Over the past few weeks, I have been able to begin showing people the development site for a new website, BookofMormonCentral.org.
The reactions have been pretty amazing, actually. Big smiles. Enthusiastic nods of approval. “This is cool.” “I’m so glad to see this all coming together.” “What a resource!” “Beautiful, and really functional too!” “Wow.” Some people get excited enough that you’d think they had just won the lottery.
It’s not very often that something like this comes along. And for plenty of good reasons. Launching on January 1, 2016, a mini perfect storm has brought together decades of accumulated research on the Book of Mormon, an array of state-of-the-art computer programs and social media outlets, a team of skilled workers and volunteers, and an unselfish pool of financial resources that will allow Book of Mormon Central to spread knowledge about the Book of Mormon as far and wide as possible.
Many questions can and should be asked in launching a project like this. Here are just a few of those questions. In most cases, the best answers can be found by visiting this new site and spending a few minutes becoming familiar with its features. I hope you’ll like what you see.
Q: What will the Book of Mormon Central do that isn’t already available?
A: Actually, several things. The most immediate need is to help people find their way around amid the libraries and web sites of information that are out there. Many fascinating insights have been found and written about, but most people do not know about them, and if they know, who knows how to find them? So imagine, what if all this Book of Mormon research were easily available or accessible in a single online Archive? Wouldn’t that be amazing? Creating such an Archive is one of the first goals of BMC. Nothing like that exists right now for the Book of Mormon. We hope that this tool will narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to access to knowledge about the Book of Mormon.
Q: Will Book of Mormon Central focus on internal readings or external evidences of the Book of Mormon?
A: The answer is both. The heart and soul of this website will always be the text of the Book of Mormon itself. What does it say? What does it mean? What does it teach? What does it ask of its readers? The architecture of this website will always tie into the text of the Book of Mormon. Just think, what if you could read along through the Book of Mormon and pause on just about any word in the text and open up at a click virtually any place where that word or verse or topic had been discussed in a vast array of dictionaries, reference guides, conference talks, encyclopedias, articles and books published about the Book of Mormon? To find the prototype of just such a program, select the Text menu on the website.
Q: Which versions of the Book of Mormon text will be used on this site?
A: Book of Mormon Central will feature the English text, of course. Eventually we would want to help people all over the world also find all the translations of the Book of Mormon in various languages that the Church has made available on lds.org. But already, the BMC website makes available the Yale edition of BYU Professor Royal Skousen impressive and meticulous work on the Original and Printer’s manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, which were written down by Joseph Smith’s scribes as he dictated the earliest English text of the Book of Mormon. Skousen’s work, which has been underway for over 25 years, has been supported by several collaborators and individuals, including FARMS, the Maxwell Institute, Interpreter, and recently the Joseph Smith Papers project. It is a remarkable story in and of itself.
Q: How is Book of Mormon Central different from the original FARMS, and from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, and from other organizations?
A: FARMS (the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) was founded in 1979. It was not the first organization to focus on Book of Mormon Studies, but it became the most widely known. Like FARMS, the Book of Mormon Central hopes to make information about the Book of Mormon available as easily and as inexpensively as possible. But unlike FARMS, BMC is a child of the digital age. It will make much greater use of the internet, web developments, apps, interactive computer programming, and database management. It will bring Book of Mormon scholars together with professional media experts. BMC will thus be more of an umbrella organization, broadly based, affiliated with many other organizations. Some of these are already listed and described on the BMC website as Affiliates, with many of their materials included among the 1,000 entries already loaded up on the BMC Archive.
And like the Maxwell Institute, BYU Studies, the BYU Religious Studies Center, and many such organizations, the Book of Mormon Central will promote and utilize the most solid research possible. But unlike these other organizations, BMC will focus just on the Book of Mormon, not on the whole arrays of Religious Studies, Church History, and various disciplinary pursuits.
Also, Book of Mormon Central does not plan to be involved much with sponsoring or conducting new research; it is more concerned with gathering, organizing, explaining, presenting, and increasing awareness and availability of existing Book of Mormon scholarship, especially through social media. BMC does not see itself as being in competition with anyone else. We aim to make others look good, and to do things that others are not doing.
Q: Who is the primary audience for Book of Mormon Central?
A: Just about everyone. Serious readers will find a treasure trove here. But BMC is aimed not only at the experts but also the youth and people who are just beginning to read and search the simple but complex pages of the Book of Mormon. So, this website welcomes more than just academic readers or writers. With our KnoWhys, which can be found easily on our website, we hope to appeal to many modern viewers, including the younger generation, the Millennials, and other learners who like visual and experiential learning and not just book learning.
Q: What is a KnoWhy??
A: About three times a week, BMC plans to release information reports, each together with a 45-second video clip. We call these reports KnoWhys. Each KnoWhy will give some interesting and worthwhile information about a detail or facet of the Book of Mormon, and then will explain why that information is interesting and important. It’s one thing to know what a text says; it’s another thing to know why it says what it says, why it says it the way it says it, and why that information is helpful and meaningful in making the best sense of that text.
It’s clear that there’s lots of information out there. The digital age has overwhelmed users with information everywhere. BMC hopes to make that information more useful. T.S. Eliot once lamented the fact that vast accumulations of knowledge in his day had been responsible for creating “an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known,” he worried, “it becomes increasingly difficult to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.” BMC strives to help people manage and sort out the accumulations of Book of Mormon knowledge, to come to know the Book of Mormon more confidently, and to add spiritual testimonies both to thoughts and emotions.
Q: What criteria will you use for the material you publish? Will it be a scholarly or popular resource or both?
A: We hope to avoid false dichotomies. Scholarly can be popular, and popular can be scholarly. Often it is just as important how things are said, not just what is said. We plan to work as hard on the modes of presentation as the content itself. In addition, we will always ask, does this information advance the conversation or understanding? Our criteria for inclusion will look to whether the material can be trusted. Does it help all people to read the Book of Mormon more clearly and insightfully, and also more generously and respectfully, as one would read a text held sacred by any religion?
Q: Why are you passionate about this?
A: Indeed, we feel strongly about what the Book of Mormon can do for the world now. People everywhere are looking for meaning in their lives. They seek guidance as they as they try to make their way through this world. Many look, but few know where to find what it is they seek.
Might the Book of Mormon help? We believe so and would like to think so. Imagine again: How might whole nations be changed if populations knew more about what the Book of Mormon repeatedly calls the “great plan,” God’s plan of redemption, of salvation, of mercy, and of happiness? How many lives might be improved if individuals knew more about Jesus Christ, about resurrection and life after death, about making and keeping covenants with God and other people, and about principles of righteousness and goodness? How might leaders be changed if they saw how God speaks to all nations, cares about every nation, tongue, and people? How might humanity be changed if everyone embraced the need for those who have to care for those who have not, both temporally and spiritually?
All these and many other crucial things are taught unusually, even miraculously, by the Book of Mormon. Book of Mormon Central sees the Book of Mormon as central to truth and goodness. We feel a great debt to this book, and we hope to instill a sense of gratitude for the Book of Mormon in the hearts and minds of readers everywhere.
We realize, of course, that this will take time and effort. This website is still a work in progress. Studies of the Book of Mormon are still developing, and it will take a couple years at least to pull together even a part of what we would like to see eventually on this web site. But in the meantime, I hope you will stay around, learn some things you didn’t know before, absorb a KnoWhy or two, grow, and share the word.