Journal Retrospective:
Perspective from the Editors

Journal Retrospective:
Perspective from the Editors

Jacob D. Rawlins

1992, when Stephen D. Ricks proposed a new academic journal focusing on
the Book of Mormon, his goal was to encourage serious research of the Book of
Mormon and to publish that research to the widest possible audience. Ricks,
along with John W. Welch, Daniel C. Peterson, and others, had participated in
publishing a newsletter, research updates, and important books, including John
Sorenson’s seminal An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon and
the first volumes of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, through the Foundation
for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) since 1978. The new journal,
however, would be something different—in Ricks’s words, “a forum
devoted to the serious and faithful study of the Book of Mormon in its
historical, linguistic, cultural, and theological context.”

The first volume of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies delivered on the vision Ricks had for the new publication. Eleven scholars
contributed articles on a wide range of topics—including geography,
economics, customs, cultures, laws and legal systems, language studies, and an
examination of the possible origins of the name Nephi. Subsequent
issues of the Journal followed the same pattern: Faithful scholars
from diverse disciplines used their expertise to contribute to the academic
study of the Book of Mormon. During Ricks’s five-year tenure as editor, more
than 140 articles were published in the Journal—a staggering amount
of scholarship that redefined the landscape of the research on the Book of

In 1997, John L. Sorenson replaced Ricks as the editor of
the Journal. While Sorenson wanted to continue the tradition of excellent scholarship, he
felt that the Journal had potential to reach a far wider audience.
He proposed a change in the Journal’s format, from the
traditional 6″ x 9″, unillustrated format to a larger, illustrated
format that would appeal to an expanded readership. In Sorenson’s words, “the
plan was to seek competent Book of Mormon scholars willing to present
first-rate scholarship in accessible language and in a visually attractive

In addition to attracting a larger audience, Sorenson also
desired a larger, more diverse pool of contributors. He worked tirelessly to
encourage scholars from many parts of the world to write articles for the Journal. In
his time as editor, more than fifty different scholars contributed articles;
many of these scholars were located at places other than at BYU.

In 2002, after five years as editor, Sorenson passed the Journal on
to S. Kent Brown, who had served as associate editor under Sorenson. Brown
built on the vision for the Journal begun by Ricks and expanded
by Sorenson. As part of his efforts to broaden the range of the articles in the Journal, Brown
invited a number of diverse scholars to serve as associate editors or on the
editorial advisory board. Brown wrote, “In time, the Journal enjoyed the supporting commitment of an international group of historians and
linguists and anthropologists and literary savants who served on one or the
other board.”

During Brown’s tenure, the focus of the Journal expanded
to include articles on early LDS Church history (especially regarding the
coming forth of the Book of Mormon), translations of the Book of Mormon into
other languages, and early missionary work, as well as a recurring feature that
spotlighted individual conversion stories.

After six years as the
editor, Brown retired, leaving the Journal as the premier publication of the Neal A. Maxwell
Institute for Religious Scholarship, which had been organized in 2006 to
include FARMS and other departments. Brown’s retirement and Andrew Hedges’s
appointment as the new editor allowed the Maxwell Institute to reevaluate the
mission and scope of the Journal. The topics covered in its pages had been diverse
since the first issue, but over the years the focus on the Book of Mormon had
expanded to include other topics related to LDS scripture and history. Hedges
proposed a formal expansion of the Journal, with a name change, to include all restoration
scripture—Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great
Price, as well as other material from Church history, such as the Joseph Smith
Translation of the Bible and material from the ongoing Joseph Smith Papers
Project. The new journal, now titled the Journal of
the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture,
will continue the vision of all of the previous
editors: To be “a venue where scholars from a variety of backgrounds can
explore, discuss, and even debate important topics relating to the texts,
contexts, and meaning of latter-day scripture.”

Significant Issues

While each issue of the Journal has had significant
articles that have furthered scholarship on the Book of Mormon, certain issues
stand out as milestones in the Journal‘s history.

Issue 1/1 (1992). The
first issue of the Journal represents a landmark in publications on the
Book of Mormon. Not only was it the beginning of a new wave of LDS scholarship,
but it also contains some of the most significant articles published on the
Book of Mormon, which stand up to scrutiny even eighteen years later.

Issue 4/1 (1995). In
1995, the editors of the Journal paid tribute to the late Sidney B. Sperry,
who, along with Hugh Nibley and John Sorenson, pioneered the systematic study
of the Book of Mormon. This issue contains tributes, memorials, a bibliography,
and twenty-five of Sperry’s articles on the Book of Mormon.

Issue 7/1 (1998). When
John Sorenson took over the editorship of the Journal, he initiated a change to
a larger format, complete with extensive illustrations, including both
photographs and fine artwork. Sorenson did not, however, abandon the academic
rigor applied to earlier issues of the Journal. This first issue in the
new format introduces a discussion on Lehi’s trail and the location of Nephi’s
Bountiful that has continued in the pages of the Journal for the past

Issue 9/2 (2000). In a
short article near the back of JBMS 9/2, John Sorenson addresses
the difficulty of using DNA to establish any sort of link between modern native
Americans and the peoples of the Book of Mormon—years before the use of
DNA became a controversial issue to opponents of the Book of Mormon. Sorenson’s
work was later expanded and supported by geneticists and DNA scientists in JBMS 12/1.

Issue 13/1–2 (2004). One
of several themed issues produced during Kent Brown’s editorship, JBMS 13/1–2
focuses on the Hill Cumorah, including articles on its location, history,
traditions, and the Hill Cumorah Pageant.

Issue 15/2 (2006). In
another themed issue, Kent Brown presents the views of various scholars on Lehi’s
trail from Jerusalem to the land Bountiful, where they launched the ship that
would take them to the promised land.

Issue 17/1–2 (2008). Under
its new editor, Andrew Hedges, the Journal once again undergoes a
transformation—in title, scope, and design. This new beginning for the Journal represents
an expansion of the original vision set forth by Stephen Ricks.



Stephen D. Ricks

The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies originated in discussions among John W. Welch,
Daniel C. Peterson, and myself in 1992. We decided to found the Journal as a forum
devoted to the serious and faithful study of the Book of Mormon in its
historical, linguistic, cultural, and theological context. It took next to no
time coming up with the title of the journal, Journal
of Book of Mormon Studies,
it has, I am happy to say, stuck through many years.

We brought our proposal to the board of directors of the
Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, who approved it, along with
our board of editors, which included Kay P. Edwards, Robert L. Millet, Donald
W. Parry, and David R. Seely (we later added Brian Hauglid and Gaye

Intending to be “no respecter of persons” in our
selection of papers to be included in forthcoming issues, we did not insist
that those publishing in the Journal have certain academic
credentials. We did, however, ask that the work be rigorous, carefully thought
out, and well presented. At first we advertised for submissions—even
soliciting some papers—but since the significance of a journal devoted to
this particular subject caught on, it has taken on a life of its own.

While I enjoyed all of the articles published during my
tenure as editor, I am most pleased that the Journal became a forum for
investigations of proper names and their origins in the Book of Mormon (a topic
I hope to turn into a book-length study). Through the years, the Journal has
continued the vision we first presented to the FARMS Board in 1992. I hope to
see that work continue for many more years to come.

John L. Sorenson

When Stephen Ricks and others
launched the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies in the fall of 1992,
I enthusiastically supported the idea and the effort by contributing a
significant piece (“When Lehi’s Party Arrived, Did They Find Others in the
Land?”) that appeared as the first article in volume 1, number 1.

I was still an enthusiast upon learning in 1997 that a
follow-on editor was being sought. Feeling that the publication had not yet
reached its potential, I presented a proposal to the officers of FARMS to serve
as the new editor, under certain conditions. First, I would require the aid of
two mature associate editors, S. Kent Brown and M. Gerald Bradford. The second
condition was that the format of the Journal be substantially changed
in order to attract an expanded readership. Taking Scientific American as a general model, the plan was to seek competent Book of Mormon scholars
willing to present first-rate scholarship in accessible language and in a
visually attractive format.

Acceptance of the proposal implied that substantially more
FARMS resources would be directed toward preparing the Journal.
In fact it became the flagship publication of the Foundation that would go to
all member/subscribers twice per year.

Secondary concerns at that stage were to invite a widened
range of writers to contribute and to assist them to prepare their articles at
an appropriate level of clarity and rigor. The visual quality of the Journal depended on the talent of excellent designers, particularly Bjorn Pendleton. In
some cases specific works of art began to be commissioned for use in the Journal.

An additional goal was to increase the variety of
contributors. In three and one-half years the work of 35 different authors was
published, half of them located at places other than BYU.

Those who have invested effort in the Journal can look forward to progress in future publishing of not only articles on the
Book of Mormon, but also now on a wider range of scholarship on the other restoration

S. Kent Brown

How do I characterize my editorial
years with the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies? I was introduced to
this world through John L. Sorenson, who succeeded the first editor, Stephen D.
Ricks. Dr. Sorenson graciously invited me to be one of his associate editors in
1997. I was thrilled to be able to work with someone of Dr. Sorenson’s
abilities and interests. When he stepped aside after five years, I accepted the
invitation from FARMS to succeed him. I felt that I could do no better than to
hold the Journal in the channel that he had carved.

My interests largely mirrored those of my two
predecessors—to broaden the range of topics covered by the Journal (that is, to explore both the ancient dimensions of the text and the modern
story of the Book of Mormon) and to stretch the pool of contributors. In this
light, my first task was to invite not only a diverse group to serve on the
board of associate editors, but also an equally diverse group to act as an
editorial advisory board. In time, the Journal enjoyed the supporting
commitment of an international group of historians and linguists and
anthropologists and literary savants who served on one or the other board. For
me, it was a very satisfying moment when the last person on my list said yes.

In retrospect, what would I judge to be the most significant
issue of the Journal? Perhaps I could measure by the fact that we
completely ran out of one issue, the one that dealt in large measure with the
question of DNA and Native American origins (JBMS 12/1). I do not take credit
for inaugurating the issue of the Journal that dealt with this
question. The suggestion came from John Sorenson, who correctly anticipated that
the question of DNA and its ability, or inability, to solve questions that tie
to Book of Mormon origins would become important.

Naturally, the whole effort to put together issues of the Journal was filled with little disappointments and joyful triumphs. With this said, the
biggest payoff for me was the deepened relationships with people who made
efforts to submit studies or contributed their time to the editorial process by
reviewing studies in the early stages. I am forever in their debt.

Andrew Hedges

The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies was first published in 1992, under the editorial
direction of Stephen D. Ricks. Seven years later John L. Sorenson, as the Journal‘s new editor,
changed its format to make the contents more accessible to specialist and
nonspecialist readers alike. Under the direction of Sorenson’s successor, S.
Kent Brown, the Journal has continued to feature first-rate scholarship on the Book of Mormon,
often accompanied by beautiful visual aids and images. Thanks to these scholars’
vision and editorial skills, thousands of people now enjoy the Journal either as
subscribers or through the Internet, where they are able to stay abreast of the
best that scholarship has to offer on the Book of Mormon.

Partly as a result of the Journal‘s success, and partly in
answer to the apparent need for a scholarly, faithful venue in which other
latter-day scriptures can regularly be discussed, with volume 17, the Journal‘s
scope was expanded to include all of what might be termed “Restoration
Scripture”—those books of Latter-day Saint scripture and related
texts that were revealed through the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
These include the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of
Great Price, and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. With the expansion
in scope came a name change, to the Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other
Restoration Scripture
—”the Book of Mormon” being
retained in the title not only to help provide a sense of continuity with the
former title but also in recognition of that book’s continuing role as the
keystone of the Mormon faith.

Our hope is that the expanded Journal will be a
venue where scholars from a variety of backgrounds can explore, discuss, and
even debate important topics relating to the texts, contexts, and meaning of
latter-day scripture. We believe that part of this includes reexamining and
unpacking familiar assumptions and arguments—even those that have found
their best expression in past issues of the Journal and related publications.
We believe, too, that there are many topics yet to be explored in both the Book
of Mormon and other restoration scriptures and hope contributors and readers
alike will consider the Journal a fitting venue for introducing new subjects
and directions for study.

Paul Y.

On assuming my new duties as editor
of the Journal,
a few words of thanks on my part would be appropriate.

Thanks and honor go to Stephen Ricks for getting the Journal off the ground. He oversaw the fledgling years, helped it grow from one issue a
year to two, and set the original bar high. Without Stephen’s early efforts,
neither the quality nor the quantity that we have come to expect from the Journal would have been set in place for those that followed.

John Sorenson, after many years as professor of anthropology
at BYU, became the next editor. John moved the Journal in a
slightly different direction. He enlarged the format and added numerous illustrations
in a successful attempt to attract an even wider audience.

To S. Kent Brown, friend, colleague, and gentleman, I owe
much, and not just as past editor. He has been a mentor to me since I first
came to BYU in 1981. Kent has always held the bar high for himself and others.
During his tenure as editor the Journal printed a wider range of
excellent articles than heretofore, thus setting the stage for the expansion
that came with the next editor.

To my predecessor, friend, former student, and now
colleague, Andrew H. Hedges, goes the credit for expanding the Journal to formally include more than just Book of Mormon studies. Having a PhD in
American history and an MA in ancient Near Eastern Studies made him the ideal
person to expand the scope and territory the Journal would cover. Short though
his tenure has been, he has had a profound influence on the future direction of
the Journal.

It is an honor to be associated with these capable and
distinguished editors.