my job to say, “Here’s what the doctrinal meaning is.” That’s not it. The headings usually identify who’s speaking and the context, and sometimes a little bit of the topic that’s under consideration. But it means that as you flip through the Book of Mormon, you can look at the headings, and you have an idea of where you are in the story all the time.
With this new study edition, I try to keep those features and add more things that are useful for people who are interested in footnotes and where the text came from and alternatives, and there’s more material at the back that’s aimed at college students. It’s good for people who know the Book of Mormon really well. They will be able to see new things in there. But this edition is also really good for people who are reading the Book of Mormon for the first time who are trying to get a sense of the story, the characters, and how things fit together. How different sermons fit in with the larger narrative and such.
Stephen O. Smoot: 24:30 Let’s switch gears just a little bit and discuss something else that you wrote. This is probably something that’s going to be on the minds of many readers, both LDS and non-LDS, I would imagine. You say, “The narrative complexity and coherence of the Book of Mormon highlighted in this edition offer some of the strongest evidences of its historicity and miraculous translation.” Sort of at the back of everyone’s mind I would assume is going to be this question of historicity and ultimately questions of whether this a true ancient record or not. With this in mind, how have you tried to approach the historicity question in your presentation of the Book of Mormon in this new study edition?
Grant Hardy: 25:12 The question of historicity is an important one, and it’s certainly one that I have opinions about. When I read the Book of Mormon, I’m impressed by the careful composition. It seems like it was written in a particular way by people who were trying to convey ideas pretty carefully, and trying to make connections as well. Some of that may be the original, or some of it may be the translation because we’re just seeing this through the translation, which is going to be a lens. It’s in King James language and has lots of quotations from the King James Bible all the way through. But when I read the Book of Mormon, I hear voices of prophets. I think they are the most impressive, spiritually mature voices that I hear in our religious tradition, and I think that it matters that they have a message for our day. It matters in the way that we interpret the text, how we understand its teachings, and the witnesses that they give.
Grant Hardy: 26:12 For example, the Book of Mormon talks a lot about salvation history. It doesn’t just talk about coming to Christ and being kind and believing in the right ways, but it talks about God’s plan for the world—that there would be a gathering of Israel. The Book of Mormon would be part of that. There are these big ideas that I think matter, and I take seriously, very seriously. This is an edition that’s for Latter-day Saints, and we can assume historicity to a large part.
Stephen O. Smoot: 26:40 Sure. For your audience.
Grant Hardy: 26:42 All that being said, historicity is not a really important part of this particular edition. I put some short essays in the back that dealt a little bit just in very summary form with some of the common concerns that people have about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and I tried to give some bibliography of where people could find out more about that. This is coming out from the Maxwell Institute, and I wanted to be true to that legacy and fit into that conversation. But at the same time, I don’t spend any time thinking about how this fits into Mesoamerica or the Heartland Theory, or where it goes, or about external evidences for the Book of Mormon. This is mostly about the text and how to read the text itself as closely and as clearly as possible from a narrative perspective. It matters to me that the narrators have individual perspectives, and they are writing from a particular time and place. But I’m not particularly concerned about which time and which place, and is there evidence or isn’t there evidence? I just let that be. I want to acknowledge that those are rather important issues. The part that you read, and man did you zero in on this, but it’s two sentences. There’s a whole book, and you zeroed in on one of them.
For me, the fact that the narrative is so cogently constructed and it works, is what matters. There are lots of moving parts that happen with different places and different family relationships, and with the chronology that happens. There are flashbacks and allusions to earlier things, and most of those parts fit together. In my footnotes, I try to show where these people end up and where you can read more about this later. It’s a really, to my mind, a carefully crafted work. And that can lend itself to arguments about historicity, I suppose. At the same time, let me say this, I don’t like the idea of historicity being something to beat people over the head with. For some people, that’s a difficult issue—and certainly, there is not as much archaeological, on-the-ground evidence as I would like to see. I understand that people have different ideas, and that’s okay. Let’s read the Book of Mormon. Let’s not let that be a stumbling block. There is plenty in this book that I think is wise and valuable and spiritual and true.
Stephen O. Smoot: 29:07 You said earlier that there is an intertextual relationship between the Book of Mormon and the King James Bible. You mentioned that there are many quotations throughout the Book of Mormon from the King James Bible. The most obvious are the Isaiah chapters that are quoted in Second Nephi and so forth. Let’s talk just a little bit about your methodology for how you identified these quotations, how you understood them, and how you wanted to present them to your readers to help guide them along the reading process.
Grant Hardy: 29:32 This is another project for another edition probably because I haven’t gone through and identified all of the biblical language there. That would be a huge project, and one that people are interested in and several scholars are working on. In this edition, when I talk about intertextuality, what I mean is the longer quotation passages. I just mark where they’re different from how they appear in the King James Bible so when you’re reading along you can see, “Oh, here Nephi has made an addition into this chapter from Isaiah, or this is where Jesus does this version of the Sermon on the Mount.” Things are changed, so it shows you some differences there.
Then there’s something called intratextuality, which is when Book of Mormon writers and speakers quote each other. I often have footnotes identifying places where they are quoting, especially if they make a clear allusion. But I try to make it so whenever there’s a direct quotation, you can find what they’re referring to. That’s what the intratextuality is for this volume.
Stephen O. Smoot: 30:43 Could you give us an example of this intratextuality, which you just spoke about?
Grant Hardy: 30:49 Let me give you examples of two things.
Stephen O. Smoot: 30:51 Okay. Perfect.
Grant Hardy: 30:51 One is in First Nephi 22. Nephi has just quoted two chapters from Isaiah—chapters 48 and 49—then he uses a lot of phrases from those as he gives his own interpretation, but it’s not really a verse-by-verse interpretation. Instead, Nephi gives a new prophecy that then interweaves these phrases from the biblical chapters that he’s just been quoting. He does similar things in the end of Second Nephi as well. This is the intertextuality that I’m highlighting in the Book of Mormon. In terms of intratextuality, I’ve done a little bit of that where the source is pretty clear. There’s the Abinadi sermon, his trial, and some prophecies about bad things that are going to happen as a result of that trial and general wickedness. Later on, in Mosiah when the people of Limhi are taken over by the Lamanites, then there are some phrases that show up that actually come directly from his prophecies. Those are later shown in bold, so you can see where whoever is writing this is pulling in these to show in a direct way that these prophecies are being very clearly and explicitly fulfilled.
Stephen O. Smoot: 32:16 Fascinating. Having these little morsels, if you will, of inter- and intratextuality should hopefully encourage readers to try to find them themselves and make sense of them and understand them. It gives readers an appreciation for how the Book of Mormon interacts with itself and how it interacts with other scripture.
Grant Hardy: 32:33 I hope so. I’ve put a number of footnotes in that are connected to literary perspectives or sometimes some intertextuality, but just to try to give readers a sense of the kinds of things that they could find if they were trying to read a little more critically. It’s odd because you want readers to read critically and think independently, but also faithfully. For example, I tend to count stuff. Years sometimes. Let me see if I can give you some examples here.
This is a footnote at the end of Mosiah 29:46. I say, “Given the fact that Alma Sr., or Alma the Elder, was nearly 20 years older than King Mosiah, Alma the Younger may have been considerably older than the sons of Mosiah.” When you do the numbers, then that makes me think differently about their relationship. Given my own particular background it makes me think of Falstaff and Prince Hal from Henry IV and Henry V from Shakespeare. Those sorts of observations can sometimes help people visualize or think more about what these might have meant. Another one is Captain Moroni. Alma 62:43 says that he basically yields up the command and goes and lives in retirement. He’s 38 years old.
Stephen O. Smoot: Retiring at 38. Wouldn’t we all like to have that luxury, right?
Grant Hardy: 34:01 I think those are interesting things to add.
Stephen O. Smoot: 34:07 Certainly. It gives a flesh and blood perspective to these characters. In our popular artwork, Alma the Younger and the four sons of Mosiah are all like 19-year old Mormon missionaries.
Grant Hardy: 34:21 Anti-Mormon missionaries to begin with.
Stephen O. Smoot: 34:25 Yeah. That’s right. Well, there is this ethos of—we’re just like them. They’re depicted as young men and so forth. Realizing these age differences can bring a new perspective to how we understand these characters and flesh them out a little bit.
Grant Hardy: 34:38 Let me go a couple other places with this.
Stephen O. Smoot: 34:39 Sure.
Grant Hardy: 34:39 I’m just excited about these because they are the last footnotes that I added in at the last moment trying to get people to change the proofs. In Alma 29:9, Alma says, “I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance.” Heather read that and she said, “Oh, I recognize that language. It comes from Mosiah 23.” Alma the Elder says, “After much tribulation the Lord did hear my cries, did answer my prayers, and has made me an instrument in his hands in bringing so many of you to a knowledge of the truth.” The idea is that Alma the Younger ends up using his father’s language about being an instrument in the hands of God bringing people to the truth or bringing them to repentance. There’s this moment where Alma Jr. turns into Alma Sr. actually. I think that’s interesting to think about.
Stephen O. Smoot: 35:38 That’s great.
Grant Hardy: 35:40 Here’s another one in Moroni 8:3, so this is going to be in a letter that Mormon writes to his son Moroni. As he speaks of Moroni’s call to the ministry, he uses the phrase “through endurance of faith on his name to the end.” Heather notices all this stuff. It’s just amazing. She says that comes from the ordination prayer, right? In Moroni 3, there’s an ordination prayer that’s given showing how you confer the priesthood. And for whatever reason, we don’t use those exact words anymore. We’re not as familiar with them, but it makes sense that when Mormon is writing to his son about the ministry, he adds in a phrase: “Do you remember when you were ordained?” What that was about? That’s a phrase that his son will certainly recognize, but apparently, no one’s ever recognized that before. Those connections I find interesting and evocative and inspiring even.
Stephen O. Smoot: 36:35 Yeah. Absolutely. I think these sorts of new things that you and Heather are just finding right now after years of studying, reading this book, it shows that there’s much here to gain.
Grant Hardy: 36:45 But there’s so much more to find.
Stephen O. Smoot: 36:47 There’s so much more to it. Absolutely.
Grant Hardy: 36:47 Something that’s brought in as well are inclusios. This is something I wish people knew as much about as chiasmus.
Stephen O. Smoot: 36:57 Well, tell us about them.
Grant Hardy: 36:59 There’s a phrase that will show up at the beginning of a textual unit, and it will show up at the end of a textual unit as well. This is a unit that is oftentimes smaller than a chapter or larger than chapters. For example, in Second Nephi there’s a part where it talks about, “This is my doctrine,” and then it gives an explanation of what that is. It ends by saying, “This is the doctrine of Christ.” What is in between the two should go together. Those things are all the way through. In Alma 45:2—I obviously have some notes in front of me, right? I am not good at quoting chapter and verse.
Stephen O. Smoot: 37:34 No, you got this right off your head, man. You got this.
Grant Hardy: 37:38 Believe me. I’m reading off of notes. There’s a footnote that says the Amalekite wars, right? These are all the war chapters at the end, and it starts just about Alma 45. The Amalekite wars are framed here by two instances of preaching the word of God and regulating the church. Those phrases are used pretty exactly. There is one right before the conflict that starts here, and then you get those same phrases at the end of the fighting in Alma 62:44. And that just breaks it off to say, “Okay, we’re dealing with chapters that are a literary unit.”
Of course, not every repetition has a tremendous significance. The Book of Mormon is very repetitive, and it seems like some of it is intentional. The game is to look for why it was written a certain way. Why do they use these words or these phrases, and what might that mean?
Stephen O. Smoot: 38:34 Well, I think that’s a great little sampler of what you can get out of the new study edition. Let’s talk a little bit about the illustrations done by the very talented and famous Latter-day Saint artist Brian Kershisnik. Can you tell us a little bit about these illustrations? What inspired you to include them or want them included? And what the process was behind including them? What do you hope readers might get out of this artwork?
Grant Hardy: 39:06 Sure. Almost none of what I do is original, right? I just copy. The Reader’s Edition was—let’s just use modern translations of Bible and how they’ve done this. This edition draws pretty heavily on HarperCollins Standard Edition of the New Revised Standard Version. It’s a very nicely printed and organized text. And for that edition, there are little woodcuts that are maybe two inches by two inches at the beginning of each book of the Bible, and they tend to be fairly abstract. For the book of Ruth, I think there’s some sheaves of grain, and for Judges I think there are scales just to give a little aesthetic feel to it.
Grant Hardy: 39:46 I thought it would be nice to do something like that for the Study Edition because I want this book to be readable and accessible, but I also want it to be dignified. I want it to be scripture, but I also want it to be lovely and inviting. And so, we talked about that at the Maxwell Institute, and we said, “Can we get some woodcuts?” And they said, “Sure.”
There are many talented Latter-day Saint artists that we considered, and Brian Kershisnik quickly came to the top of the list. He was our first choice, and we were delighted when he agreed to take this on for us. We had some ideas about things that we wanted to illustrate, and we went back and forth. It’s interesting seeing the artistic processes. He had some doodles and some ideas, and then he came up with these woodcuts eventually through this process, and they’re lovely. They’re really striking. We said, “We can’t have these be little, tiny, two by two blocks at the beginning of chapters. These need pretty much a whole page for themselves. They are oftentimes of people, but they’re in black and white, and they’re woodcuts. The feel of them is a little different—no, is a lot different, than the Arnold—
Stephen O. Smoot: 40:53 Oh, certainly.
Grant Hardy: 40:54 Is it Friberg? Freiberg?
Stephen O. Smoot: 40:55 Arnold Friberg. Yeah.
Grant Hardy: 40:56 Friberg illustrations—
Stephen O. Smoot: 40:57 —which every Latter-day Saint Primary kid knows about. Yeah.
Grant Hardy: 40:59 Hyper-masculinity and hyperrealism—
Stephen O. Smoot: 41:01 Cecil B. DeMille-esque.
Grant Hardy: 41:07 These are more understated, and they leave more to the imagination.
Stephen O. Smoot: 41:14 You’ve been studying the Book of Mormon for at least 15 years with your Reader’s Edition, but even longer. Much longer.
Grant Hardy: 41:18 It took me about 10 years to do the Reader’s Edition. A long time.
Stephen O. Smoot: 41:20 Ten years. You’ve been studying the Book of Mormon for a very long time. I’m curious to hear if you gained any new insights into the Book of Mormon from your work on this study edition.
Grant Hardy: 41:32 I’m not sure that we have really done as much as we can with this text as far as trying to read it and understand it in clear ways. We should be better readers of the Book of Mormon. In some ways, we’re too Protestant when we read the Book of Mormon. Protestants are great readers of the Bible, partly because of sola scriptura. They take it very seriously. Part of that Protestant heritage that we have is a focus on historicity, on the historical-critical method. Those are important and significant, and I’ve gained a lot from that. But I have really been enjoying Jewish readings in the past few years, particularly from Conservative Judaism. There’s an acknowledgment and awareness and certainly an expertise with language and with the historical-critical method. But that’s oftentimes combined with a deep faith and a sense of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, as scripture, as something that has God’s word for us today and what that might mean. That’s where I think we should go. Let me give you an example, and maybe it will fit with some of what we’re talking about.
Grant Hardy: 42:37 Maybe my favorite book in the whole world—aside from scripture—is something called the Etz Hayim, which is a Torah commentary done by Conservative Judaism, the Rabbinical Assembly. It has the Torah in Hebrew and in English, and then it has not one, but two commentaries— actually three commentaries—this is just the way Jews do stuff. It’s so awesome.
Stephen O. Smoot: 43:00 No lack for commentary there. Yeah.
Grant Hardy: 43:02 There’s one commentary that talks about the words in the historical context and tries to make sense of it that way—the peshat. Then there’s something called the derash, which is more of an application to it. Let me give you an example of how this works. In Exodus 40:14–15, it says, “You shall bring his sons”—this is God speaking to Moses after he anoints Aaron as a priest. It says, “You shall bring his sons also and put tunics on them and anoint them as you anointed their father that they may serve me as priests, and their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout all generations to come.” Okay. Sort of a nice thing. The commentary on the phrase “as you anointed their father” from the derash, from the application comment written by Harold Kushner, is just great. It says, “When Moses anointed Aaron as High Priest, he had no reason to be jealous of Aaron. Moses’s role was at least as prominent as Aaron’s. When Moses was called on to anoint Aaron’s sons to follow him as priests, however, God was concerned that Moses might be jealous. Moses would never see his own son succeed in his role as leader. Therefore, God commands Moses to show his greatness of character and his love for his brother by anointing Aaron’s sons in the same wholehearted fashion as he had anointed their father. We show true love when we can rejoice in the good fortune of another even though it’s an experience that we ourselves will never know.”
Grant Hardy: 44:31 That’s a lovely thing to say, but when I apply that to my own experience, stories come, right? The Book of Mormon is about stories, and we live our life through stories. We have a daughter whom we love dearly who was inactive for several years. Sort of went a different way for a while and then miraculously came back into activity. She met the man she would marry and got married in the temple. While she was preparing for that, she took out her endowments. That was in North Carolina. Heather and I at the time were in Utah where I was actually teaching this workshop at the Maxwell Institute. So, we’re out there for six weeks or something and couldn’t be with her when she took out her endowments. We have a family friend who is middle-aged, was never married, and doesn’t have children. She is a friend of the family, a friend of Liza’s, and she had been a temple worker. She said, “I’ll be Liza’s escort.” And that worked out actually really well all the way around. Afterwards she talked to us and said, “You don’t know how much that means to me because I will never have a daughter. Being able to be part of your daughter’s life in this way was such a lovely experience. It’s something that means a lot to me.”
Grant Hardy: 45:42 I think in our church—no, I know in our church, we care a lot about families, right? It’s central to what we do. Sometimes maybe we care too much about families. It borders on family idolatry, right? It’s like you have to have the perfect Mormon family. But Mormonism offers more than just individual families or even clans. It offers a broader community.
I think maybe my favorite chapter in the Book of Mormon is Mosiah 18 where it talks about baptism. There’s a community that’s being set up there that covenants to bear each other’s burdens, to comfort those in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of Christ. I think wards can be families; they can be communities as well as families can. When I read the Book of Mormon, I don’t see families all over it. There are certainly father and son relationships, but there aren’t families because they’re not enough women, right? It’s hard to get our own ideas of, “Oh, this is what a family should be like. This is what a marriage should be like. This is from the Book of Mormon.” The Book of Mormon isn’t really about that. It doesn’t deny that, but it’s about a different community that’s perhaps broader. That’s a really important lesson to me at this time, and I think when I interact with other Latter-day Saints who are trying to be disciples of Christ, but for whom sometimes the ideal—
Stephen O. Smoot: 47:07 Doesn’t always—
Grant Hardy: 47:07 —that we set up—
Stephen O. Smoot: 47:08 Isn’t always met here, right?
Grant Hardy: 47:08 —doesn’t always work out. That’s a real challenge. Covenants matter certainly. Ordinances matter. Doctrine matters. But if we are not a community who treat each other as disciples of Jesus Christ, then we don’t have much claim; we don’t have much credibility. I get those things when I read the Book of Mormon, and it challenges me to be better. And that’s what I like about the Book of Mormon.
Stephen O. Smoot: 47:37 Well, that’s wonderful, Grant. Thank you for sharing that very personal and touching perspective in addition to all the wonderful academic and scholarly insights that you’ve given us to this wonderful book.
Grant Hardy: 47:47 There’s one more thing I should say before we close.
Stephen O. Smoot: 47:49 Yeah. Please.
Grant Hardy: 47:49 With the Maxwell Institute Study Edition, all of the editor’s royalties go directly to the Church’s Humanitarian Aid Fund.
Stephen O. Smoot: 47:57 Oh, wonderful.
Grant Hardy: 47:58 I think this book is sacred scripture, and I feel a little uncomfortable making money on that or having people feel that that might happen. I really believe what it says about keeping in mind the poor and the needy and the sick and the afflicted. If I can help out with that a little bit, that seems like an appropriate reason to edit the Book of Mormon. It’s embarrassing to have my name on it as editor when it already has an editor. It’s Mormon’s book, and I’m honored to be part of that.
Stephen O. Smoot: 48:33 Thank you again, Grant, for coming on the show and for sharing your perspective.
Grant Hardy: 48:37 Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
Disclaimer: LDS Perspectives Podcast is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The opinions expressed on this episode represent the views of the guests and the podcaster alone, and LDS Perspectives Podcast and its parent organization may or may not agree with them. While the ideas presented may vary from traditional understandings or teachings, they in no way reflect criticism of LDS Church leaders, policies, or practices.