Entering into 2016, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have commenced a new curriculum year for adults focused on the Book of Mormon. Not coincidentally, a massive new online project has just been launched, called Book of Mormon Central at bookofmormoncentral.org.
I’m excited about it, and I hope that all readers of the Book of Mormon will be.
Over the past several decades, since well before the establishment of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, known as FARMS, in the late 1970s, a vast amount of scholarly material and insight has been generated with respect to the Book of Mormon. It is so vast that it’s been practically impossible to navigate, even for those deeply involved in creating it and working with it.
But many Latter-day Saints are scarcely aware that it even exists, and much of it has been out of print for so long that a new generation has been born and come to maturity with virtually no opportunity even to see it. In some cases, too, members of the Church have fallen victim to purportedly new criticisms of the Book of Mormon that were actually answered many years ago. Why? Because those answers are scattered in publications that had a small print run years back and haven’t been reprinted. Here, as elsewhere, such people are “kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:12).
Now, though, the computer technology, software and social media finally exist to retrieve these treasures, publish them inexpensively, organize them and make them accessible to a worldwide audience. (It’s been said that FARMS was an Internet organization before the Internet, and there’s truth in that. Appropriately, Book of Mormon Central is symbolized by the old FARMS logo.)
A primary goal of Book of Mormon Central is to create a searchable and easily accessible online archive of the materials that have been created by LDS writers and scholars over the years. The archive is just getting started and will continue to grow daily, eventually including not only articles and book chapters but also art, graphics, videos, charts, posters and music. (Anyone wishing to submit something to be considered for inclusion is welcome to do so.) Already, though, enough material has been gathered together on BMC that if a person were to read one article per day, every day, he or she would need 3 years to get through it all.
As its name indicates, BMC will focus exclusively on the Book of Mormon. It will, in fact, be the most extensive website ever dedicated solely to that important book. BMC is not designed to sponsor or generate original research itself but will organize, publicize and make accessible the work that other organizations —including the Interpreter Foundation, which I’m honored to chair — have done and continue to do. Many of those organizations, including Interpreter, are formally affiliated with BMC and listed on its website.
In order to really appreciate the contribution that Book of Mormon Central will make, those interested should devote some time to exploring its website, which is still under development but which already offers many wonderful features. Still, I’ll mention several elements that are worth examining:
The complete English text of the Book of Mormon, for example, will be available at BMC in an interactive form, where a reader can click on a highlighted word and immediately see helpful historical and other commentary. Eventually, other translations of the Book of Mormon may appear on the site; Royal Skousen’s landmark Yale edition of “The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text” is already available.
Roughly every other day, BMC intends to release brief and informative reports, each one accompanied by a 45-second video clip. Every “KnoWhy,” as they’ll be called, will be built around some bit of interesting, worthwhile information regarding a facet of the Book of Mormon, indicating why it’s important, why it makes a difference.
Book of Mormon Central is a non-profit operation, and the organizers receive no compensation for their dedicated work. Many people are already contributing, but more volunteers with a range of talents and skills are certainly needed not only at BMC but also at its affiliated organizations in order to help with the many tasks that can and will engender a new flourishing of Book of Mormon study.
Daniel Peterson teaches Arabic studies, founded BYU’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, directs MormonScholarsTestify.org, chairs mormoninterpreter.com, blogs daily at patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson and speaks only for himself.