If you follow any Mormon topics on any form of social media, it’s likely you’ve heard about Elder Ballard’s recent remarks:
“Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and the teacher responded, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.”
What I hope to do in this post is list a few resources that a seminary/institute (or even a really dedicated Sunday School teacher) could read to help them get the knowledge to either give good answers to these questions or to know where to look and find the answers.Now, I am going to provide a list of 15 works (3 for each year of the 4-year rotation of Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Church History/D&C of seminary, plus three bonus items).
However, I intend to this to be the start of a discussion, rather than an end. What I really hope is that the comments to this post will become something of a database of information on good sources for instructors.
A few ideas behind my recommendation of sources:
- Many CES instructors are not scholars of Near Eastern languages, or archaeology, or 19th century America, or other fields related to the scriptures. The works should be accessible to non-specialists, though they do not have to be “popular” texts.
- CES instructors are often busy, so I want the lists to be short – something an instructor could reasonably read through over a summer break. The works don’t have to be short themselves, but that might help.
- A “conservative/orthodox friendly” orientation. The authors and even the conclusions of the work don’t have to be conservative/orthodox (as far as church doctrine/culture go), but they should at least be friendly to it, in the sense of either not attacking or even accommodating to that orientation. Mainly, this is because if it isn’t, very few actual CES instructors are going to read it or even consider it.
- The work should deal with the kinds of tough questions the instructors might hear. Very general works that only deal with surface issues are often useful starting places, but the works should have some depth to them.
- The texts should act as bridges to other texts. This is so the instructors, if they can’t find the answers they need here, the texts will point them to where they can go.
- I’m trying for texts that wouldn’t be immediately obvious. So, for example, the excellent books Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament, Jesus and the World of the New Testament, and Rough Stone Rolling aren’t on the lists below, mainly because I would hope any CES instructors worth their salt would already have read them (or have plans to do so soon).
So, here’s my list. As said above, I welcome corrections, additions, alternative lists, etc. By its nature, this is going to be limited. However, any suggestions in the comments below should be accompanied with some commentary, as I do with my list.
- Commentary on the Torah by Richard Elliot Friedman. Yes, it has the Hebrew text, but don’t let that scare you off. The translation is clear and accessible, and the commentary is excellent. It’s from a somewhat theologically liberal (at least, compared to the LDS church), but 90% of the commentary shouldn’t upset even the most conservative instructor. Friedman also did something I thought impossible: he made the book of Leviticus not just interesting, but fascinating.
- Authoring the Old Testament by David Bokovy. Even if you don’t buy into the Documentary Hypothesis (that the Old Testament, especially the Torah, were written and edited by multiple authors often with different agendas), you should at least understand it. I find some of Bokovy’s conclusions a bit off base (especially his views on the Book of Abraham) and find him too willing to trust academia over prophets, but overall this is a worthy book that, if read critically and carefully, will help any instructor deal with questions about the DH. (Alternative possibility – Who Wrote the Bible? by the same author as the Commentary in item 1 above is a bit more general and 100% less Mormon, but also good if you decide Bokovy’s more extreme speculations don’t appeal to your tastes).
- Great are the Words of Isaiah by Monte S. Nyman. I find Nyman a bit too willing to take the word of LeGrande Richards (or others) over the plain sense of Isaiah’s meaning (for example, Isaiah 5:26-29 is not about missionary work or airplanes, sorry), but he consults other translations and includes some scholarly insights (even if he’s too dismissive of some, at least he mentions them – and thus makes instructors aware of questions students might have). Overall, it’s a good starting place (but it’s really just a start) for getting through the book many say they can’t understand. A Bonus is that it works for the Isaiah portion of 2 Nephi in the Book of Mormon.
- Christian Origins and the Question of God by N.T Wright. (amazon link here). This is somewhat cheating, as it’s actually 4 rather thick volumes. Any one would work, as he treads a lot of the same ground in each one (mostly for readers who skip any of the previous volumes), and they can be quite heavy. But Wright’s writing style is accessible and he covers so much information that reading through any one (or all four) of these volumes will help any instructor become prepared for lots of tough questions.
- An Introduction to the New Testament by Raymond E. Brown. If you read just one book on the NT, this should be it. Though becoming a little dated every year (Brown died and so it hasn’t been updated since it was published), it covers the NT from many angles, and while generally “moderate to conservative” in general orientation (the author was a Catholic priest), he fairly describes all sides of various NT issues from the very liberal to the fundamentalist.
- Jesus the Christ Study Guide by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel andThomas A. Wayment. Given that Jesus The Christ is THE New Testament book most Mormons will have read, this helps update the text. Talmage did an amazing job, but a lot of the research and texts he based his masterwork on have dated somewhat badly. The spiritual insights are still worthy, but this text (while not perfect and skipping over some issues I would like to see addressed) does a good job of updating the scholarly work without undermining (indeed, actually strengthening) Talmage’s work.
Book of Mormon:
- Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History by Brant A. Gardner. If questions of historicity don’t come up, something is wrong (maybe you need to be more approachable as a teacher?). While I am hesitant to agree with some of Gardner’s conclusions about the possible Meso-American setting and would hesitate to make any devotional points based on the history proposed here, this is a good overview of how to deal with the BoM as history.
- Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide 1st Edition by Grant Hardy. I have some issues with “bracketing” faith claims from a discussion of scripture (tl;dr – it’s oddly one sided how bracketed claims are allowed to feed back into your faith, but your faith must be exiled from the bracketed area, and the bracketed area tends to grow and grow – but that’s another post, moving on. . . ) and think he’s too hard on Nephi, but this works as a nice way to open up the text to new and productive readings, with connections and insights many instructors may have overlooked.
- By the Hand of Mormon by Terryl L. Givens. I could pretty much cut and paste my response to Hardy’s book in 2 above (expect for the part about Nephi). Some of this gets a little too “academic” for some readers (I find the term “dialogic revelation” opaque and not really necessary, but that may just be me), but overall this is, I think, an excellent book that will help any instructor increase their knowledge of the Book of Mormon text, but more especially the controversies that swirl around the text (both academic and theological).
Church History/Doctrine and Covenants:
- Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, Glen M. Leonard. The Mountain Meadows Massacre is bound to come up. While Juanitia Brooks’s book is also a must read, a lot of research and information has come out and these authors were given unprecedented access to church files.
- Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses by Richard L. Anderson. Some tend to dismiss this book as “mere apologetics” but it’s much more than that – it’s seriously and professionally researched history.
- Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness by W. Paul Reeve. Racial issues will come up, and if you don’t know who Elijah Abel and Jane Manning James are, or what actual racial rhetoric Saints were using at any given time frame, you will likely find yourself somewhat stymied with these questions. Here’s a good place to start.
- Christianity’s Dangerous Idea by Alister McGrath. Too many instructors are unaware of what other Christian religions actually believe, how they worship, or even interact with the wider world (it would do no good to say “this is what other Christians believe, only to have your students find out you’re wrong when they have a discussion with their friends). While this book is, at times, simplified to the point of almost becoming inaccurate, it’s a good general overview of Protestantism.
- Almost any parallel Bible. Here’s a good one to start with, since it has the KJV and the translations are fairly conservative in nature. However, don’t fear other translations – they can help you explain the difficult KJV text to your students.
- The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy by Roger Finke & Rodney Stark. This helps explain how religions “work” and gives a good overview of American religious history. Mormons aren’t mentioned very often, but it will help with the overall context of early church history and even explain the relevance of many current controversies.
Bonus Blog: Benjamin the Scribe. Ben Spackman knows way more about all of this stuff than I do, and each of his posts is an amazing wealth of information. It’s aimed at Gospel Doctrine teaching, mostly, but it’s easily applicable to Seminary, Institute, and any other Sunday School class.
Okay – have away in the comments. One up me, correct me, whatever (just try to stick to the guidelines above. Long lists of 20 or so books a teacher of the New Testament *must* read are outside the spirit of this post. Again, review the guidelines above before posting, but if you do go outside them, at least give a good defense/explanation of why).