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The Book of Mormon: Selections Annotated & Explained (SkyLight Illuminations) Paperback – January 8, 2005
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"Captures the spirit and gist of the distinctively Mormon scripture at one-tenth its length. Coupled with her informed, discerning and accessible commentary, Riess's editorial accomplishment is an act of interreligious generosity."
―Philip Barlow, ThD, author of Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion
"The most compelling, fascinating and gracious approach to the Book of Mormon that I have seen. Transforms dozens of cryptic passages and symbols into powerful messages that make the Mormon story shine with the beauties and mysteries of God's love."
―Mary Ford-Grabowsky, editor of Spiritual Writings on Mary: Annotated & Explained
“With her considerable historical and theological knowledge combined with her literary sensibilities, Jana Riess strikes precisely the right balance―an astute and sympathetic guide, not an overzealous proselytizer. Her informed and agile glosses help enormously in bringing the text to life.”
―Randall Balmer, PhD, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of American Religion, Barnard College, Columbia University
“At last, a version of the Book of Mormon that is suitable in both size and content for the classroom.… Manages to leave the sense of the whole intact, while commentary provides a simple guide to Latter-day Saint belief. A very useful, even necessary supplement to the study of Mormonism.”
―Kathleen Flake, PhD, assistant professor of American religious history, Vanderbilt Divinity School
About the Author
Jana Riess earned a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University and a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. She is the religion book review editor for Publishers Weekly. She is also the author of The Spiritual Traveler: Boston and New England and What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide.
Phyllis Tickle, a widely acclaimed expert on religion in America, is the author of more than two dozen books, including the three-part prayer manual The Divine Hours and the memoirs The Shaping of a Life and Prayer Is a Place. She has been a magazine editor, college dean, media commentator and publisher.
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Jana Riess took on the daunting task of taking The Book of Mormon and reducing it by a tenth of its size. She overwhelming chose portions that show key concepts in Mormonism, mainly long homilies by prophets. She purposely left out the violence and war. This seems like a bad choice. If we are going to get a true slice of the Book of Mormon, then there should be representative portions of many styles. To leave out the narrative aspects gives us a skewed look at the work. Yet Riess did an admirable job presenting a difficult book to a general audience, and stuck to the mandate of Skylight Illuminations. If you want to read portions of the Book of Mormon, get a feel for the text, this is a good place to go.
On a content note, I see the Book of Mormon as a curious mix of fantasy and wish-fulfillment. First there is what I would call the historical problems of the book. Certainly, events in the Hebrew bible are not true in a modern historical sense. But there are a few places outside the bible where we can go to see that the religious and historical context of the book isn't pure fantasy (like the Mesha Stone, the inscriptions at Tel Dan, the Baalam, Deir Alla oracles, and other places). The stories told in the Hebrew bible have some grounding in a culture of a people called Israel. Scholars will debate all aspects of what this people where and what their written record mean, but there is hard evidence of their existence. The Book of Mormon does not enjoy this grounding. Not a single mainstream scholar has provided proof that the New World Hebrew culture chronicled in The Book of Mormon existed. Not a single piece of archeological evidence from non-Mormon sources has come to light. I see this as a major problem.
Next, there is the question of language. The Book of Mormon was supposedly translated by Joseph Smith from an Egyptian language (if these were Israelite peoples, why this language?) and when he was finished, the gold plates were returned to the angel Moroni. So, there goes the possibility examining the original text. As we know from other books, works of translation are full of problems. The suspect state of the translation, and the lack of an original, does not give The Book of Mormon the solid grounding that the Hebrew Bible has. We can't see the seams of the book, the layers of authorship, and the changes in the flow of language over the centuries. All we have is Joseph Smith's somewhat tedious version of King James English.
So, respectfully, this book is a hard sell for me. Certainly, people can and should believe what they want, and be left alone. Mormonism is interesting to study as an American event, and as a part of a set of ideas about the lost tribes of Israel that was common in the 19th century.