The New CES Book of Mormon Institute Manual: Part 2

Aaron R. aka Ricobook of mormon, christ, doctrine, education, faith, Jesus, LDS, millet, Mormon, prophets, religion, scripture, seminary, theology, thought 37 Comments

BoM Pics

The Church have just published (although I wrote this from a draft that I had access to before it was published) the new CES Book of Mormon Institute manual and my previous post asked some questions about what people hoped for in content.  This post is aimed at trying to develop a brief comparison of the most recent two.  I have tried to search topics, compared content and appendices and focussed on searching authors.  There are some interesting changes and some interesting constants.

Firstly the book is only 50 pages longer, which makes me wonder why bother to do a new one at all. 

Secondly there is still no discussion of the translation process, Joseph’s relationship with Moroni and the plates and the witnesses get a small outline in the appendix which is more an exercise in stating that they ‘never’ denied their testimonies.

Thirdly, McConkie has been used even more extensively and Mormon Doctrine has been used 19 times.  This is less than the previous manual but when contrasted with the new Gospel Principles manual, from which ‘Mormon Doctrine’ has been completely eradicated, this is quite interesting.  Why this schizophrenic move is not clear?  Perhaps we are seeing the impact of different writing committees.  In addition, Joseph Fielding Smith is also quoted more extensively.

Another noticeable, but perhaps unsurprising change, is the preference for living Apostles and Prophets, or at least very recent.  Yet, what is surprising, is the differences between those who are quoted frequently and those who are not.  For example, Fielding Smith and McConkie are quoted over 70 times in the new manual.  The other people who match that are President Benson, Joseph Smith (he is most quoted with 180 citations), Jeffrey R. Holland and Neal A. Maxwell.  Not far behind them is Elder Oaks, Packer and President Hinckley.  Why these brethren?  Hinckely and Benson have both been prophets and there is an emphasis upon thir teachings.  Elder Holland has written a popular book.  But Maxwell, Oaks and Packer?

The appendices have changed slightly.  They have dropped the map of the possible Book of Mormon geography while including a new map of Lehi’s journey.  This seems like an interesting reflection of how comfortable the Church feels with speculating about Book of Mormon lands with the current DNA ‘crisis’, while they clearly feel more comfortable about some of the work done by scholars on Lehi’s journey.  There is also a greater emphasis on the Scattering and Gathering of Israel.

Some of the things that have been reduced, or removed, or that are absent (which some might expect to be present); include the Journal of Discourses being cited only 3 times in the new manual compared to 13 in the old.  Further Brigham Young received no increase in citations.  FARMS (or the Maxwell Institute) are mentioned once and FAIR not at all.  Robert Millet is mentioned 5 times (usually in connection Joseph Fielding McConkie).  Even the Church sponsored Book of Mormon Symposiums only had 5 citations.  Monson has only 11 citations, which seems low for the current Prophet. Interestingly, Uchtdorf has only 1, whereas Bednar has 15 even though they were called at the same time.  In addition, Nibley is quoted less often in the new manual. 

It seems therefore that we are still living in a McConkie and Fielding Smith inspired Orthodoxy.  There are some other voices who are becoming important particularly Maxwell and Holland.  From a personal point of  view I would like to have seen something from Eugene England, Katheleen Flake, Catherine Thomas and Lowell Bennion (and others) who have all written insightful essays (and books) on the Book of Mormon.  Who else would you have liked to have seen cited?

Any other thoughts?

The Manual is now available online.

Comments 37

  1. Post

    #2 – Agree.

    #1 – However, you are right that it might have been good to have some more detail from some the early Church documents, but this was discussed at little in the preceding post.

  2. It’s a shame that Nibley’s contributions have been lessened and McConkie’s increased, but perhaps the Salt Lake committees are of the opinion that they cannot compete against sources like the Internet for scholastic and historic information about the Book of Mormon. However, they CAN provide far more of a spiritual guide to the Book of Mormon through such quotes. Perhaps they figure they need to make up the difference instead of simply providing the secular and spiritual together. Seminary and Institute are not really about providing information but are about strengthening students’ testimonies of the Savior and perhaps this manual is moving more towards that form of teaching.

  3. #6 – Are you not familiar with GBH’s public denouncement of the “traditional” Jesus? The former Profit, CEO, and Whitewasher said a lot of stupid and untrue things during his reign over Joseph Smith’s church.

  4. #7 – Thanks for you comment. I think the the move you mention is a wider trend regarding the institute courses. To my understanding, they were initially devised to help students at University reconcile thier faith with secular scholarship. I certainly agree that an increased emphasis on faith is a good thing. However, I would argue that the Brethren are not the only source of spiritual insight. Although i have enjoyed some things that McConkie has done I still think there is other important things out there.

  5. Your correct that is exactly why the note at the bottom gives a link to the online version and a disclaimer that I had written this before it was published, but I am just too lazy to change it. sorry for my laziness. I guess I should do it now.

  6. #10

    I agree I would like to see more non “The Brethren” sources, however I think the difficulty is that if support is given to one comment via a quote it strengthens the quoted’s opinions on other subjects. for any committee to review all of what a scholar has written is difficult, and to monitor what implications of such opinions are even more difficult to manage. “The Brethren are in for life, the likelihood of them leaving openly struggling with there faith is nil. they are also committed to showing unity, which is another reason why they would be a proffered source.

  7. Aaron-

    Thanks for sharing the link to the manual. Did you find any information on the two witnesses in this manual? McConkie has quoted something about them being two priesthood holders (men), but so little has been said about them, that I have wondered if they could actually be a man and a woman (a couple). I wonder this because the Lord’s pattern was to start the beginning of humankind with a man and a woman and it seems fitting to end it with a man and woman as well. I know that the BOM scriptural reference says these two “sons”, but in all other references I have found (scriptural) they don’t refer to gender. Anyway, just some thoughts. I look forward to perusing the manual, thanks again for sharing.

  8. Interesting that non-general authorities Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert Millet are quoted several times, as you point out.

    One of their quotes is also interesting, with respect to origins of B of M peoples:

    [Spencer W.] Kimball observed: ‘President Joseph F.
    Smith, the president of the Church, reported, “You
    brothers and sisters from New Zealand, I want you to
    know that you are from the people of Hagoth.” For New
    Zealand Saints, that was that. A prophet of the Lord had
    spoken. . . . It is reasonable to conclude that Hagoth
    and his associates were about nineteen centuries on the
    islands, from about 55 B.C. to 1854 before the gospel
    began to reach them. They had lost all the plain and
    precious things which the Savior brought to the earth,
    for they were likely on the islands when the Christ was
    born in Jerusalem.’ (Temple View Area Conference
    Report, February 1976, p. 3.)” ( Joseph Fielding
    McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary
    on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols. [1987–91] 3:329).

    Much of modern LDS apologetics, particularly with respect to DNA issues, distance themselves from statements by prior general authorities about origins of peoples in this hemisphere or locations of particular events.

    I do not think DNA tests give support that Polynesians originated in the Americas. Yet the newest CES manual continues with that position, based on some statements of prior church leaders, even though the Book of Mormon is silent.

  9. Page 62 of the manual talks about how dark skin was not the curse given to the Lamanites, but only a sign of the curse. It is further explained that the dark skin was simply meant to keep these people from being enticing to the Nephites and that when dark skinned people join the church, their dark skin should no longer be regarded as a sign of a curse.

    Doesn’t this just perpetuate the historical racism?
    Is it any less offensive that dark skin is a sign of a curse rather than a curse itself?
    Is it any less offensive that the dark skin wasn’t a curse–just some ugly mark to make people undesirable?
    Are we really trying to teach that dark skinned people still have the sign of a curse–but if they join the church, we will look the other way and no longer regard their dark skin as such?

  10. Post

    #13 – You make a good point. One that I had not thought of. A quick response might be to start with those people who have published in deseret book. I know that all of the people I mentioned in the main post published with them. Although they have published elsewhere but it would not be much for people who this full-time to cover that. In addition we do qoute from GA’s who have said things that are not currently accepted. I know they are GA’s but in some ways quoting from Academics is easier, you can just say they were wrong. Using GA’s means you have to say they were wrong and explain how they can be wrong etc…

    #14 – Interesting thought. I did not come across anything, but that may be because I was not looking for it.

    #15 – This is really interesting, thanks for bringing it to our attention. I wouold have thought that this would have been dropped, esep. in light that they have dropped BoM geography.

    #16 – I agree that this is particularly bad. I am v. surprised that this is in the Manual. Perhaps they feel like they need to explain and this is the best they can come up with. However, perhaps this is one place where they could really use some help from different interpretations of these like those by Eugene England or even John Tvedtnes (is that correct?)

  11. #16. Bill I understand the churches desire to make nice with the whole cursed race thing, but this almost seems like adding insult to injury. Does it really say that it was “meant to keep these people from being enticing to the Nephites”? I think that statement could have been left out or at least worded better.

    #8 Anon It sounds like you have a beef with GBH that might be discussed under that topic specifically, not a discussion about the CES Manual

  12. Why are comments from anonymous anti-Mormon trolls like that douchebag “anon” (comments #1,4,8) not just deleted? It is a universal truth that feeding trolls is a bad idea and leaving their trollish comments undeleted is a form of feeding.

  13. #18–The quote “that they might not be enticing” to the Nephites comes directly from the Book of Mormon. The manual quotes and then builds on this reference.

  14. I think some England quotes would be wonderful but I’m not holding my breath.

    #16″Is it any less offensive that dark skin is a sign of a curse rather than a curse itself?
    Is it any less offensive that the dark skin wasn’t a curse–just some ugly mark to make people undesirable?”

    The explanation appears to be equally as racist as the older belief that is being refuted, hard to imagine how they could have created such a perfect symmetry and not notice it.

    The thing I always find striking about LDS manuals is how they are loath to include or encourage interpretation, or significant engagement with the text itself. The typical pattern is to state a concept or principal and then use scripture as a proof text. This pattern appears in the new manual as well. (obviously how its used by an instructor matters a great deal here as well.) Perhaps I am in the minority but I find this method of writing and using scriptures to actually encourage a disengagement with the text, since the principal always proceeds the text. Thus we always arrive at the text too late, but what is more we don’t allow the text to have its own voice, and we don’t get to have our own reaction to it.

    I have trouble pinning down exactly what Mormon thinking about scripture is. I realize its pretty well established that Joseph Smith felt that the Bible was less a source of meaning than a text that needed to be brought into conformity with prophetic teachings, and perhaps this is the reason that in the LDS community and teaching system the Bible is not used as a source of meaning, but rather as additional evidence of the correctness of specific ideas, or as something of a mystical device that will help foster a closer relation to the spirit. Its simply the act of reading that does this and not interpreting or working with the text. Despite the obvious problems with that, what about the BOM, is it a source of meaning? If so then it would seem that we do need to be involved in the acts of creative reading, responding to and interpretation of the text.

  15. “…perhaps this is the reason that in the LDS community and teaching system the Bible is not used as a source of meaning, but rather as additional evidence of the correctness of specific ideas, or as something of a mystical device that will help foster a closer relation to the spirit.”

    With all due respect, Douglas, I have to agree with you when you imply that you haven’t quite pinned down how Mormons treat the Bible. Mormons definitely derive a lot of meaning out of all their canonized books, including the Bible.

  16. As a thought experiment, I don’t know what would be more surprising and bizarre, finding out when we die that God really did curse people with dark skin, starting to see Lamanite converts skin start to turn white because they are righteous and having that tick them off because of racial identity issues, or watching white Mormon America become an appendage to a brown Mormon South America as it hints in the Book of Mormon (maybe this is when they become white?). No tongue in cheek here;) But seriously, there always seem to be surprises and miracles that test our cultural conditioning when we lest expect them.

  17. ‘I think some England quotes would be wonderful’ Especially on this issue of skin colour and the BoM. As I recall he ascribes it to racist values among the Nephites not to God’s understanding.

    #21 – As always, Douglas, you offer a good insight. I too would like to see more engagement with the text, although it seems that our primary way of discussing the scriptures. Applying them to yourself, actually encourages the same of engageement you describe as typical. So until we can learn to move away from that I do not see a big change there. I am not saying we should drop it completely, but just supplement it.

    I think our relative silence on the Bible, not that we don’t talk about it (or shoudl I say talk around it), is to do with how we skirt the challenging themes of the bible in our lessons and refer to those that have proved good material in the past to support what we already believe. Although this may grow out of a culture that is uncomfortable not having all the answers.

  18. #24 Aaron “I think our relative silence on the Bible, not that we don’t talk about it (or shoudl I say talk around it), is to do with how we skirt the challenging themes of the bible in our lessons and refer to those that have proved good material in the past to support what we already believe. Although this may grow out of a culture that is uncomfortable not having all the answers.”

    I tend to agree, nothing creates a stirr in Sunday School more than an implied ambiguity or creating a challenge. What’s also interesting is that I’ve come across folks who are against creative or imagnative examination of the text because they just don’t see why its necessary or desirable. Something that we Mormons do is try to explain away the challenges that the text poses to us. The manual’s way of dealing with the murder of Laban seems to be about making it safe, and denying the ethical / spiritual challenge of that story, the manual seeks to give Nephi an out by asking “What justification is there for a righteous man like Nephi to take the life of another person?” So the very starting point is justification, which I think is telling.

  19. #19 – I’m not anti-mormon, I’m pro-Truth. So yeah, I guess I do have a problem with GBH…but I wouldn’t go so far as referring to him as a douchebag. I am simply pointing out that the lds church stands on very shaky ground when its leadership changes the message in order to make the church more acceptable to the world. Much like the changes in the new CES BoM manual. Some of them are designed to shift (or delete) certain doctrines so that previous beliefs once held to be true, which are now proven wrong, may be “reintroduced” to the membership. Even though GBH is no longer with us, we see his legacy of whitewashing continues on within the pages of the new CES BoM manual.

  20. #25 – I know that doing this sort of thing is difficult in sunday school for a variety of reasons but I would expect more from an institute manual. I would hope that it would be more challenging. But I just find them to be bigger.

    #26 – What teachings have changed in the new BoM Manual. It seems that discussion highlights that v. little has changed. Even my comments are mostly focussed around authors. I have not read through the whole manual so far so I do not claim to have answers. What changes are you refering to between manuals?

  21. #27- Yea, I’m not really thinking about the institute context. I’m sure its very different depending on what is going on locally but my experience with institute in my area is that it was pretty much the same as Sunday School. But I’m sure there must be some inspired teachers out there making the most of it.

  22. #27 – In your post you highlighted the shift to contemporary quotes from more current church leaders. This plays right along with the subtle shift the church constantly invokes when disseminating “doctrine”. Why not just stick to Smith and Young. Aren’t the doctrinal waters purest the closer we get to the source?

    “Updating” the sources from which the manual takes its content creates a different tone. Modern church leaders are prone to choose their words more carefully since they have to deal with a more knowledgeable membership than did Smith, or Young (neither of whom had any apparent “prophecy” about the advent of the Internet.) Current leaders have to maintain the fraud Smith started, but with both hands tied behind their backs.

  23. #28 – Unfortunately I think that Institute has tended to be like that in lots of places. Although I sense it should not be. I tried to do some of that raising questions when I taught institute, but unfortunately I am not one of those inspired teachers, so it probably meant little.

    #29 – Young has not been diminished and Joseph is still, by far the most cited person. Using other people is important. Otherwise it would just be like Books already published. I disagree that it is fraud and therefore do not see some big conspiracy. Accepting that premise means that the meaning of the questinos aked in my post will inevitably lead to different answers. I am not sure for the reasons why certain people are more quoted than others. My main feeling is that they are simply more interesting. They think and expand upon what has been written.

  24. #26: I’m not anti-mormon, I’m pro-Truth

    And you’re a douchebag. Don’t forget that part.

    I am simply pointing out that the lds church stands on very shaky ground

    Take you your whining to God — if He is unhappy with Mormonism maybe he will smite the church for you.

    PS — Did I mention you are an anti-Mormon douchebag and a troll? (You must love the low standards they have at this blog)

  25. Geoff J – name calling? Let’s keep it civil. The open discourse on this blog is very refreshing. Please don’t knock it. We lurkers like to read lots of different viewpoints and I, for one, don’t feel threatened by the “Anons” of mormon cyberspace.

  26. At this point in time, I will accept the new manual ‘as is’.
    I believe if one looks at the very small print on the 1st or 2nd page, an address is given for anyone recommending any changes in the manual.

  27. Post

    I wonder if what they would actually consider changing. Is it just for typos or coulrd write in and argue that the skin colour ideas addressed above could have other explanations.

  28. Just some musings from a run-of-the-mill Latter-Day Saint. Please forgive me if I seem like I am rambling. It is hard to put everything into words that I know and feel. Just realize that regardless of how poorly I state it below, I believe in Gospel Scholarship as well as Gospel Application.

    Perhaps the new manual reflects a couple of things I have noticed through the years. There is less and less “scholarship” about the gospel (if there ever was any) among us run-of-the-mill Latter-Day Saints than there used to be. At one time we would see multiple articles from Bro. Nibley regarding research that he was doing. We would study (hopefully) the scriptures as well as those who had done so from more than just the “feely-touchy” (I don’t mean that negatively) approach.

    There seems to be in the Church a drive to get people to focus on things that will change their lives more than the scholarship and details of why the Book of Mormon fits into the category of culture, writings, etc., of 600 BC Palestine or other simillar studies of details and depth. When was the last time anyone discussed returning to Zion or establishing Zion? Yet the Book of Mormon is rife with such. Sometimes I wonder how much more Joseph Smith will cease to be quoted about many things. He certainly said some things about what he apparently knew, saw, heard, or surmised that could become very contriversial in today’s world. Yet who knew more about them than Joseph?

    It’s not that scholarly things don’t help. In my case those things serve to cement my faith, but not create it. I see both scholarship and practical application as desirable. Yet if I were a fledgling member of the Church (or perhaps even an oldster) the things of most worth would be the application of the Scriptures and Teachings of the current Prophets to my personal life. The scholarship that follows would only serve to ehance my already existing faith. I do fear, however, that Gospel Scholarship is going by the wayside in many ways by the upcoming generations.

    What is important to us Latter-Day Saints right now is to listen and follow the living prophets. Although, I do miss the times when we had Stake Conferences four times a year and usually with a General Authority (Apostle, Asst. to the Twelve, even a 1st Pres. member). It does seem like we got more “meat” at the feast rather than “milk”. Perhaps milk is what most of us need now.

    Seems like a changing of the times. Good or not so good…who knows? I for one will contine to listen, study the scriptures, read well done (even provocative) research about the Gospel that is insightful, uplifting, and in accordance with my understanding of Gospel principles. In the end, I just hope I can become the person Father intended me to be.

  29. Bednar was quoted more because if Uchtdorf was quoted more, readers might confuse the book to be a pilot manual 🙂 (Uchtdorf jokes on himself all the time, so I bet he’d laugh at this.)

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