A review of study aides to the Book of Mormon

January 8, 2008    By: Matt W. @ 8:28 pm   Category: Sunday School Lessons

This year for sunday school we are studying the Book of Mormon. It is my new years resolution to take this study seriously and to make a real effort to have a positive experience with Studying the Book of Mormon this year. So far, I have gone through the first ten chapters, using various study aids, and am having a good experience. I figured I would pass on some the aids to you, and give you a review of which ones I found worthwhile and which ones, not so much.

First, let me give you the basis of my analysis. I graded all the materials with scores of either great, ok, or disappointing, with the idea being that the book, to be worthwhile had to be as good or better than the very affordable (free) church produced material, and the book had to supplement actually studying the text of the Book of Mormon itself. (Sorry, that means I disqualified the excellent “By the Hand of Mormon”)

Book of Mormon Reference Companion by Dennis Largey-

This one was compiled by over 100 of the top scholars on the Book of Mormon, and with it’s $40 to $50 pricetag, and encyclopdia formatting, will look great sitting on your bookshelf, where you will never use it, because it mainly tells you stuff you already know. Granted it has some nice stuff in their, but the encyclopedic formatting does not lend itself to day to day study and really hurts the value of what otherwise is an attractive and worthwhile endeavor. It does get bonus points for referencing a great Holland talk when discussing the killing of Laban. Rated: Ok.

Charting the Book of Mormon by John Welch-

This one is a short little book, and has some things in it I would have otherwise have thought of, like graphing peace and prosperity over time in the “Pride Cycle” Years. The Book has the feel of supplemental teaching aids for a Sunday School Class, and sometimes likes solid notation on the value of its supplements. Also, some pages are not charts, but are just quotations in large print. “Handouts for a Book of Mormon Class” may have been a better title. Rated: Ok.

The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition by Grant Hardy-

This one I was really excited about because Kevin Barney had given it such a great review in FARMS. The problem here: This is NOT a study aide to the Book of Mormon. It is the book of Mormon with a modernized typeface. Granted that it was mainly due to my false conceptions (I was hoping for something like Kevin’s New Testament Footnotes piece) I was disappointed in this book. I didn’t feel like having it added anything to studying the Book of Mormon for me personally. Maybe if you are into aesthetics, you’ll have a better experience. Rated: disappointing (but I really wanted to like it!)

Doctrinal Book of Mormon Commentary by Millet and McConkie-

I love Robert Millet, his excellent introduction to the Church, The Mormon Faith, was my first introduction to the church, and it was a great book and really helped me understand the church. However, this is not like this book. Here it feels like the Authors were trying to cash in on Bruce’s “Doctrinal New Testament Commentary” with the tone and feel. Unfortunately, it just comes across feeling heavy handed and speculative to me, where it doesn’t come across as redundantly restating what is already clear in the text. It’s available free in Gospellink, BTW. Rated: disappointing

Commentary on the Book of Mormon by Reynolds and Sjodahl-

This is an older commentary, and is 7 books long. This is a good commentary, with my only complaint being that it feels old, and sometimes suffers from the same redundant restating of the facts that Millet and McConkie suffer from. I found that there were nice things here, every few pages, like diamonds in the rough, and the verse by verse formatting was nice, but many times when I thought of questions and turned to the commentary for supplementation, the answers were not there or seemed somewhat dated. It’s available free in Gospellink, BTW. Rated: Ok

Teachings of the Book of Mormon, by Hugh Nibley-

I am not a Nibley person, but this series does two things. First, it proves Nibley was brilliant and interesting. Second, it proves Nibley desperately needed an editor who was more brilliant than he was. It is a writing by shotgun methodology, where ideas are spewed forth in a Vonnegut like “stream of consciousness” fashion that, while interesting, I found myself reading it more as a Study of Hugh than of anything else. It’s available free in Gospellink, BTW. Rating: Ok

Studies in Scripture Vol. 7 and 8-

This one is a compilation of articles by various authors that go along with one’s study of the Book of Mormon, similar to the excellent Life of Christ series Deseret Book more recently put out. However, the chapters I went over were sort of “hit and miss”, some being interesting and others ranging from mediocre to what I’d call “book closers”. This inconsistency hurts what is otherwise a great idea for a project. It’s available free in Gospellink, BTW.Rated:Ok

Christ and the New Covenant by Holland-

This is another book I really wanted to like, and I do like it. When Holland gets exegetical, it contains some really interesting concepts relating to Grace and the Atonement. However, much of it is Holland letting the scriptures speak for themselves, which I personally gloss over in books like this, because I already have and read the scriptures. Still, the Christ focused ambition of this book is worthwhile, even if sometimes I have to skip what feels like entire chapters looking for what insight Holland brings. It’s available free in Gospellink, BTW. Rated: Ok+

Second Witness by Brant Gardner-

This is it. It’s being published right now by Kofford Press, so you may wonder to yourself, “Matt, how have you read this” Well, the author has a free rough draft on his web page for now (I emailed the author and he tells me the resellers may ask him to take it down, but he’s leaving it up until they do) and the amount of study he brings is excellent. I have gone verse be verse with this series through the first 11 chapters of 1st Nephi, and I have gained new insights, felt spiritually fed, and all in all, thoroughly enjoyed Brant’s efforts here. Try it out. Rated: Great.

There are some commentaries I have not had the chance to check out I. If you’d like to post a review of any in the comments, be my guest.

Also, I started a new Job on monday, so may be unable to check this regularly, so please be kind.

21 Comments »

  1. I love Brant Gardner’s work, too! I have been wondering if it was ever going to be published, so thanks for that link.

    Comment by C Jones — January 8, 2008 @ 9:35 pm

  2. Thanks. I was hoping someone would put up a post like this.

    Aaron B

    Comment by Aaron Brown — January 9, 2008 @ 12:57 am

  3. Don’t miss this. It’s free, although a little out of date, since I no longer have server access :)

    Comment by Ben — January 9, 2008 @ 7:33 am

  4. So now I know what book has been holding Blake’s third volume up!

    :)

    Comment by The Yellow Dart — January 9, 2008 @ 8:09 am

  5. Brant Gardner’s first three volumes arrived at my doorstep yesterday, and I was positively giddy.

    Comment by Tanya S. — January 9, 2008 @ 10:42 am

  6. Not to hijack, but I’ve always been curious why the Church replaced the “thick” BOM institute manual with a “thin” version. Anyone know the reason?

    Comment by JimD — January 9, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

  7. Nice job Matt. You are kinder than I am so I would take all your ratings down by one, but I appreciate your analysis. It just goes to show that even after all these years there are almost no good BofM commentaries out there.

    Although they are not organized in a way to fascilitate an “as you read along” study of the BofM, there are lots of interesting things available in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. Many (but not all) of things there meet your criteria of helping to study the text of the BofM.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 9, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

  8. FWIW, I love Hardy’s Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon. It’s what we use for our family scripture reading. When I just want to sit down and read the Book of Mormon in a leisurely fashion, this is the edition for me.

    Comment by Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) — January 9, 2008 @ 4:25 pm

  9. Thanks Matt–enjoyed.

    Reading the Book of Mormon this year is exciting for me. I’ve read it many times, more than 25 times, is my best estimate.

    I initially read it to gain a testimony–wasn’t disappointed.

    I’ve read it to learn about those elements that show it has being an authentic ancient document. I call this the Hugh Nibley read.

    I’ve read it with geography in mind–the John Sorenson and Joseph Allen read.

    I’ve read it for doctrine–McConkie and Millet and etc read.

    I’ve read it focusing on F.A.R.M.S. contributions–The Noel B. Reynolds and associates read.

    I’ve read it marking all verses referring to the Savior.

    I’ve read it with the Bible in mind, marking and
    cross referencing.

    There are many ways to read the Book of Mormon.

    At this point in my life I am aware of the invitation that the B of M is making to each of us to become like the prophet/authors and know the Savior as they did. So this year I am reading it with the doctrine of Christ in mind and paying particular attention to the invitation to know Christ like they did. The first comforter is the Holy Ghost and the second comforter is the Savior himself. I believe this is what the prophet Joseph Smith was referring to when he said:

    “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (TPJS, p. 194).

    Comment by Jared — January 9, 2008 @ 7:16 pm

  10. Lou Midgley had a great (which is to say, devastating) review of the Doctrinal Commentary in the very first number of the Review of Books on the Book of Mormon (now FARMS Review). Check it out on the FARMS website.

    (The Hardy volume can only be given a disappointing review based on a false assumption that it was meant to be a commentary, which it of course was not. It is a terrific volume and deserves very high marks in my view.)

    Comment by Kevin Barney — January 9, 2008 @ 8:25 pm

  11. Kevin: The Hardy book may grow on me, for casual reading. I will definitely check out Midgley’s review.

    Jacob J: I think I can agree with pushing back on some of them. The Book of Mormon reference companion is growing on me a little bit.

    Everyone else: Thanks

    Comment by Matt W. — January 9, 2008 @ 8:55 pm

  12. Name dropping here – I love Brant Gardner and his family…his wife and I worked in the young women’s presidency together. I’m excited to tell him of all your admirations!!

    Comment by Pam J — January 10, 2008 @ 8:36 am

  13. This new commentary has been very helpful and inspirational to me. “Sacred Truths of the Book of Mormon” by Leaun G. Otten and C. Max Caldwell, published by Covenant Communications, Inc. 2007

    It is a set of 2 volumes. My public library has it and I’ve checked out Vol. 1 twice already!

    It’s very easy to understand (for a beginner..me)
    and each chapter of the Book of Mormon is divided into “Suggested Title”, “Prominent People” and “Gospel Principles and Doctrintal Concepts”.

    Check it out.

    God Bless!

    Comment by Bethie McCarthy — January 10, 2008 @ 6:01 pm

  14. I was favorably impressed with the BOM REference companion. GIven that it was largely the BYU Religion department, I was surprised to find potentially controversial topics (seer stone) as well as less dogmatism than I expected. Its sections on the Isaiah chapters are useful mini-commetaries that are historical in nature.

    That said, its bibliographies are woefully inadequate.

    Comment by Ben — January 10, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

  15. This doesn’t really have anything to do with your topic, Matt W., but I just wanted to tell someone :-).

    In comment #7 Jacob J recommends and links to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies.

    There is a paper in the most recent issue called Killing Laban: The Birth of Sovereignty in the Nephite Constitutional Order by Val Larsen. Wow. This is awesome.

    Comment by C Jones — January 11, 2008 @ 8:35 am

  16. The reason Nibley’s books seem a little scattered is because they were recorded lectures turned into books. And because they are Nibley, of course, but still, you have to read them as lectures rather than commentaries.

    Comment by BHodges — January 11, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

  17. I second Kevin’s recommendation of Midgley’s review of Millett and McConkie. Just devastating (in a fun way). It’s one of the few FARMS Review pieces I find myself thinking back to again and again (even though I do disagree with a few moves Midgley makes there).

    Aaron B

    Comment by Aaron Brown — January 11, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

  18. Since no one is linking to it, here is the review recommended by Kevin and Aaron. A couple of gems:

    The statements of others are at times quoted either to advance or bolster the opinions of the authors. Doctrinal Commentary is thus an inventory of statements about what are thought to be Mormon doctrines or Mormon theology, cast in the form of glosses (or annotations) on the text.

    The end result is, for the most part, a series of didactic discourses, little sermons, or homilies prompted by phrases in the Book of Mormon, which may have little or nothing to do with the meaning of the passage or even the phrase which functioned as the trigger. These homilies tend to opine about words or phrases, but they seldom probe for the actual meaning of the message in the text; they tend to provide informal expositions of already familiar Mormon sentiments.

    Those statements are accurate (and devastating) reviews of a large portion of the scriptural commentaries and Sunday School lessons generated by Mormons. Sadly.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 11, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

  19. Hey Matt! These are some great books for studying the BOM. I’m alwasy interested in learning other people’s opinions and seeing what I can get out of it. Thanks for taking the time to share with us.

    In other news, I’m writing to tell you about a little project I’m working on with Chris Heimerdinger. He’s the author of the “Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites” books. He also has a new movie out you may be interested in blogging about…

    After a solid run throughout the state of Utah, Chris Heimerdinger’s first feature film, Passage to Zarahemla, opens outside of Utah starting this Friday. He will be coming to an area near you very soon.

    Chris is available for interview and would love to discuss with you his incredible journey from best-selling novelist to award-winning filmmaker. Many people do not realize Chris was a filmmaker first and received the Sundance Film Institute’s Most Promising Filmmaker award, and others awards as well.

    Feel free to contact me at tams8275@yahoo.com to set up an interview with Chris. You can also contact his PR manager Bettyanne Bruin at bruinpr@yahoo.com.

    I appreciate your consideration of this e-mail and look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

    Comment by Tammy — January 16, 2008 @ 3:59 pm

  20. Has anyone had a chance to use the commentary on the Book of Mormon coming out in several volumes from Monte S. Nyman? I would be interested in your comments or thoughts on it.

    Comment by Mike — January 17, 2008 @ 2:48 am

  21. I’ll put in another plug for The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition by Grant Hardy. Yeah, if you were expecting a verse-by-verse study guide, you’d be disappointed (although the appendix has quite a bit of useful information, including a timeline, family diagrams, translation history, a map and a guide to the numerous textual changes that have been made since the original).

    But I was thoroughly surprised at how much easier it is to read the Book of Mormon when it is put into a modern-day format (such as the elimination of verse divisions and the addition of complete punctuation). The antiquated language no longer seems so antiquated.

    One of the nice little features is the use of subscripts in the text to distinguish among the different people who have the same name. Also, the use of poetic forms and footnotes make it easier to see how the BoM is organized.

    Hardy’s work actually makes the Book of Mormon inviting to read.

    For those who haven’t seen this book, it basically takes the text of the 1920 official edition of the Book of Mormon (the most recent one not protected by copyright) and puts it in a contemporary format. No words are changed, although the punctuation is. Section headings also have been added, as is often done in modern translations of the Bible.

    Comment by Eric — January 24, 2008 @ 10:59 am

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