Society Magazine

The Book Of Mormon Cultural History Reading Project

By Rockwaterman
The Book Of Mormon Cultural History Reading Project I had planned at this time to write a sort of follow-up to last month's controversial post, but yesterday I came across this announcement on Daymon Smith's website, Mormonism Uncorrelated, and felt it was worth dropping everything to bring this to the attention of as many people as possible.
My apologies to those to whom I promised something else; I still hope to put together my intended post up here later this month. But when you see what Daymon is proposing, I'm sure you'll agree with me that his unprecedented free offer deserves priority attention. I'll quote Daymon's words from his blog below, then follow with my own thoughts as to why this is one of the most important things that thinking latter-day Saints can do for themselves right now. Here's Daymon:
"I am starting this month The Book of Mormon Cultural History Reading Project. It will run for eight months.
"For the Reading Project, I will offer for download a PDF of every book in the series, on a monthly, rotating basis.
 "Every Tuesday for the next eight months, I will provide, for that week, a link to download 1/4 of the entire book. That quarter of the book will be removed and the next quarter posted for the next week, until the entire book has been posted. The PDFs will be removed from my blog, so that other websites don’t mistakenly believe it is their PDF to post or to sell.
"(All PDFs posted in this Reading Project remain under copyright of this author, but you are encouraged to share the PDFs with whomever you like. I just don’t want some robot selling complete copies of the series on Amazon or Scribd.)"
    "The schedule looks like this:
February: Volume One
March: Volume Two A
April: Volume Two B
May: Volume Three Beta
June: Volume Three Delta
July: Volume Four A
August: Volume Four B
September: Volume Five
 "I will also be available to answer questions on the Facebook page for the Cultural History, as well as on the comments section of the post for that week. Not every day, but a few times a week I’ll check in to see if questions want answering.
"The hope is that those who cannot afford the series can access it here, while others would share it with friends who may be reluctant to jump into a series of this length. (Volumes Four and Five will be available soon, on Amazon, too.)
 "In addition, the list price of the book for that month, and for the following month, will be reduced to $17.50. Thus, for February, Volume One and Volume Two A will be reduced in price; for March, it’ll be Two A and Two B. And so on.
 "In March I will also be releasing a “unified” Volume Two (with A and B), for sale at the list price of $27.50. It’ll be a big book. Volumes Three and Four will follow, as I finish the reformatting.
 "Finally, The Book of Mammon and The Abridging Works will be reduced to $17.50 for the entire run of the Reading Project. The Abridging Works, in particular, I believe is an excellent way to begin re-reading the Book of Mormon from a different perspective. It’s where I started, anyway."
Why It's Important For All Thinking Mormons To Participate
The salient theme of this blog, Pure Mormonism, and others like it, is that there is something off-kilter about the modern LDS Church. Back in 1986, Ezra Taft Benson clued us in as to the cause of our drift back in 1986 when he addressed the Saints in his first general conference as the new President of the church. He told us that the whole church was currently under condemnation, and had been since 1833 when the Lord announced through Joseph Smith:
"This condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written.”
President Benson reminded us at that time that the Lord's condemnation had never been lifted. It was still in effect.
To me, that was an astonishing revelation. President Benson was telling us in no uncertain terms that this church was in deep, deep trouble.
Yet how many of our fellow Saints today go merrily about declaring all is well in Zion? How many blindly assume that this Church continues to be directed from on high by a satisfied deity who happily approves of every word and action of those holding high office within it?
When a house is condemned, that usually means it is not fit for the owner to live in. What then does it mean when the Lord tells us his own house has been condemned, and has been almost from the beginning? Is He really still directing the organization that bears His name?
I say the answer to that can be found by simply looking around. Where are the gifts of the spirit once found in abundance among the latter-day Saints? Where is the evidence of God's hand in this institution? In short, where are the fruits that bear witness of His will being implemented?
I asserted previously my belief that Daymon Smith's Cultural History of the Book of Mormon is one of the most important works of LDS scholarship in recent years. He traces the entire history of our misuse of that sacred scripture, beginning with the nascent misinterpretation of what that book meant by its use of the word restoration. Some of our earliest and most prominent converts took things in a direction entirely different from that called for in the scripture itself. And for decades after, the body of the Saints as a whole pretty much ignored that sacred book entirely.
The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Illiterate-Day Saints
When I was younger, I set out to read through the 26 volume Journal of Discourses, and I made it most of the way through. Yet until Daymon Smith brought it up, I hadn't noticed that in pioneer Utah, the Book of Mormon was almost never preached from the pulpit, and rarely talked about or read by the Saints. When stories from that book eventually found their way into Church publications late in the 19th century, they were geared toward children in the form of fables that predictably got a lot of things wrong. Those children's stories later formed the basis for teacher's manuals in the Church Educational System, and were eventually codified in our Sunday School lessons.
Today it is entirely possible for you to discover something marvelous and revealing in the Book of Mormon while engaged in your private scripture study at home, then go to church and be taught something completely contradictory to what you just read in the scriptures themselves.
The Book of Mormon is often called "the foundation of our faith" and "the cornerstone of our religion." Daymon Smith reminds us that if we are to take those slogans seriously, maybe we ought to start reading the Book of Mormon unfiltered by the dross and detritus that has built up around it by well-meaning leaders, teachers, and parents. We deserve to examine and reflect upon the teachings promulgated in the Book of Mormon in the pure form they are presented within the book itself, rather than infuse them with meanings and dogmas of our choosing.
The thing that makes Daymon Smith's Cultural History of the Book of Mormon so valuable is that in these five volumes he tracks the misuse, misinterpretations, and misapplication of the Book of Mormon within the church from the very beginning, up through pioneer days, then to the present time. It is an astonishingly jaw-dropping history, and if you are not following this, you will be left behind as the most important conversation in the church today takes place around you.
The first step toward getting the church of Christ back on its true mission is by learning how things got diverted in the first place. Daymon Smith's masterful history ought to be priority reading for the Remnant. The first 1/4 of Volume One is available right now for free. It will only be up for six more days, and then the next section will take its place. If you miss a section, don't worry; you can always buy the book at a reduced price during this limited time.
I assume you can tell that I think the study of how and where this people got off the tracks is extremely important. It's certainly important to God, as he has told us so.  I also hope that, in addition to reading these excerpts free online, you'll support Brother Smith in his work by purchasing the hard copy editions of these books, or the Nook and Kindle editions. I personally am one of those troglodytes who prefers to own and read books in book form rather than digital, and you can bet these books are given a prominent place in my library.
The Book Of Mormon Cultural History Reading ProjectIf you are not aware of The Abridging Works: The Epic And Historic Book Of Mormon Arranged In Sequence Of Composition , I'd encourage you to obtain a copy of that as well. This has become my favorite reading copy of the Book of Mormon. Like the original 1830 edition, it is laid out in narrative form, which makes it a much easier read, plus when characters are quoted, their words are in italics to distinguish from the narrative text.  As the synopsis on Amazon puts it, "happily, the text has been freed from the constraints of column and verse, and oriented to the epic and historic genres more appropriate for its wingspan and tragic grandeur, for appreciating the complexity of its composition."
 You really haven't read the Book of Mormon until you've read it the way the Prophet Mormon would have intended it to be read. Also included is an appendix with Essays by Smith explaining the sequencing.
And one more thing: since Daymon will make himself available on the Cultural History Facebook Site for questions, comments, and discussion, maybe someone will ask him to explain his eccentric choice of cover art on those books. I don't get 'em.
I hope you'll join me in this amazing reading adventure.
You can download the first part of volume one right now by clicking here.
Important Announcement
Since I expect the conversation about this post will take place mostly on the Cultural History Facebook page or at Mormonism Uncorrelated rather than in the comment section below, this announcement here may be premature, but please note: henceforth all commenters posting on my blog only as "Anonymous" will be deleted just as fast as I come across them.
I respect all reader's wishes to post anonymously, and you may continue to do so as long as at the beginning and end of your comment you use some type of unique identifier so that others can tell you from the hundreds of others posting as "Anonymous." With so many commenting under the name "Anonymous," the conversations are becoming increasingly difficult to follow.  It has also become obvious that some of those posting anonymously are often among the most uncivil; rather than engage in intelligent arguments, some of these people tend to get quarrelsome.  A civil argument advances the dialogue; petty and immature attacks on other's views do not.
Please note that if you are concerned about your privacy, the drop-down feature that reads "Name/URL" already keeps you completely anonymous; when you post using that feature, I don't have the ability to track who you are (not that I would want to) and neither does anyone else. So it makes sense to use that feature if you wish to keep your true identity hidden. All you have to do is place whatever username you wish to go by in the "Name" box and ignore the URL part. Of course, if you want to further mislead others, you can put any link in the URL box you choose, such as Youtube.com, Amazon.com, or LDS.org
Those with Google, Yahoo, Wordpress, and other accounts can choose to post under those accounts, which helps to lead others to your own blogs. But seriously, enough with all these people calling themselves "Anonymous." It's getting to be too much.

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