What if the Book of Mormon read like a script? What if instead of verses and chapters, it had episodes? What if you could always tell who was speaking? What if you knew where and when each part took place?
“A New Approach to Studying the Book of Mormon” is the brainchild of father and son Lynn and David Rosenvall. The self-published book is really just the Book of Mormon reformatted. Not a word is changed, but it allows readers to do all of the aforementioned things.
The Rosenvalls' names will not be recognizable to most. They even took their names off the cover of the most recent edition of the book, and they’re only charging what it costs to self-publish ($14.99).
“It’s not our book. It felt a little awkward to make money on a book that so many people sacrificed to get to us: Joseph Smith, all of the Book of Mormon writers and so many others,” David Rosenvall said. “For us, it was never about the money. ... If I could get it out for free, I would.”
This isn't the first project involving LDS scripture that the Rosenvalls have undertaken. When David returned home from his full-time mission in 1987, they created an electronic version of the scriptures, which they say was later donated to the LDS Church.
It's what ultimately led them to explore the idea of reformatting the scriptures. They began asking themselves if the electronic scriptures helped them better understand the sacred text.
“We had to honestly say 'no,'" David Rosenvall said. So they began to explore what they could do with the electronic version to help them better understand. Nearly 30 years later, “A New Approach to Studying the Book of Mormon” is the result of that exploration.
When Lynn Rosenvall, now 79, purchased his first computer, they were priced at about $3,500, a luxury he couldn’t afford. However, the former LDS stake president and temple president was on his way to a stake meeting when he happened to look at the local newspaper classifieds. He had never looked at the classifieds before and he hasn’t since. But for some reason, on that particular day, he did.
He noticed there was an Apple computer for sale. When they went to look at the computer, its owner, who had lost her son in a drowning accident, was impressed that young David Rosenvall was interested in computers. She offered them the computer for $1,100. The Rosenvalls were sold.
“That was a blessing from heaven because without that first computer at the low price, that was brand-new and state-of-the-art, David and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get into computers at the ground level,” Lynn Rosenvall said.
Lynn, who has a Ph.D. in geography, had been interested in electronics his entire life. This fascination with technology created a natural curiosity in computers, but he had no professional training. So the father and son began teaching themselves to use the computer. They began to experiment with Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Their practice subject? The scriptures.
As they learned about the capabilities of HTML, they thought about the possibility of clicking on a verse and going to a footnote, or clicking on a footnote and going to a verse. They later donated their work to the church, which now offers its members digital scriptures through the Gospel Library app and scriptures.lds.org.
With the help of the electronic scriptures, they were able to experiment with different formats. At the time, Lynn Rosenvall was serving as an Area Seventy in the North America Central Area and recalls working on the formatting in airports and hotels.
“If you were a filmmaker, where would you start and end your episodes? We were trying to kind of make it so that if you started reading, you could cleanly stop at that event,” David Rosenvall said. “Where we got messed up is when we put it into chapter form.”
Instead of verses and chapters, they separated the text by speakers and events. It was one way, they found, of helping the Book of Mormon come alive for them.
After using the format personally, they eventually decided to make the format available to the public. The Rosenvalls say they went through a process to get approval from the LDS Church to reprint the text.
They decided to call the book “A New Approach to Studying the Book of Mormon.” They were told by a book publisher that if the book could sell 3,000 copies, it would be a blockbuster. To date, the book has sold more than 25,000 copies.
But more than numbers, the father and son have been blown away by the feedback they’ve received — especially when others tell them that their work has helped them better understand the Book of Mormon.
“Nothing thrills me more,’” Lynn Rosenvall said.