Monday, September 05, 2011

Review and Interview: "How We Got the Book of Mormon" by Richard Turley and William Slaughter

How We Got the Book of MormonHow We Got the Book of Mormon by Richard E. Turley Jr. and William W. Slaughter, Deseret Book, Salt Lake, 2011 -- reviewed by Clair Barrus, plus an interview with the authors:

How We Got the Book of Mormon tells the story of how the Book of Mormon came into being, and gives an historical overview of the printing of each edition. Noting there have been 150 million copies of the Book of Mormon printed in over 100 languages, authors Richard Turley (Assistant Church Historian) and William Slaughter (photograph historian and consultation archivist) say their book was written "to help members of the [church] better understand the history of the Book of Mormon."  They wrote with a general audience in mind, with references in the footnotes to more scholarly works.

The book begins with the narrative of Book of Mormon, letting it describe its own origin. The authors proceed with the familiar story (to Latter-day Saints) of the plates being buried by Moroni and their later recovery by Joseph Smith Jr. hundreds of years later.  They continue describing the translation process, the loss of the 116 pages and Oliver Cowdery's role as the primary scribe. 

The story includes new fresh details, not typically covered in church manuals. The authors point out some lesser-known facts regarding the translation process.  For example, after the loss of the 116 pages, the translation continued in what was then the 3rd chapter of Mosiah through the end of the record before translating the first several books of the Book of Mormon. Later the 3rd chapter of Mosiah was renumbered to
chapter 1.

They point out that the often quoted 1 Nephi 3:7 was recorded in the hand of an unknown scribe, and correct a misconception perpetuated by several popular artistic renditions of Joseph Smith translating directly from the plates while dictating to a scribe. 
During the time Joseph had the plates, several people watched him translate.  They said that rather than looking at the record itself, he looked into the interpreters or another seer stone, blocking out external light, such as placing the interpreters in his hat and putting his face down into it." [p.13]
Chapters 3 - 9 discuss the historical background of each edition of the Book of Mormon (1830, 1837, 1840, 1841 [England], 1920 and 1981).  Each chapter tells an interesting story, discussing the demand for additional volumes, financial concerns, setbacks and refinements to each edition.  While the story of publishing editions of a book may not seem interesting on the surface, Turley and Slaughter weave a compelling narrative, telling the interesting story behind each edition. The volume is richly illustrated with photographs, graphics and other visuals, enhancing the quality of the book.

Some interesting items regarding each edition that stood out to me include:

1830 Edition
  • The "Dogberry Papers" were actually the first printed texts from the Book of Mormon.  They consisted of Abner Cole's clandestinely published chapters from the Book or Mormon in a local Palmyra newspaper before the printing of the Book of Mormon was completed.
  • A boycott of the Book of Mormon by some Palmyra residents influenced the price to drop from $1.75 to $1.25.
  • "Chapters were broken into uneven, unnumbered paragraphs, some of which were very large ... the largest paragraph of all spanned eight pages."  There were no verses.
  • 3rd Nephi was originally titled "The Book of Nephi, the Son of Nephi, Which Was the Son of Helaman" and 4th Nephi was titled "The Book of Nephi, Which Is the Son of Nephi, One of the Disciples of Jesus Christ."
1837 Edition
  • A linguist noted that many of the changes to this edition by Joseph Smith appear to have altered upstate New York English to a more standardized form of English.
  • Two plans to produce the church's first "combo" or combination scripture were planned. Church printer W. W. Phelps conceived a plan to combine the New Testament with the Book of Mormon, but this idea failed to materialize. A Later a plan to combine the Book of Mormon with the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 was also abandoned, and the pocket-sized 2nd edition was printed stand-alone in 1837.
1840 Edition
  • While contemplating the difficulties faced in publishing a new edition, Ebenezer Robinson noted, "It seemed that a ball of fire came down from above and striking the top of my head passed down into my heart," telling him how to proceed with publication plans.
  • Regarding a verse in the Book of Mormon stating Lamanite descendants would become "white and delightsome," Joseph Smith changed the text to read "pure and delightsome." [2nd Nephi 30:6]
European Edition (1841)
  • 4,050 copies of the planned 5,000 copies were printed because the printer's company went out of business.
  • Lorenzo Snow presented copies of this edition to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
  • Because this edition was based on the 1837 edition, changes by Joseph Smith in the 1840 edition were not included.  Because of later difficulties in Nauvoo, future editions of the Book of Mormon would be based on the European edition.
1920 Edition
  • A double column format and chapter headings were introduced.
  • It was bound to resemble the church-approved bible.
  • A committee produced a pronouncing guide, using arbitrary rules to standardize the pronunciation of 337 proper names, half of which were unique to the Book of Mormon.
  • Due to delays, the 1920 edition was actually published in 1921.
1981 Edition
  • The textual change from "white and delightsome" to "pure and delightsome" was restored from the 1840 edition.
  • The 1982 printing of the 1981 edition added "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to the title of the book.
Richard Turley and William Slaughter have provided a valuable book about each printed American/English edition of the Book of Mormon.  It is apparent the book was written by informed scholars, but is easy to read.  The generous number of illustrations draws the reader in, making the book more compelling.

The authors were kind enough to answer some questions:

1. Did the production of the Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon" provide any motivation to write this book?

No. But if the producers want to feature the volume on their posters, we will not object.

2. With the Book of Mormon published in over 100 languages, did you consider a chapter over-viewing the history of non-English versions of the Book of Mormon?

Actually, a chapter on non-English verses was part of the book's original outline. It soon became apparent, however, that the subject deserved a book of its own. A project for another day . . .

3. Richard, you have written about or managed projects that have explored areas of church history that some consider controversial (such as the Mountain Meadows Massacre). The relationship between treasure seeking and the recovery of gold plates is considered to be an important connection by many historians. Did you consider taking the opportunity to discuss this from a faithful point of view?

The subject is too complex to treat at length in a book of this simplicity. Nevertheless, paragraphs 3 and 4 in Chapter One do, in fact, allude to the topic.

4. Modifications to some editions of the Book or Mormon have recently been in the news. Changes to chapter headings and introductory text suggest interpretation of the Book of Mormon can be influenced through explanatory text. Can you share an example, or generally discuss how explanatory text has been used to help shift interpretation?

Devout Latter-day Saints should be familiar with the Book of Mormon injunction to "liken all scriptures unto us" (1 Nephi 19:23). In other words, each generation should find current meaning in the scriptures for facing contemporary challenges. The 1981 edition provides the richest set of headings yet.

5. Was the author of the text of the book by both Richard Turley and William Slaughter, or was the graphics by William and the text by Richard?

Richard took the lead on text and Bill on the photos, but the book is a joint work. We consider ourselves a team that seeks to communicate history through an integration of the visual and textual. The look and feel of the book is also vital to the message. Every aspect of the book is a reflection of the team.

6. In the late 80s, I was fortunate enough to be involved in a grass-roots Internet-based collaboration to manually type in the text of the Book of Mormon to make it freely available on the Internet. I have the sense that there is a rich history regarding the digital text of the Book of Mormon. Did you explore, or consider discussing the electronic text of the Book of Mormon?

You are correct that there is a rich (and rapidly growing) history regarding the digital text of the Book of Mormon. Our focus was intended to be on the print versions of the text. But in addition to digital text, there are other subjects that deserve notice, such as audio versions of the Book of Mormon, Braille, and video sign-language versions.

No comments: