An Elegant Presentation

Review of Grant Hardy, ed. The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003. xxiii + 710 pp. $39.95.

An Elegant Presentation

Reviewed by Kevin L. Barney

Readers of a certain age may recall participating, whether as a youth leader
or as a young person, in a rite of passage in Latter-day Saint culture known
as “standards night.” At this event, a typical scenario that was
played out was to offer a piece of cake, or perhaps a stick of gum, to a member
of the audience. Usually one of the young people would readily agree; but before
giving it over to the waiting youth, the leader would mash and squeeze the piece
of cake through her unwashed hands or chew the piece of gum vigorously. It was,
of course, still a piece of cake or gum. Nevertheless, the young person, disgusted
by the treatment of this supposed “treat,” recoils in horror and
wants nothing further to do with it. This was meant as an object lesson on the
need to maintain one’s virtue and remain morally clean. But it also illustrates
well the point for which I wish to adapt it: that the way something is handled
and presented matters greatly as to how readily it will be received and appreciated.

The volume under review, The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (hereafter
simply Reader’s Edition), edited by Grant Hardy, sets forth the 1920
edition of the Book of Mormon (which is in the public domain and therefore available
for such purposes) in a large and relatively expensive volume. Given that one
can obtain a slender missionary edition for a few dollars (or, for that matter,
usually for free), why should anyone buy this book? The answer lies in its presentation.

Although I suppose few of us have an actual first edition of the Book of Mormon
in our personal libraries, many of us have a facsimile of the first edition
and are therefore familiar with it. It of course purported to be scripture,
but the first edition looked more like a novel than like the Bible. This perceived
defect has been remedied over time in subsequent editions—most notably
by Orson Pratt in the 1879 edition—by shortening the chapters and adding
verse numbers, and subsequently in the 1981 edition by superimposing on the
text the same apparatus (in three-columned footnotes) as was used for the King
James Version (hereafter KJV) of the Bible published by the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1979.

Ironically, however, as the official editions of the Book of Mormon over time
have come to look more and more like the KJV, modern Bible translations have
been moving in the opposite direction—away from the double-columned, verse-centric
formatting of the KJV to presenting the text in a single-column setting, the
dominant organization of which is the paragraph, not the verse. That is, modern
Bible translations have been presenting the Bible to look more and more like
a novel, in a format that is easier for the reader to grasp. The Reader’s Edition presents the text of the Book of Mormon in a manner similar to that
used by modern editions of the Bible. These modern editorial standards are used
precisely because they enhance the readability of the text, making it easier
for modern English readers to follow what is going on and to see connections
between ideas and phrasing that might be lost in a more verse-centric presentation.

Inasmuch as the Reader’s Edition has many features designed to enhance
the readability, comprehension, and appreciation of the text, at this point
I will simply attempt to describe them:

  • The book begins with a useful sixteen-page introduction. For those approaching
    the text for the first time, the front and back matter in existing editions
    is barely sufficient to really explain what the book is about. Hardy’s introduction
    provides a more adequate entrée to the book for the uninitiated reader,
    without going too far in the other direction and overwhelming the reader with
  • Immediate context is provided to the reader by the use of in-text captions.
    These content headings allow the reader to see at a glance the theme of the
    next section of text. I personally find this in-text captioning system more
    useful than beginning-of-chapter headnotes. Good illustrations of where the
    headings clarify complicated narrative include the allegory of Zenos in Jacob
    5 and the multiple strands of Helaman’s narrative beginning in Alma 53.
  • The text is presented in paragraphs, with the verse numbers still given
    but superscripted and reduced in size. Such a presentation style has become
    absolutely de rigueur in modern translations of the Bible. It helps the reader
    to see the larger context of a passage and also helps to discourage inappropriate
    verse-level proof texting.1
  • Poetic passages, including in particular the quotations from Isaiah, are
    displayed in indented lines to show their Hebrew parallelism. Dividing the
    text into poetic lines is a critical refinement to the presentation that is
    tremendously helpful to the reader.
  • Quotations from the Old Testament and prior Book of Mormon prophets are
    shown by various means, such as quotation marks, indenting, or italicizing.
  • Limited footnotes are presented. Footnotes are used (1) when Nephite
    writers refer to specific past events or directly quote earlier figures (where
    the source of the quoted text is not known, the footnote simply indicates
    “reference uncertain”), (2) to indicate narrative lines that are broken
    off and then resumed, (3) when years are mentioned, (4) where sources
    have been edited, (5) to offer explanations of names, (6) to reflect
    alternate spellings, (7) to show alternate punctuation, and (8) to
    indicate the original chapter breaks in the first edition. The scope of the
    notes is comparable to what one finds in a good modern edition of the Bible
    and provides the reader with minimum information for making sense of the text.
  • Appendix 1 sets forth testimonies of Joseph Smith and other witnesses.
  • Appendix 2 provides a chronology of the translation. It also includes pictures
    of Joseph Smith, the Hill Cumorah, the Anthon transcript, a page from the
    printer’s manuscript, a first edition of the Book of Mormon, and the Nauvoo
    House cornerstone (where the original manuscript was deposited and suffered
    badly from water damage).
  • Appendix 3 sets forth two documents dealing with the loss of the 116 pages
    of manuscript.
  • Appendix 4 provides a general description of Book of Mormon plates and
  • Appendix 5 gives some basics of Book of Mormon poetry, including an introduction
    to chiasmus.
  • Appendix 6 details the fifty most significant changes in the text over
  • Appendix 7 contains the following charts and maps: (1) record keepers,
    (2) plates and records, (3) a chronology of the narrative, (4) leaders
    of the Nephites and Lamanites, (5) tables regarding key families in the
    text, (6) Jaredite kings, (7) a map of Lehi’s journey through the
    Arabian peninsula, (8) a map showing western New York, and (9) a
    map showing relative locations of Book of Mormon places, together with a legend.
  • Appendix 8 sets forth a glossary of names.
  • The book concludes with four pages of suggestions for further reading.
  • In the course of preparing this volume, Hardy has had to make literally thousands
    of editorial decisions, and nearly all of them have been good ones. I am particularly
    impressed with his sense of restraint. The temptation to try to do too much
    in this volume must have been severe at times, but Hardy’s editorial lodestar
    of enhancing the readability of the text has served him well. The result
    is easily the most readily readable presentation of the Book of Mormon text
    in existence.

When I first approached this book, there were two issues that concerned me.
The first was the cost of the book, which, at just under forty dollars, is significant.
The cost is, however, to a great extent a function of size. In order to accommodate
the felicitous editing of the text used in this edition, the book runs to over
seven hundred large pages, bound in a handsome hardback cover. In my view, the
significant advantages to the elegant presentation of the text in this edition
are well worth the cost. It helps to realize that Hardy is donating all his
royalties from the sale of the book to the church’s Humanitarian Services

Part of the problem is that we have become so accustomed to inexpensive missionary
editions of the Book of Mormon that we may tend to take the book somewhat for
granted and not fully appreciate its value. Further, because the missionary
editions are printed on onionskin paper and are quite thin (presumably to lessen
the intimidation factor), we forget how long and complex a text the Book of
Mormon really is. To space the text properly so that it can really breathe requires
a lot of pages. Rereading the Book of Mormon in this edition reminded me how
intricately constructed the book is. As Hardy points out (p. xiii), the
book’s high degree of literary coherence in the face of such a complex
internal structure is truly stunning. If Joseph Smith were simply the author
and creator of this account, then he would well deserve the label of “religious
genius” it has become trendy to assign to him.

My second concern had to do with the use of the 1920 edition text. As a practicing
Mormon, for devotional purposes I would obviously prefer to have access to the
1981 edition text, which of course was not available for this project. But for
me, at least, Hardy’s appendix on textual changes largely moots this concern.
The vast majority of the changes are so immaterial that they would scarcely
be noticed, even if one were to read assigned passages from this text out loud
in a Sunday School class. Indeed, reviewing these changes in the text, one cannot
help but chuckle at the overdramatic assertions still common in anti-Mormon
literature announcing the shocked discovery that there have been over three
thousand changes in the text. Further, Hardy makes it clear that he has no intention
of somehow superseding the church’s official 1981 edition. That edition
has tools and advantages of its own, and in many contexts it will continue to
be the edition of choice. The principal virtues of the Reader’s Edition
will become apparent not when used to look up individual verses, scripture-chase
style, but in reading the book as a whole, or at least significant portions
of it.

Although these initial two concerns were largely allayed when I read the book
itself, a third concern arose at the conclusion of my reading, and that is the
lack of an index. Many readers of this volume may not be Latter-day Saints or
may otherwise lack ready access to the Topical Guide and other indexing resources
of the official editions of the scriptures. I would hope that if a second edition
is prepared, an index would be added.

There were very few points at which I noted an error or disagreed with Hardy’s
handling of an issue. As is obligatory in reviews such as this, however, I will
mention a few:

  • Hardy says that the “spokesman” of 2 Nephi 3:18 is
    probably Sidney Rigdon, referencing Doctrine and Covenants 100:9 (p. 69n).
    While this is true, the note could have been clearer on the timing involved.
    Since that section was not received until 12 October 1833, it should be
    apparent that this association was made only later, in retrospect, and that
    Joseph did not have Sidney in mind as he dictated the Book of Mormon passage.
    I mention this clarification only because there are those who continue to hold
    to the Spalding theory of Book of Mormon origins and think that Sidney Rigdon
    was involved in that book’s creation, notwithstanding the fact that Joseph
    had not even yet met Rigdon.
  • In the midst of the quotation of Isaiah 2 in 2 Nephi 12:5, Hardy
    puts the words “yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his
    wicked ways” in parentheses and notes that the phrases in parentheses
    are not in the KJV (p. 92n). Yet these words represent a clear allusion
    to Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every
    one to his own way.” A note to this effect would have been helpful to
    the reader.
  • Hardy properly gives the 1920 text of 2 Nephi 30:6 as “white
    and delightsome” (p. 133). In appendix 6 he properly gives the textual
    evidence for that reading and for the variant “pure and delightsome”
    (p. 668). Given the tremendous amount of discussion of this particular
    variant, however, this is one place where I would have preferred an actual footnote
    on p. 133 alerting the reader to the alternate reading and then cross-referencing
    the recitation of textual evidence in the appendix.
  • Hardy writes that “the identifications of neas and sheum
    are uncertain” (p. 199n). It is fairly clear, however, that sheum
    derives from an Akkadian word for grain.2 This association could be qualified
    with a “probably” or even a “possibly,” as Hardy does in other notes where
    suggestions made are somewhat speculative.

These kinds of nits, however, were few and far between. Overall I found the
notes to be excellent and innovative. For instance, I very much liked Hardy’s
treatment of chronological matters. He correctly gives the first year of the
reign of Zedekiah as 597 BC, not 600. And he recognizes (p. xxii) that
chronological correspondences to our calendar are necessarily approximate, both
because of uncertainty over the length of the Nephite year and also because
of uncertainty as to the year when Jesus was born. For the internal chronological
systems based on either the reigns of the judges or the birth of Christ, Hardy
simply designates the years with negative or positive numbers (e.g., -39 or
+22) to show how the years relate to the sign of Christ’s birth.

A significant problem with the official editions of the scriptures is that they
do not handle quotations well. For example, to find quotations of the Old Testament
in the New Testament it is necessary to look in the Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Quotations”;
in situ cross-references are not consistently given, and even when they are
given, they are often drowned in a sea of references so that their significance
is not fully appreciated. To illustrate, try this experiment: First, read Hebrews
1 in the 1979 edition of the KJV. Then read it again in an edition that shows
the quotes with a different typeface, such as bold or italic. When you can immediately
see and appreciate the extent to which the author is quoting from the Old Testament,
it is a very different reading experience. This volume handles such quotations
much better, not only with footnoted references in the text itself, but also
by showing the quotes with either indented or italicized text. This intertextuality
can especially be seen when Nephi interprets Isaiah at 1 Nephi 22 (such
as at pp. 57-60) and in 2 Nephi 25 and following (pp. 117-34).3

I have a particular interest in the Hebraic poetry of the Book of Mormon,4
and so I was especially pleased to see that Hardy used indentation to assist
the reader in recognizing parallel lines. I was also relieved that Hardy did
not try to go too far and replicate all of the poetic and rhetorical structures
set forth by Donald W. Parry in his Book of Mormon Text Reformatted according
to Parallelistic Patterns
(hereafter Parallelistic Patterns).5 Although
the Hardy and Parry volumes overlap slightly in purpose, ultimately they serve
very different needs. Parallelistic Patterns shows no attention to matters of
font, spacing, graphic design, headers, and so forth, and is essentially unusable
as one’s primary text of the Book of Mormon. But that is not its reason for
being—it is rather an explication of an argument, a resource, reference, and
repository for detailed information regarding Hebrew poetic and rhetorical forms
in the Book of Mormon text. Conversely, the purpose of Hardy’s Reader’s
is specifically that of providing a very readable presentation,
and to get mired in the details set forth in Parallelistic Patterns would not
have furthered that purpose. In my view, both Reader’s Edition and
Parallelistic Patterns are important volumes for the libraries of students of
the Book of Mormon, and neither fills the particular role of the other as a
tool of Book of Mormon study.

The glossary of names is useful because it is more than just a list. It identifies
individuals by family relationships and place names by geographic orientations,
and it gives the first reference in the text where the name occurs. Hardy also
follows the excellent practice of the 1981 edition of using subscripted numbers
to differentiate different people who bear the same name.

I was glad to see that in the “Suggestions for Further Reading”
Hardy has included a section on “Critical Responses.” To be useful
as a scholar’s edition, the book needs to point the reader to some of
this literature.

I well remember a couple of decades ago attending conferences at Brigham Young
University at which Truman Madsen managed to assemble some of the world’s foremost
scholars of religion, several of whom brought to bear their considerable skills
and tools on the Book of Mormon itself. Those were heady times, but there has
been too little of that kind of scholarly attention paid to the Book of Mormon
since. As the Catholic scholar Thomas O’Dea famously noted many years ago, “the
Book of Mormon has not been universally considered by its critics as
one of those books that must be read in order to have an opinion of it.”6 Perhaps
one of the more well known recent examples of this dictum is Harold Bloom, whose
comments on the Book of Mormon do not reflect deep understanding and apparently
were not benefited by an actual reading of the text.7 The day when this sort
of an effort will qualify as scholarship on the Book of Mormon has passed. Ideally
accompanied by Terryl Givens’s introduction to Book of Mormon studies,8 Grant
Hardy’s Reader’s Edition now makes easily available, even for the uninitiated,
a text of the Book of Mormon that can be understood and will reward careful
reading. As various universities begin to flirt with the concept of “Mormon
studies,” this is a most welcome development indeed.

If it is not clear by now, let me reiterate that I loved this book and thought
it was very well executed (and very much needed). A word of warning, however:
reading the Book of Mormon all the way through in this edition might well spoil
you from reading it any other way.


  1. Inasmuch as the paragraph is a unit of thought, not of length, proper paragraphing
    greatly assists the reader by showing the sequencing and progression of thought
    in the text. Further, “paragraphing is also a matter of the eye. A reader
    will address himself more readily to his task if he sees from the start that
    he will have breathing-spaces from time to time than if what is before him
    looks like a marathon course.” H. W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English
    , 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), 435.
  2. Hildegard Lewy, “On Some Old Assyrian Cereal Names,” Journal of the
    American Oriental Society
    76/4 (1956): 201-4, cited in Matthew Roper,
    “Right on Target: Boomerang Hits and the Book of Mormon” at
    (accessed 17 March 2004).
  3. I liked and appreciated Hardy’s designation of some of this commentary
    as “Midrash” in the captions.
  4. See for example Kevin L. Barney, “Poetic Diction and Parallel Word Pairs
    in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/2 (1995):
  5. Donald W. Parry, The Book of Mormon Text Reformatted according to Parallelistic
    (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992). For a review of Parallelistic
    , see Jo Ann H. Seely, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon
    5 (1993): 203-8.
  6. Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
    1957), 26, quoted at p. xxiii.
  7. See Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian
    (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 85-86. Robert A. Rees,
    “Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance,” Dialogue
    35/3 (2002): 97 n. 40, concludes: “Frankly, I don’t believe Bloom gave the
    book his best critical effort” and notes that “in conversation, one of Bloom’s
    former students told me that Bloom confessed to him that he had not read the
    Book of Mormon.”
  8. Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That
    Launched a New World Religion
    (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).