I grew up in the LDS church in an era where leaders like Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and Jeffery R. Holland instilled a black-and-white worldview regarding Mormonism. They insisted that their narrative of Joseph Smith, the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, the priesthood, and Mormonism as a whole was either 100% literal history or all of it was a worthless fraud. After I found that the LDS church’s truth claims couldn’t stand up to scrutiny, I did what I was taught to do: view all of Mormonism as an utterly useless fraud.
I spent the next several years distancing myself from The Book of Mormon. I came to believe that it was a book that was written in 1829 and fraudulently claimed to be a direct translation of a non-existent language from a non-existent civilization. I still believe these things, but my perspective on what the text is and what it means to me has continued to evolve.
J.R.R. Tolkien presented “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” as a translation of a book called “Red Book of Westmarch” which was written by characters within the novels. Edgar Rice Burroughs presented the Tarzan novels in a very similar way. This is a fairly common literary device called “Pseudepigrapha“, which is when the texts whose claimed author is not the true author. Despite this literary device being used, many people are able to find value in these literary works.
In my opinion the Book of Mormon should appropriately be viewed as having been written by Joseph Smith, making it a pseudepigrapha, in the late 1820’s for the late 1820’s. The Book of Mormon touched on many, many issues that were highly relevant to that time. Alexander Campbell, who was an influential contemporary of Joseph Smith and former spiritual leader of Sidney Rigdon, said this about The Book of Mormon in 1831:
This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last 10 years. He decides all the great controversies – infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of freemasonry, republican government, and the rights of man … he is better skilled in the controversies in New York than in the geography or history of Judea.
Many people have told me that The Book of Mormon can’t have any spiritual significance since Joseph Smith wasn’t honest about the book’s origins. Others have told me that any truth that is found in The Book of Mormon can be found elsewhere, and so the book doesn’t have any real spiritual significance. I absolutely see why some people would want to distance themselves from The Book of Mormon. For many, it represents all the negative teachings that they were raised with. Any truth that is found in the Book of Mormon could be found in other spiritual texts which don’t have that cultural baggage for them.
However, to me, this book transcends the LDS church. The Book of Mormon is something that represents my heritage’s and my ancestors’ spiritual journey. My parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, etc. all looked into the stories in this book to find themselves and to find the Divine. I feel a connection to them when I attempt to also find myself and the Divine through this text. These are real and valuable spiritual experiences to me, and I experience them in a way that feels familiar and comfortable.
Instead of abandoning the Book of Mormon altogether, I am choosing to breathe new life into it and interpret it in new ways. I see no reason why I can’t accept the BoM as a literary work from the 1820’s that is pseudepigraphical. Doing so allows me to explore scripture to find the Divine through an allegorical, tropological, and/or anagogical lens, without needing it to double as a history book; it allows me to connect to my ancestors who also treasured it; It allows me to explore what I believe is useful, truthful, and moral today in a familiar and comfortable way. It is refreshing to be able to have a relationship with my heritage, ancestors, and traditions on my own terms.
About this version
In this version, my goal is to create an idiomatic “translation” of the Book of Mormon. That is to say, bring the original source language into contemporary language expression.
Do keep in mind that this project is chiefly for my own use. This is my personal interaction with this text. It is how I have interpreted the stories. My interpretation is not a right or a wrong one, because like all art, interpretation is subjective.
There are a couple of things that I have chosen to do with my version of this text, namely:
- Chapters. The original chapters of the Book of Mormon were originally much longer. The LDS church decided to shorten the chapters in 1879, while most others from the sucessionist crisis kept the chapters in their original form. I have decided to use the original chapter structure for my project. Here is a cross reference for the chapter versions.
- Verses. The Book of Mormon, in its true original form, was a spoken dictation. The Book of Mormon was likely written down in 5-15 word chunks so the scribes could write things down. Neither the Original Manuscript or the Printer’s Manuscript had any indication of paragraph breaks or even punctuation. John Gilbert set the type for the printing of the Book of Mormon. It was he who created the original paragraphs and punctuations.Recently professor of linguistics and English at Brigham Young University Royal Skousen released his decades long work, which is entitled “The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text”. His goal was to create a version of the Book of Mormon which most closely resembles what Joseph Smith dictated to his scribes. Part of this included breaking up sections of the text into more natural paragraphs. I have decided to more-or-less use the paragraphs of this work as my verse system.
- God’s Pronouns. Gender is a human-centric concept. I highly doubt that the Divine is either a man or a woman. To help facilitate this view of Divinity, I have changed all references to the Divine to be gender neutral unless it is specifically the incarnate Jesus Christ being referenced. Community of Christ’s Policy of Inclusive Language gave many different gender-neutral names for the Divine, and many of them have been incorporated into this version of the Book of Mormon.
- Subheadings. Instead of chapter overviews, I have chosen to use subheadings and sub-subheadings. I feel they are much more thorough than chapter headings and help indicate key parts of the story. I have used several other versions of the BoM as reference for my version, including the LDS’s 1879 version’s subheadings, “the Book of Mormon Central Edition” which can be found on ScripturePlus app, and the “Structured Edition” by Nathan Richardson.
- Quotations. The text has been changed to a different color anytime someone speaks. If humanity is speaking, it is turned blue. If humanity is quoting or paraphrasing the Divine, it is turned purple. If the Divine is directly speaking, it is turned red. This, even at a glance, helps show where someone is speaking and how long they speak for.
- Women. The original Book of Mormon only lists 6 women. I don’t think this is right; women should get more representation within scripture. I decided that I wanted to start a tradition of giving some nameless women in the Book of Mormon a name, which is common with unnamed characters in the Bible.I thought it would be cool to name these women after some women I admire within the Restoration. These previously unnamed women are referred to in this book as:
- Emma, wife of Ishmael; named after Emma Smith
- Jane, daughter of Ishmael, wife of Zoram; named after Jane M. Gardner, first woman CoC Evangelist
- Linda, daughter of Ishmael, wife of Nephi; named after Linda L. Booth, first woman CoC apostle
- Gail, daughter of Ishmael, wife of Sam; named after Gail E. Mengel, first woman CoC apostle
- Pamela, daughter of Ishmael, wife of Laman; named after Pamela Calkins, member of RCJC, only known married Mormon LGBT non-monogamist
- Lindsay, daughter of Ishmael, wife of Lemuel; named after Lindsay Hansen Park, feminist blogger, podcaster, and the Executive Director of the Sunstone Education Foundation.
- Queen Majorie, wife of King Lamoni; named after Majorie Troeh, CoC feminst who pushed for women’s ordination within CoC
- Commentary. I have tried to keep my own commentary to a minimum in the actual text. However, I will occasionally highlight things and leave notes. This is my own personal set of scriptures, afterall.
- Reference Material. I have looked at many wonderful versions and commentaries of The Book of Mormon while I have worked on this project. In full, they include:
- “The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text” by Prof. Royal Skousen
- “Book of Mormon – Revised Authorized Version” by Community of Christ
- “Structured Edition” by Nathan Richardson
- “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ (2013 Edition)” by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- The Book of Mormon Central Edition
- “A Plain English Reference to the Book of Mormon” by Timothy B. Wilson
- “The Street-Legal Version of Mormon’s Book” by Michael Hicks
- “Book of Mormon (1879 Edition)” by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- “28 page summary” by an unknown author
- “The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition” by Grant Hardy
- “The Short Book of Mormon” by Verda Bryant
- “The Book of Mormon: for the Least of These, Volume 1” by Fatimah Salleh and Margaret Olsen Hemming
- “The Book of Mormon: brief theological introductions” by various authors
- BibleHub.com for the sections that are from the Bible
- Releasing of Chapter. I will not be showing all of my work in progress with my version. My “rough drafts” will be in another document only accessible to me. This document will show what I consider to be the completed chapter.
08/31/20 EDIT: I have updated the preface and about section. You can see the original version archived here.