Title: The Readable Scriptures: The Standard Works Reformatted for Clarity and Structure—The Book of Mormon and The New Testament
Author: Jack M. Lyon
Publisher: Temple Hill Books, an imprint of The Editorium, West Jordan, Utah
Genre: new edition of scripture
Year of Publication: 2014
Number of Pages: NT 532, BoM 627
Reviewed by Julie J. Nichols for the Association for Mormon Letters
Literary study of all kinds gives rise to multiple versions of texts annotated in various ways to elucidate the beloved originals. Shakespeare wouldn’t be comprehensible to most high school students (or almost anyone, maybe) without those glossed and footnoted editions of every play. The words are the same, but the formatting is simplified or otherwise modified so that the hard words, the stage directions, the puzzling sentence constructions, idioms and colloquialisms are marked and clarified for the eager novice. When, in 2008, Signature Books came out with its pocket-sized seven-volume Reader’s Book of Mormon with its introductions to seven general themes and its novel-like rendering of the 1830 edition, I snapped it up and devoured it—four times in a year!—because it made reading the BoM so easy for me, an inveterate novel reader who likes to read while she’s walking or riding a stationary bike. Big heavy tomes? Small-print texts that require rereading to wade through? No, thanks. Editions of any book that will make it easier to carry as well as to comprehend? Yes, please!
So the Readable Scripture series by Jack M. Lyon, a former editor at Deseret Book and now owner and operator of Temple Hill Books, whose mission is to “publish works of faithful scholarship and fine literature…based on original research and thinking, [works that have] something interesting to say,” fills a real need. The series has as its goal “to present the text…in a way that approximates what its original authors seem to have had in mind…[formatting] the text based on the content of the text itself—as headings, poetry, block quotations, or whatever is required…[resulting in] an edition that shows the probable structure of” the original, that is “easy to read and understand” (NT ix, BoM xi). The books are attractively bound, about the size of a modern bestseller novel, and the typeface and leading are in fact very easy on the eyes.
These first two volumes share several characteristics. Both assert, in their similar introductions, that using modern paragraphing makes it easier to see the texts in context, rather than creating a temptation to pluck an isolated verse from its surroundings to use as a “proof text.” Both acknowledge that the formatting of the scriptures into chapter and verse, and the imposition of headings by various editors, has had the unfortunate effect of directing readers’ interpretations rather than allowing them to see what’s actually there.
Both are true to a previous edition of a well-known text. Both remove verse numbers, though they keep chapter numbers in superscript. Both are formatted in what Lyon calls “modern paragraphing,” with the addition of indented dialogue and italicized poetic or prophetic passages. Both keep editorial commentary to a minimum, since excellent commentary on these texts is easy to come by.
Based on the King James Version, The New Testament addresses questions of translation, archaic language, and arrangements of books, putting the Gospel of John together with the three Johannine epistles and Revelation, all after the epistles of Paul, James and Jude, and Peter. The sometimes incomprehensible italicization of words in the KJV is retained here, but explained in simple terms in the introduction, so not at all confusing.
Based on the “standard text” of the Book of Mormon—the 1920 edition as updated in 1981 and 2013—Lyon’s Book of Mormon clarifies, both in the Table of Contents and in the text, what all of the parts of this complex compilation are. Major section headings in the Table of Contents include “The Small Plates,” “Mormon’s Explanation of the Small Plates,” “Mormon’s Abridgment from the Large Plates,” and “Moroni’s Appendix to His Father’s Records.” All the “books” of various characters are grouped accordingly and made sense of by this small but vitally helpful “reformatting.”
Numerous other small but helpful formatting conventions help even a reader well-versed in the scriptures see them anew. Block quotations set apart speeches by various characters; italicized passages of poetry with line breaks and stanzas signal readers that many clues in the originals suggest these are not mere dialogue. Section breaks, large capitals, symbols between sections, and other conventions allow readers to treat these editions like the coherent documents they are, rather than as specially prepared texts whose parts they need to memorize in isolation.
I don’t always agree with Lyon’s judgment calls. In Alma 34, for example, Lyon italicizes as poetry the parallel verses 18-25 and as prophecy verse 32 (p. 343 in BoM). I see the parallelism in 18-25, of course (“Cry unto him…cry unto him…”), but I consider verses 26-29 part of the same beautiful speech/poem and was surprised and disappointed to find it rendered in “modern paragraphing,” and the italicization of verse 32 seems arbitrary to me.
But these are picky complaints. In general, these two volumes have the potential to be wonderfully useful. I’d be delighted if my granddaughter’s seminary teacher assigned these editions of the scriptures and discussed how they differ from LDS versions. By doing so, a good seminary teacher might raise students’ awareness of the textual nature of the scriptures and the influence of editing on interpretation. And she might inspire young members of the Church to read the stories and teachings in their own sensitive ways, prompted by a formatting that purports to be closer to the original intent of the compilers/editors.
I can’t think of a more blessed gift to give readers of the scriptures than that inspiration. For your scripture-hungry, thoughtful young friends and relatives, and for that part of your own reading self, these are an excellent gift.