Are Mormons Ready for an LDS Study Bible?

Short answer: No one to read it, no one to write it. So, sadly: no.

The longer answer is less hyperbolic, but still pretty much the same. (Though I’d love to be proven wrong.)

Is there anyone to read it?

While it has been possible to buy a study bible at the BYU Bookstore, in general Mormon culture doesn’t seem that interested in the kind of informed reading that a modern study bible enables. By modern study bible, I mean something not just the more scholarly approaches such a the New Oxford Annotated Bible, or  the HarperCollins Study Bible, but even the more evangelically-leaning such as the NIV Study Bible, or the ESV Study Bible. Judging from the sorts of books that seem to be popular amongst LDS today, there seems to be very little interest in the kinds of insights that scholarship brings. There is little if any evidence of much interest in really studying our scriptures in depth: witness how little attention the Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon has received, or how many LDS are content with the 100+ year old scholarship that Elder Talmage drew on when writing Jesus the Christ.  So is there really an audience for an LDS Study Bible? I wish there were, but I’m not seeing a lot of evidence for this.

I suppose one might make an argument in favor of an LDS version of the “application” oriented bibles such as the Life Application Bible or the Faith in Action study bible, but the BYU / Institute study manuals already fill this role. (I confess that I quite like the Life Application Bible for devotional purposes.)

Who would write it?

The best study bibles — everyone has their favorites, I would include those above, plus the New Jerusalem Bible, the Jewish Study Bible, the Catholic Study Bible, the NET Bible, not to mention quite a few other excellent offerings — manage to distill centuries of scholarly thought into a cohesive, approachable set of footnotes and introductions. The authors are typically scholars who have devoted their lives to carefully weighing the various issues and arguments around textual, interpretive, thematic, and other questions, and have earned the respect of not just their peers but the wider community through their scholarship.  In short, biblical studies for these authors is not a hobby, but is for the more successful writers a lifetime devotion, evidenced by commitment to learning the tools of the trade (such as the original languages) as well as immersion in what other scholars have written before them.

So, who are the active Latter-day Saints who fit this description? To the best of my knowledge, as of today there are no active LDS who hold a tenured or tenure-track faculty position in biblical studies outside BYU. (David P. Wright, who clearly has the skills as a full time biblical scholar, is unfortunately not currently active.) What about BYU? Well, while there are some dedicated faculty at BYU, BYU is not an institution devoted to scholarly inquiry; it is an educational institution that “focuses on providing a premier undergraduate education” (per its website). That is an admirable mission, but not, however, the kind of place that allows for the in-depth scholarship needed to produce a serious study bible. Even insiders recognize this: when the most recent LDS edition of the KJV Bible came out in 1981, the dictionary built on a Cambridge University Press bible dictionary as a base. Has there been a large build-up of biblical scholarship since then at BYU? It doesn’t appear so. So in short, right now it does not appear that there is a cohort of credible LDS scholars who could produce such a study bible. Hopefully this will change over time with the new crop of LDS graduate students in biblical studies.

One might make the argument that bootstrapping is necessary: the way to build towards a serious, credible study bible would be to start with some sort of initial effort that might not tap in to all that current scholarship has to offer, but would at least open the door to a later, more complete effort. This might be true, and so some sort of initial effort could be valuable, and might even be the only path toward a “real” study bible given the LDS cultural wariness towards intellectualism. Perhaps it would be also valuable to find ways of exposing more people to the treasures that some of the current crop of study bibles offer.

  • http://timesandseasons.org Dane Laverty

    I think the apathy toward scriptural scholarship is that there’s no way to apply it institutionally. Let’s say that as a result of your research you discovered compelling new reading of certain scriptures. What would you do with it? Attempts to teach them in church-sponsored classes (Sunday school, seminary, institute) would be dimly received. There’s no channel to escalate the discussion to even the local authorities, not to mention the general authorities. So that leaves you with the option to try and apply this new insight in your own life — and hopefully it doesn’t contradict any current norms or practices, because pointing to the scriptures as a defense of a lifestyle practices that deviate from the accepted standards isn’t going to help you in your next temple recommend interview!

  • http://www.visionsofthekingdom.com David T

    BYU is actually working on an extensive new translation and scholarly linguistic commentary on the New Testament right now. The first volume (probably the Epistles of John) may be even be available by the end of the year, from what I hear…

  • http://www.imperfectpersuit.com Melynna

    I’ve heard that, too, David. I think there will be a lot of people who will be very interested when it does become available.

    I’ve never really thought much about the idea of a study Bible before, but my interest is officially piqued. Secco, is there a particular one you would recommend as being especially thorough/interesting/applicable to the LDS religion? In other words, where would be a good place to start?

  • http://weightermatters.blogspot.com AHLDuke

    Secco, I agree on the first question but disagree on the second. Those LDS graduate students in biblical studies are quickly turning into full Ph.D graduates with all of skills and knowledge, if not all of the time, necessary to produce an LDS study bible. Part of the problem is, as Nate Oman so aptly noted in his open letter to Dialogue several years ago, that contributions to the LDS-only market are worthless for tenure purposes unless you are at BYU. Also, because of the time and collaboration required, it would be nigh impossible to get such a large project off the ground without at least some assistance (or at least no stonewalling) from BYU and CES, not to mention the Church as an institution (sort of the kind of support that the Joseph Smith Papers has received).

    However, you are correct that there just is not a market for these sorts of things. I have tried to introduce insights from my own New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV) in the GD class that I teach and they tend to be received with blank stares. I would ever stand for people to be opposed to them strongly, especially after I told them how it is highly unlikely that Moses wrote much if any of the five books of Moses. Did not even get a rise out of the people. They did not seem to understand how this affected their understanding of the scriptures.

  • Jana H

    I wonder if those who are ambitious enough in their scripture study to desire a study bible are comfortable with the various options already widely available. Until recently, Catholics didn’t even have a conservative Bible resource (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1586172506/ref=nosim/nationalreviewon) like the oodles of options available to Protestants.

    I find that people are so wedded to this idea that they MUST read the LDS version of the KJV that they look upon other bibles with suspicion. If the church got behind a study bible and encouraged members to utilize it, then I bet there would be a renewed interest in scripture study. A lot of people seem to need that institutional “OK” before they’ll trust that it isn’t wrong to deviate from our standard works version.

  • http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ Stephen M (Ethesis)

    About 20% of our high priests group brings study bibles to church and reads them. Just FYI.

  • http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ Stephen M (Ethesis)

    The current LDS Bible had its notes reduced by about 70% before publication, just FYI, something we discussed with a son of one of the primary authors of the notes today.

  • Eric

    It wouldn’t take much (compared to starting from scratch) to edit something like the Life Application Bible (the NRSV of which I have in front of me now) for LDS purposes (if the copyright holders would be agreeable, which I doubt). Although I find many of its “life applications” simplistic, the study notes, maps, historical background, charts, introductions and the like are quite useful. In this particular case, they come from a theologically conservative Protestant viewpoint (for example, it is assumed that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch and that Isaiah has only one author), so there’s not a lot that would offend Mormons unfamiliar with the documentary hypothesis, the possibility of a symbolic Adam and that sort of thing.

    Sadly, though, I too wonder how much of a market there would be for such a thing, especially if it isn’t published by the church itself.

  • http://latterdaysnark.blogspot.com/ David B

    BYU may say on its website that it “focuses on providing a premier undergraduate education”, but as someone who used to be faculty there, i can state that research productivity means more to the school than it likes to admit.

    That said, yeah, i’ll agree that there’s not much of a market out there.

  • Jon H.

    Excellent recommendations on the study bibles! I have and use all of them in addition to Grant Hardy’s Reader’s Edition of the BoM, which is excellent. I often wish that someone could combine Grant Hardy’s notes, typesetting, and front/end matter with a footnoted version of Royal Skousen’s textual work.

    But I digress. You are right on both points, although I’m a little more optimistic that people would buy it given the right marketing twist. As long as it was published and/or distributed by DB or Covenant, the sales and readership would get a good boost, since those publishers know how to make LDS buy new things. I’d love to see Kofford do it, but I’m not confident in their resources. If it were published by some other academic or mainstream publisher, I don’t think it would succeed.

    The biggest obstacle would be to separate historical, textual, and literary commentary from doctrinal commentary since for many LDS, all four aspects are seen as “a greater understanding of the scriptures” and many don’t really care about any kind of distinction.

    As far as the scholarship goes, you’re bascially correct. The people who want to write it aren’t qualified. The people who are qualified to write it and want to don’t have the time. Nevertheless, I can give my guesses here as a concept of the kind of people we’d like to see involved in such an effort. For OT, I would think Dana Pike, Kent Jackson and perhaps John Gee or Bill Hamblin for some things. For NT Gaye Strathearn, Tom Wayment, Frank Judd and perhaps Eric Huntsman for some things.

    As far as bootstrapping efforts go, the new Bible and Antiquity journal by Maxwell Institute could turn in to this kind of foundational scholarship. I hope it does.

  • Secco

    Thanks for the feedback & comments. David T et al, the new translation and commentary could be an excellent first step, and I look forward to any/all such efforts. It would be wonderful if BYU would really start to promote and value true biblical scholarship.

    I think the Catholic efforts at a study Bible may highlight well some of the challenges that our own community might face. On the one hand, the New Jerusalem Bible is seen by many as too liberal. On the other hand, it faces squarely issues that modern scholarship has wrestled with such as the historicity of many books, the documentary hypothesis, etc. Could many Mormons handle such explicit discussion of these facts and factoids? Probably not. The CSB is perhaps more middle ground. Jon H, your point that many consumers of commentaries fail to distinguish between textual versus doctrinal is right on, and on the hopeful side speaks to why I think there is such value to modern scholarship. It can really help with understanding the scriptures as we’ve received them, and doctrinal issues can be tackled with more of the facts.

    As for which study bibles to start with, I’d welcome other readers’ comments. I have found both the NIV Study Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible to be among the best and highly useful for LDS study, more so their Old Testament sections than New. I haven’t found a New Testament study bible that really makes the same impact and benefit that these two do for the Old.

    Speaking of OT, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that by far my favorite OT commentaries so far for the Pentateuch are the JPS Torah Commentary and the Schocken Bible. Both are masterful, and again reflect careful sifting of centuries (millenia?) of faithful, careful, impassioned exegesis. These are true gems IMHO.

    I also echo the strong endorsement of Grant Hardy’s work. As I mentioned in the OP, the seeming lack of interest in his work really strikes me as the best gauge of how little interest there is in truly engaging with our scriptures as a community. (More on that in a separate post sometime…)

  • Secco

    AHLDuke 4, How might we go about generating such enthusiasm by BYU/CES/church hierarchy? I agree that it would be valuable, perhaps as you say even essential. I can think of very few other things that would really boost the spirituality of our people than to truly engage with the Word of God, and studying the scriptures — helped by the questions raised and discussed in study bibles — seems like one of the best ways to do this.

  • http://Symphonyofdissent.wordpress.com Symphonyofdissent

    I don’t know if an audience exists for a truly critical study bible for later day saints but I think a different truly useful study bible for members would be one that contained footnotes and analysis about the various usages of that passage by latter day prophets and apostles. While obviously not as scholarly as some bible out there I think this would help members get a better sense of the usage and interpretation of scripture.

  • http://patheos.com Ben S

    I’ve had such mixed reactions to things like this that it’s hard for me to generalize anymore. I’ve had some Stake Presidents adopt study bibles as their personal reading (NIV and JSB)… on the other hand, I’m teaching an Institute class right now in a highly populated area, on the Bible that deals with study-bible type material (how we got it the OT and NT, old translations like the LXX and Targum and how it came into English and modern translations, how to use various tools, etc.) In spite of lots of verbal interest, VERY low attendance.
    I can’t tell if people would love it or give a collective meh.

  • Michael

    Symphony,

    I agree with you that an LDS study Bible that incorporates footnotes, analysis, commentary, and contextual background for interpretations by the prophets and apostles would be wonderful. A true LDS study Bible (or set of scriptures) that does not find a way of incorporating the uniqueness of LDS doctrine regarding prophetic and personal revelation through the Holy Ghost will fall flat. In studying the word of God, I find most non-LDS analysis and commentary to be dry and discounting the importance of revelation in gaining understanding. There is so much in LDS theology that we keep hidden in the closet (for various reasons that are best kept to a different thread) which provide context, insight and greater understanding of our general doctrine. We ignore many significant teachings from earlier apostles and prophets because we don’t want to be bothered in sorting out the kernels of wheat from the speculative chaff. Examples include the Journal of Discourses, President Kimball’s admonitions against hunting for sport and our worship of war, Neal A. Maxwell’s incredible insights into discipleship, etc.

    Brother Nibley opened the door on many of these items but no one has forced members to give meaningful study and thought to why we believe what we believe. It is very frustrating to just get Jell-O explanations in Gospel Doctrine class.

  • http://weightermatters.blogspot.com AHLDuke

    Secco @ #12- I am not hopeful. I see some natural reasons why each of the the three groups that I mentioned would be reluctant to lend support to such a project. The church hierarchy has to get behind it. I can think of few projects that really succeed in the church as a whole that do not have at least tacit approval from the Brethren. We do not need them to market it, but allowing it to be sold in distribution centers and church-owned businesses like Deseret Book would be a big plus. The obstacle of course is that I believe many of them are unfamiliar, if not unfriendly, to most of the conclusions of good modern biblical scholarship. I read out of the Oxford NRSV and I think about 75% of the really interesting and insightful footnotes would have to be excised to make it palatable.
    For BYU and CES, the problem is that the study bible takes power away from them as the Church’s preeminent explainers regarding the scriptures. Some might take issue with that characterization, but I do not think that explaining the scriptures is primarily what the prophet and apostles do. Nobody in the Church, with the possible exception of the Correlation committee, determines what the scriptures mean to the rest of the membership as much as the religion professors at BYU and the CES personnel.

  • http://www.ourthoughts.ca/ Kim Siever

    I received a copy of Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon for Christmas a few years ago. I love it. I used it once as my only source of scripture study (reading the entire Book of Mormon), and I gained insights I had never gained before.

  • http://newcoolthang.com Matt W.

    I thought Kevin Barney’s study NT was good. (Footnotes to the NT). The “For Families” series of scriptures has done very well for deseret book in terms of devotional study bibles.

    Grant Hardy’s Reader’s Edition is overrated.

    Also, I think BYU’s “and the World of” series has proven that they have the chops to do something like a study bible.

  • http://patheos.com Ben S

    “I do not think that explaining the scriptures is primarily what the prophet and apostles do. Nobody in the Church, with the possible exception of the Correlation committee, determines what the scriptures mean to the rest of the membership as much as the religion professors at BYU and the CES personnel.”

    Completely agreed. No one in the Church does “expository preaching” anymore, where you have a text that you preach and explain. Instead, most talks (whether at the General Conference level or ward) are topical, and cite scripture in support of a topic instead of explaining a passage.

  • http://latterdaysnark.blogspot.com/ David B

    I don’t know that i’d say “no one in the church does ‘expository preaching’ anymore”. (At the very least, i’m old-school enough that that’s what i do half the time!⬅read that with a bit of a smile.) Yeah, you don’t get it in general conference, but i’ve heard it done (admittedly not frequently) by visiting general authorities at stake and regional conferences. Unfortunately, those aren’t documented as well, and so many of the insights offered at those would be at best difficult to incorporate into a study bible.

  • g.wesley

    thanks for the cheery post, secco.

    i guess my questions are, why do we need an lds study bible? and what would be lds about it?

    if study of the bible is the point (rather than mormon interpretation of the bible), then i don’t see how the content would be that much different from the study bibles out there already. i suppose it might be nice to have a mormon scholar holding our hands as we venture into the unknown, facing the documentary hypothesis, synoptic problem, etc., but …

  • TMD

    For what it is worth, I have been teaching an institute class in a large city for about 2 years now. We have worked our way through Gen, Exod, and the first parts of Isa. I have tried to base the first 60 min of class on scholarly/academic sources (basically the higher biblical crit stuff I’m working with in my PhD program), and the last 30 min I do more of a traditional “application” style of presentation (something akin to GD). To my (pleasant) surprise, I have found that the 12-15 consistent class members (2 of which are on the Stk HC) are very interested in the higher crit issues. Admittedly, they do not always understand all of the nuance involved with different issues (e.g. 2nd Isaiah w/ BofM Isaiah quotes), but they have really enjoyed learning about stuff like the docHyp, ANE parallels, mythic nature of OT/HB writing, etc. I have been very intentional about the tone and vocabulary choice used in teaching; so, feminist criticism becomes “how women negotiate the biblical world” or something like that, and from time to time I try and throw in something unique to LDS (even if it is a stretch). But, I must say, I have really tried to push them hard without pushing them over and I have been met with very positive feedback. (as a side note, I had similar experiences, though to a lesser extent, during my 1 year of teaching the teens in seminary.)

    Also, I have had a couple class members (b/c of my rec in class) go out and purchase the “New Interpreter’s Study Bible” for a supplement to the LDS KJV.

    Don’t know if the LDS church is going to become the next HQ for the academic study of the Bible :) , but, in my experience there are some LDS (that are not in biblical studies PhD programs) that are interested in these questions.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org David G.

    In my limited experience, Mormons respond well to the “repackaging” of HB scholarship in LDS language that “TMD” refers to. Same could be said of the new Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament, which while written in some campy LDS lingo, does introduce Mormon readers to the Doc Hypothesis and quality HB scholarship. LDS readers who would never go out and buy a similar work written by a non-LDS author, really seem to enjoy and engage academic scholarship, as long as it is repackaged in a “trusted” source.

  • Jon H.

    if study of the bible is the point (rather than mormon interpretation of the bible), then i don’t see how the content would be that much different from the study bibles out there already

    g.wesley, you draw too definite a line between scholarship and interpretation. If there was really little difference from SB to SB, the HarperCollins ought to satisfy most Christians (since it’s probably the most detailed); other publications are obviously superfluous.

    The Jewish Study Bible is an excellent example of a great blend of distinctively Jewish scholarship; it constantly incorporates comments and teachings from Jewish traditions, texts, and authorities. My wife and I find ourselves using it more and more in our old testament study together, especially when grappling with “hard” legal passages.

  • Kevin Barney

    My Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints is probably about as close a thing as there is to a study Bible in existence:

    http://feastupontheword.org/Site:NTFootnotes

    Personally, I don’t think of it as a full bore study Bible, but simply as a set of explanatory notes. Perhaps this would fit within Secco’s bootstrapping category.

    I agree with point 1 and disagree with point 2. There are plenty of LDS scholars who *could* contribute meaningfully to such a project (hell, there could even be an FPR study Bible!), but given the lack of a market or institutional support the fact that there are LDS with the chops to do this becomes pretty irrelevant.

    My own experience may be instructive. It took about seven years to write the material gathered at the site linked above. Early on we had a contract with Covenant, but they had a shake-up in editorial, and as it got close to actually bringing the book to market they concluded that the market for it simply didn’t exist. And while part of me was disappointed, I couldn’t disagree with their analysis. So we just mutually terminated the contract. That is why I simply made the book available for free over the internet for the benefit of anyone who might be interested and wants to read it. If people would like an actual hard copy to carry around, we set it up at lulu (we don’t get any profit from lulu sales); those hardbound volumes turned out quite well, I thought.

  • Secco

    Thanks, everyone, for the comments. It’s good to hear that there actually are some people interested in Study Bibles, and maybe there is hope for a bootstrapping exercise. Some responses:

    For BYU and CES, the problem is that the study bible takes power away from them as the Church’s preeminent explainers regarding the scriptures. Some might take issue with that characterization, but I do not think that explaining the scriptures is primarily what the prophet and apostles do.

    Very insightful, AHLDuke, and may speak to one of the key issues: power over interpretation. It isn’t too much to point out, I think, that wars have been fought and heretics burned at the stake over what has been put in the footnotes of bibles. Perhaps, someone is thinking, turning interpretation over to the scholars is hardly something the Church wants to do. But I think this is a misplaced fear: LDS seek to support their leaders, not supplant them.

    I agree on the first question but disagree on the second. Those LDS graduate students in biblical studies are quickly turning into full Ph.D graduates with all of skills and knowledge, if not all of the time, necessary to produce an LDS study bible. Part of the problem is, as Nate Oman so aptly noted in his open letter to Dialogue several years ago, that contributions to the LDS-only market are worthless for tenure purposes unless you are at BYU.

    Now we are starting to get to where I was hoping this discussion could go. I fear this might sound presumptuous, but I’m looking for actual biblical scholarship, not just LDS interpretation of existing scholarship. This requires, I would posit, that biblical scholarship not be a hobby, and not be a side job, but a fulltime, serious, devoted pursuit. BYU faculty do not have the time; their teaching loads are simply too high to be focused on original biblical scholarship; it is all they seem to be able to do to keep up with what others are doing. We need LDS faculty who are actually biblical scholars, full time. I still haven’t seen anyone identify an active LDS in a tenure-track biblical studies faculty position. They don’t need to publish on LDS stuff; they need to publish on biblical studies. This is why I think BYU faculty will have difficulty creating a truly valuable LDS Study Bible: they do not have the time.

    I recognize this might sound uppity, and I do not in any way mean to diminish the excellent work done by those listed above as I am constantly impressed by their efforts and I learn from you, Kevin B (and look forward to devouring your notes) and also enjoy the “World of…” and other BYU writings. But with all respect to these writers/authors, it is unfair to expect their contributions to match what the truly impressive scholars who have full time to devote have produced. I’m thinking here of Raymond E. Brown, or Michael Fishbane, or John P. Meier. This is more than talent, it is also bandwidth.

    Mormons respond well to the “repackaging” of HB scholarship in LDS language

    I do think there would be value to bringing the current world of biblical scholarship to LDS readers. It might help open their mind to the scriptures, and it certainly has helped my own spirituality. And maybe this is the first step to get enough Mormons to consider studying the bible seriously, and generate demand for scholars and their scholarship. But simply re-interpreting what is out there would not be all that I see an LDS Study Bible could be.

    I agree with point 1 and disagree with point 2. There are plenty of LDS scholars who *could* contribute meaningfully to such a project…but given the lack of a market or institutional support the fact that there are LDS with the chops to do this becomes pretty irrelevant.

    Meaningfully contribute, yes. Bootstrap? Certainly. But really generate a masterwork?

    why do we need an lds study bible? and what would be lds about it?

    LDS scholarship could bring real insight to biblical studies. For example, John Tanner’s Anxiety in Eden does a wonderful job of bringing an LDS interpretation to Milton — with clear references to LDS theology & temples laced throughout his reworking of Kierkegaard — without ever mentioning the Mormon church, and it was well accepted by non-LDS. And we’re perhaps uniquely comfortable with an orthodox interpretative framework that has multiple authors contributing to & editing scripture. LDS thought — deeply studied and applied to the Bible — could make huge contributions that would be valuable to LDS and outside the LDS community. So I’m encouraged by the glimmers of activity. But my question remains: who would write it? Who has the time and the training?

  • Kevin Barney

    I’m not sure I understand why a study bible requires original as opposed to largely existing scholarship. I don’t see much in the way of original scholarship in something like the NIV Study Bible. By the standards of biblical scholarship, the kind of information that makes it into a study bible is pretty widely held stuff, and doesn’t push the envelope the way journal articles do. LDS could use a basic description of the Synoptic Problem; the average LDS simply doesn’t know enough about it yet to even be able to appreciate a groundbreaking advance on such an issue.

  • g.wesley

    jon h.,

    it wouldn’t be the first time.

    and secco,

    i fully agree with you that mormon scholars should be contributing to the field, not writing to an lds audience, if that’s what you mean when you say they “don’t need to publish on LDS stuff; they need to publish on biblical studies.” i think some have done and still do that, even at byu. but most not, and definitely not at the level of an r.e.brown.

    so if i’m understanding you correctly, what you want is one or more lds scholars to become big names in the field (all the while remaining true to the faith), and then they can write an lds study bible. right?

    that would be great. i hope someone can pull it off.

    though i still have trouble visualizing what a mormon scholar would bring to the table as a mormon, if not a really big headache.

    for example, in discussing jesus’ baptism and the reasons for it in an lds study bible, is the mormon super scholar going to invoke 2 nephi 31 as evidence that jesus was sinless after all and that the apologetic additions to mark in matthew and luke are actually historically legit? or maybe s/he will want to defend the historicity of the virgin birth and the resurrection using chapter 11 of 1 and 3 nephi. how could a mormon scholar NOT DO THIS in an lds study bible and remain faithful? how could s/he DO IT and keep a reputation as super scholar?

  • http://www.visionsofthekingdom.com David T

    LDS scholars are going to be well represented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature this coming November. Here is a list of just some of the papers relevant to Latter-day Saints, including many presented by members.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    This is a great topic. I’d just like to add a few things, some of which have been said already.
    1. Not all study bibles are the same, as you note in the OP. I think that a major question that we need to ask ourselves is “what kind of a study bible would an LDS study bible be?” Perhaps the Catholic and Jewish study bibles offer models, but we’d need to spell that out. I think that g.wesley raises an important point of the tension between the critical and the conventional in LDS thought. What are the limits?
    2. While I definitely think that we need more biblical scholars that are LDS, I’m not sure that is a prerequisite for a study bible, as has been said. I think it is a prerequisite for a number of other things, however. Time and training are, however, real issues, especially in the academy. I have greatly valued Kevin’s work, but frankly for a scholar who is not at BYU to take up this kind of a project, he or she would have to already have tenure. I’m not sure an LDS study bible would count much for tenure at a non-LDS school.
    3. While I think there are a number of good existing and up and coming LDS biblical scholars, there is a question of a critical mass that is needed to take on a project such as this. The contributing and editorial staff of the large study bibles is huge.
    4. In a way, the current LDS KJV notes and new translations like the Spanish edition, as well as the “bible dictionary” already act as study bible resources. Would we be better off working within the system by updating those resources? They are coming up on 30 years now. Does anyone know if there are plans to revise the 1981 edition?
    5. A key question for any English LDS study bible is which translation to use. To be taken seriously by non LDS scholars, the KJV cannot be used, but to be taken seriously by an LDS audience, the KJV must be used.

  • http://www.kimmccall.org Kim McCall

    Nice discussion. I love bringing insights from JSB or even secondary lit. into GD class, either as teacher (this last week, covering Israel’s identity crisis in the call for a king) or “teaching from the back row.” Luckily, I live in No. Calif, where peers are likely to find it at least “interesting.”

    For NT, I mostly use New Oxford (NRSV), but I’m open to other ideas.

    Wanted to mention that I’ve been invited to share a Sunstone session in August with Bill Russell. He’ll talk about his problems with the JST. I’m being billed as talking about something like “Why [get over] the King James Version.”

    While I love the beauty of “Entreat me not to leave thee, . . ,” I just feel like most LDS scripture study becomes a devotional ritual or a Rorschach-like self-revelation rather than an exposure to much of what the writers were actually saying. And without valid historical supplementation, all we’ve got left is “apply it in your life,” which, while worthwhile tends to be so shallow when based on tiny stories of verses, rather than the full flow of the overall story.

    Anyway, I’d love to hear more from you (and I’m be more open then the above mini-diatribe might hint) about your experiences contrasting reading the KJV with reading other translations. Any perils to warn of? Please feel invited to send ideas to kim@kimmccall.org

    Thanks.

  • Kevin Barney

    TT, I agree with your point in 30.2. I was only able to do what I did because I’m an amateur and don’t have to worry about rank advancement. So it could be done by scholars at BYU (a la the forthcoming BYU NT commentary), or it could be done by independent scholars, or it could be done by tenured scholars. But I have a hard time imagining many tenured scholars at other universities signing on for such a project.

  • oudenos

    On this question I am a pessimist and I don’t see such a project ever happening. And I don’t really want it to happen. I have given my professional life over to gaining the academic skills and linguistic tools to work in NT studies and I have given my life/soul over to the irreversible effects of higher criticism and I would rather not introduce too many others into these time and soul sapping pursuits. I have yet to meet anybody (an.y.bo.dy) who, in the field of Bib. Stud., has put themselves through the crucible of academia and faith and come out thinking that it would be a good for others to be introduced into that gauntlet.

    Oh, and TT and g.wesley really nailed the most pressing issues here.

  • oudenos

    I meant going through the gauntlet of academia and faith and still desiring and trying to remain faithful to one’s religious tradition.

  • Secco

    Thanks again for the comments.

    what you want is one or more lds scholars to become big names in the field (all the while remaining true to the faith), and then they can write an lds study bible. right?

    Yep, pretty much that sums it up. Example case: Richard Bushman in history has not only the credibility but the training/experience/scars needed to write the best biography of JS.

    I’m not sure I understand why a study bible requires original as opposed to largely existing scholarship.

    I definitely agree that intro-level texts can be written by careful observers. And again, this might be the way to bootstrap. But in many fields, those who are actively researching & publishing are the ones who are most familiar with the issues. Bushman again provides the excellent example, but examples in other academic disciplines are easy to find.

    A key question for any English LDS study bible is which translation to use.

    This probably deserves its own post. But perhaps some technical solutions may make this less pressing. It may well be that the future study bible will be electronic. On the iPad, with an application like PocketBible, one can have five windows all open simultaneously and synchronized. I like having the KJV, NIV, NIV Study Bible Notes, NET, and NET Notes all in sync, for example, on PocketBible. (Am seriously pining for Accordance to finally come out on the iPad…)

    Oh, and TT and g.wesley really nailed the most pressing issues here.

    Agreed. Though oudenos I hope you’ll share more with us about the gauntlet sometime.

    I just feel like most LDS scripture study becomes a devotional ritual or a Rorschach-like self-revelation rather than an exposure to much of what the writers were actually saying.

    Well said, and I think many have turned to study bibles to help break out of the ossification that might otherwise set in.

    though i still have trouble visualizing what a mormon scholar would bring to the table as a mormon, if not a really big headache…for example, in discussing jesus’ baptism…

    I am not so pessimistic. Fuzzily, I can envision a future interpretive framework that can accommodate both the critical questions that the Biblical text produces and also the insights+problems that modern scripture brings. If done well, such an LDS study bible might bring fresh insights to the biblical text that even non-LDS can benefit from. A challenge, for sure, though.

  • Jana H

    Well, Secco, I am no scholar, so I was unaware of the Readers Edition of the BOM. Just made my purchase!

    I suspect there would be more interest if more people knew about it.

  • g.wesley

    secco,

    it’s good that there are people like you who are possitive. no need for all of us to be so down. i admit that at this point i more or less conciously look for problems. maybe i’ll come around.

  • http://zionlist.com Jeff

    I think there’s a market for such a work, especially if someone can mail a copy to a general authority and get a mention in a public platform. I don’t accept theories that LDS are anti-intellectual or that the Church leadership is “scared” of such a work taking away its preeminence.

    Latter-day Saints are overly defensive to the detriment of themselves and the Church in general (see Ballard’s address at BYU commencement in 2009, I think), but if something is sold at Deseret Book, there is a high likelihood that the general membership will consider the work trustworthy.

    I think the real thing is that there is no way to reliably fund the compilation of such a work. The only hope would be to convince LDS investors to bankroll it. The Church has already sunk funds into a smaller work along these lines, which is our current edition of the Standard Works, but it’s designed to be accessible to the lowest common denominator and to remain relatively low-key, which, of course, makes sense. The Church is very meticulous about ensuring its expenditure of funds has broad application across the Church, which is right, imo. The fact is that a study bible wouldn’t hit the threshold.

    You expect people to devote full-time to your theoretical “master work” study bible, but there’s no way for the scholars to do so under current circumstances. In other sects, clergymen are professionals with graduate degrees; these guys get paid all day to do nothing but study the Bible and publish and think about it. There’s just no mechanism for a similar thing among Latter-day Saints at the moment.

  • Grant Hardy

    Perhaps the “Study” part is of secondary importance compared to the “Bible” part. It seems to me that first step is to persuade Latter-day Saints that’s it’s okay to read other translations of the Bible (though it appears that most of the writers on this thread have already made that leap). Commentaries can be valuable, but the real point is to get people to actually read the scriptures and see what’s there. Although there are important historical and doctrinal reasons for the Church to keep the KJV as its official translation, encouraging the average Latter-day Saint to consult the NRSV, NJPS, REB, or NIV when preparing lessons or talks would make a world of difference in increasing understanding and helping to set the stage for discussions of translation, textual scholarship, and historical-critical issues. When faced with a verse-by-verse, double-columned, 400-year-old translation, most Mormons can’t really make heads or tails of much besides familiar stories and favorite quotes. But the use of modern translations as supplements to personal study will never happen without explicit encouragement from Salt Lake and Provo.

    My Reader’s Edition came out of my own experience as a Greek major at BYU reading modern biblical translations and wondering whether the same type of format could be applied to the Book of Mormon (I specifically had the NIV in mind, though the pervasive presence of Nephite editor/narrators makes larger literary units such a multi-chapter headings even more appropriate for the Book of Mormon than for the Bible). I appreciate the kind comments many of you have made about my work, and the University of Illinois is pleased with sales (about 5000 copies–not bad for an academic book), but I still think that many, many Latter-day Saints would find the Reader’s Edition useful if they only knew about it, and if they were open to scripture in paragraphs, without the extensive cross-references that too often prove a distraction or impediment to continuous, close reading. But the fact that my edition is not available in Deseret Book or other LDS bookstores is probably a major obstacle to regular Mormons who might give it a try if it were distributed by a trusted LDS retail outlet. I have always hoped that Latter-day Saints who benefited from the Reader’s Edition might ask “Could you do something like this for the Bible?” The answer, of course, is that it has already been done, many times, but you have to leave the comfortable confines of Deseret Book and Church Distribution to find it.

  • SmallAxe

    but the fact that my edition is not available in Deseret Book or other LDS bookstores is probably a major obstacle to regular Mormons who might give it a try if it were distributed by a trusted LDS retail outlet.

    Why isn’t it available at DB?

  • Eric

    I’m a strongly visual learner. What I found surprising about the Reader’s Edition is how much difference the format made for me in reading the Book of Mormon. Seeing poetry as poetry and the prose in paragraph form instead of being broken up into verses makes reading the Book of Mormon a pleasure for me rather than a chore. The appendices and limited in-text notes are definitely helpful, but I appreciate the format the most.

  • Kevin Barney

    I’m a big fan of Grant’s Reader’s Edition. BYU Bookstore sells it. That DB doesn’t says more about DB than it does the Reader’s Edition.

  • Jon H.

    I thought I saw it at DB once. Perhaps I’m wrong.

    Another thing I love about Grant’s Reader’s Edition is the Bible quotations are in italics and almost always cross-referenced! This brought issues to my attention I had never noticed before at all because the direct textual references get lost among the topical references in the church’s edition.

    Sorry, I know Grant’s publication isn’t what this thread is about, but I recently lost my copy and I miss it. :(

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech Clark

    On the other hand, it faces squarely issues that modern scholarship has wrestled with such as the historicity of many books, the documentary hypothesis, etc. Could many Mormons handle such explicit discussion of these facts and factoids? Probably not.

    I think they could but some sort of ecclesiastic prep work would be necessary. In some ways our theology is more open to this since we already believe the Bible was corrupted, was compiled during apostasy, and that there’s a lot missing. On the other hand there is a traditional way of reading heavily influenced by Evangelical conservatism from the early 20th century. No one wants to go first just because of that issue.

    There’s unfortunately no one with a position like Hugh Nibley who could write such things like Before Adam and have people feel like he’s defending and not attacking the Church. That said I think FARMS and other such apologetic groups clearly embrace a more empirical view of scripture and history. So they’ve been laying the groundwork. The BYU series you mentioned might do this as well. i.e. write the more scholarly oriented texts for the academically inclined and wait 10 years for the ideas to percolate down, become acceptable and then you can write for the lay membership taking them for granted.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech Clark

    BTW – something not mentioned is the oft rumored revision of the current quad. I know that this is forever being planned and never apparently implemented. But a lot of the problems are well known. (i.e. nothing really akin to the Bible Dictionary for the BoM & D&C, some issues with entries in the Bible Dictionary, the needless footnotes referencing the topical guide for the word footnoted, and really rudimentary tying of the Bible to modern revelation)

    It would be wonderful if, in a revised quad, the Church decided to follow something like most modern revelations and move to paragraphs with poetry broken out.

  • Craig M.

    Could one of the knowledgeable individuals here explain to me the differences between commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and study Bibles? Obviously the formats are different, but I’m curious how the content differs. Thanks!

  • Eric

    I’m not sure there’s a precise definition, and the categories probably overlap. I tend to think of commentaries as being a bit more scholarly, and perhaps directed at pastors, with study guides being directed a bit more at a popular level. Some Bible commentaries include mini-essays accompanying the text (some of them longer than the text being analyzed), while a study Bible may include more historical and linguistic information.

  • Jon H.

    I don’t think the difference has as much to do with the content as with the format and use. There are several areas of overlap, of course.

    Bible Dictionary
    An alphabetically organized list of topical entries containing basic and broad information on its contained topics. Dictionaries may not necessarily be limited to one volume. For instance, if you wanted to find out about Urim and Thummim (what they are, where in the Bible they show up, maybe a couple of important works written about them), you would look that up in a dictionary under the entry Urim and Thummim.
    Commentary
    A long work of focused and thorough study on the entire Bible or a specific book. Where a Dictionary provides broad information arranged by topic, a commentary provides focused information arranged in the order of the text itself. A commentary may try to explain the text or at least inform its reader using multiple approaches, but not necessarily. For instance some commentaries focus exclusively on the transmission of a text through its surviving manuscripts. Others comment on the historical background of the text, and still others theologically expound on it. You might use a commentary if you wanted to know detailed and thorough information about a specific passage. For example, if you wanted to know what General Authorities have said about John 3:16 in the past, you would look up that passage in a commentary focused on providing quotations from leaders of the Church. But if you wanted some historical background, you may have to turn to a different commentary. A commentary’s user may scour its pages associated with the passage in question but never look at any other section of the commentary again. Like dictionaries, commentaries may be one volume or many volumes. They may contain the biblical text or not, but if the text is included, it is not usually directly beside the author’s notes about it and may be additionally abbreviated.
    Study Bible
    Study Bibles commonly contain footnotes and introductions/prefaces beyond what is expected in a normal printed bible. These notes usually provide focused, in-depth information on specific passages or ranges of passages and not simply cross-references. In this way a study bible may be a type of commentary, but perhaps not so detailed. The key difference is that a reader of a study bible is commonly focused more on the text than on the notes. Whereas the commentary’s user may look up a specific passage and never look at the volume again, a study bible is typically read large portions at a time with reference to the notes as needed. Consequently, notes in a study bible must be much briefer than in a commentary, but not as brief as in a regular printed bible. You may turn to a study bible if you want to read the whole bible or the whole book of Genesis through the perspective of the scholars whose notes the Bible features. An LDS study bible, for example, would have the Biblical text featured at the top or center of the page, and accompanying notes and commentary by LDS scholars and/or leaders would be off to the side.

  • oudenos

    For those who are SBL members or have occasional interest in things Biblical, check out this opinion piece on one’s scholar’s act of civil dissension at what he perceives to be too much faithiness at SBL in the last several years.

    http://www.bib-arch.org/bar/article.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=36&Issue=04&ArticleID=09&Page=0&UserID=0&

    Basic conclusion: keep faith and reason neatly separate.

    Oh, and are we LDS folks implicated in this uptick in fundamentalists types gaining footholds at SBL? I hope not, but I fear otherwise.

    And for some ol’ timey academic smack talk check out the SBL response to this opinion and the comments that follow at

    http://www.sbl-site.org/membership/farewell.aspx

  • g.wesley

    Wow.

    There we are in response #27.

    Fascinating that this is being debated at the level of the SBL.

    Personally I don’t really see the point in having denominational sessions, if we’re all supposedly playing by the same rules.

    But it is hard to get around the history and economics of faith funding scholarship.

    However much I like to think of myself as (indignantly) independant, at the end of the day I am a parasite (on more than religion, of course).

  • g.wesley

    so the responses have doubled. those interested in pursuing advanced degrees and/or a career in the field might be interested in the sentiments being expressed.

    here are some gems:

    #29 “…(to my knowledge there has been no articles or seminars at SBL involving creationists, snake-handlers, or faith-healers)…”

    “…I just choose not to attend the specific meetings at the SBL annual conference that focus on Feminist and LGBT/Queer readings of the Bible. I think they are unscholarly and uncritical…”

    #47 “…On the issue of dilution of scholarship, it seems that in recent years SBL has permitted students in Masters programs to give papers. I very much welcome students at all levels, but entry into a doctoral program or the completion of at least one year of a doctoral program should be required of all who give papers at meetings…”

    #49 “…Some evangelicals are excellent scholars, but the radical, true believers really bother me. I am not sure what to do except to say that SBL is devoted to biblical criticism that does not seek to evangelize or distort interpretation…”

    #50 “…Personally, ever since I began attending the national SBL conference in the 1980s, still in the critical investigation era, I have always been slightly weirded out. I would say, with some hyperbole to be sure, that I felt like an astronomer at a conference attended mainly by astrologers…”

    “…Before Hendel began to worry about holy rollers, he should have asked why he was voluntarily associating with scholars of the New Testament. Fine people, most of them, but what has their field to do with ours? Only in a Christian context would these academics, with their advanced knowledge of Greek, Latin, Coptic, Mithraism, Roman history, etc., be grouped with us Old Testament scholars, with our Hebrew, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Egyptology, etc….”

    #54 “…There are other groups [besides pentecostals] that now operate sections at the annual meeting that do not accept the principle of academic freedom, but since I don’t want to make more enemies, I invite you to peruse the annual meeting program.”

    #61 “…I will not denounce my belief in God and in Jesus in the name of “critical scholarship.” I am a person of faith and I am a critical scholar and I will not violate my integrity as a believing Christian and a scholar to be a member of the SBL…”

  • Nitsav

    Wow, some high-level conversation there. Besides Hendel, comments from Mark Smith (NYU), William Prop (USC), Van Seters (uh, somewhere else), Alan Cooper (JTS), Martin Buss (Vanderbilt, but retired), Ron Troxel (UW-Madison), Ralph Klein, William Fulco (he wrote the Aramaic for The Passion), those are just the ones I recognize.

    Interesting to see it play out, particularly as I’ve had some personal dealings with a handful of these people.

  • jupiterschild

    Secco, excellent post. It raises critical issues for LDS scholarship, namely, is there such a thing, and who or what would be a good example?

    I too strongly doubt the depth of our bench when it comes to being able to muster the personnel to write such a thing. Maybe in 15 years, after current grad students have acquired tenure at places other than BYU RelEd. There are not more than 7 trained biblical scholars I am aware of at BYU, none of whom regularly publishes in the outside world of Biblical Studies.

  • jupiterschild

    …part of the issue being that in the parlance of many LDSs, “my BYU OT teacher” is coterminous with “Biblical Scholar”.

  • oudenos

    Perhaps this discussion over at the SBL website might get the ball rolling for the next great divorce: first it was ASOR and SBL, then it was AAR and SBL, and now it may be faithies and athies. Even though I should be concerned about all of this, I rather enjoy watching things implode from a safe distance–like the thrill of watching the demolition of a venerable old building.

  • http://cnblogs.info/desdemona Marguerita Tausch

    I liked it. So much useful material. I read with great interest. These guys were definitely talented, in my opinion, and wrote some very good songs.


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