Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Top Ten Book List for LDS Students of the Scriptures

Posted by nhilton on October 24, 2007

A student in my Gospel Doctrine Class began telling me about a book she was currently reading, “The Politics of Jesus.”  (One reviewer says, “If I had only one work of twentieth-century theology to read, this would be it .”My friend and her husband are Peruvian converts struggling with some aspects of their gospel understanding…as are we all!  They are highly educated in their country but struggling with visa issues that dramatically affect their life in the United States.  I feel somewhat responsible for my friend’s spiritual safety, as she comes to me weekly expressing thanks for my lessons and asking deep doctrinal questions.  On Sunday as we discussed her reading and she mentioned the author’s reference to the last line of the Lord’s Prayer, I interrupted her and made note that the line in question is considered a scribal insert by most scholars and how this insert dramatically changes the message of the prayer (as we’ve discussed on another post).  Her eyes opened wide and she remarked on how important an observation this was in light of the author’s thesis regarding Jesus’ mission.  I really couldn’t speak to that, since I hadn’t read the “The Politics of Jesus.” 

I cautioned her to always consider her source before reading and to use Moroni’s counsel as a guide in choosing her books.   Then the big question:  “Which books should I read?”  Ah…I really didn’t know which book to recommend first, if any.  Did I really want to venture there?  Read the scriptures, duh.  But what else?  If you were asked this question, what would your answer be?

Secondly, this isn’t a unique question.  I’ve asked it myself.  After and simultaneous to scripture reading and study, what are your “Top Ten” books on scripture?  Please, offer your lists here!  Please put an asterisk by LDS authors and include a BRIEF summary of the book and WHY you recommend it.  You can offer anecdotal experience with the book, too, if you’d like.  We’re talking TOP TEN here, not a complete library.  We’re thinking “BEGINNERS” here in the sense of the FIRST books to read as one embarks on a lifetime of scripture study. 

As this post wraps up, I’ll try to summarize the list by comparing all your suggestions and include the “winners” by consensus.  If this proves a valuable post, maybe we’ll do a follow-up for people who’ve already read the top ten & would like to venture into the second ten, etc.  :)  

Thank you for your thought & time in sharing here!

____________________________________________________

Book List As Of 12/28/07, *indicates written by LDS author.  O.k., so this list exceeds ten titles.  Granted.  It’s a work-in-progress & I’m editing it periodically.  If you see “your” book on this list & it’s mis-titled, please let me know in a comment & I’ll try to fix it.   Or, if your book didn’t make it onto the list, it’s probably because you weren’t specific enough for me to include it.  I need a title and an author, please.  Please indicate with an * if the author is LDS.  At some point I think I’ll delete books that don’t get at least more than one recommendation, & just consider that book a “sideline” of reading, i.e. the “Jesus Christ & the World of the New Testament” got several recommendations so it’s certainly in the top 10.  I’m really interested in developing a concise list that is “do-able” by the average, yet actively serious in their study, LDS student of the scriptures.  Perhaps I’ll just put a P.S. with the other recommended books included for those over-achievers.  Additionally, you can see by the following list that I’m basically “cutting & pasting” your recommended titles.  So, if you include a link to that book it makes it that much easier for people to go to a site where they can read about & possibly purchase it.

Book of Mormon

Bible

  • Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible
  • *Barlow, Mormons and the Bible
  • International Theological Commentary series
  • NIV Study Bible
  • Interpretation series
  • HarperCollins Bible Dictionary
  • Strong’s Concordance
  • The Book of the Acts of God by Fuller and Wright
  • Jerome Biblical Commentary
  • Alter’s Art of Biblical Narrative
  • Oxford Companion to the Bible

Old Testament

New Testament

Doctrine & Covenants

Pearl of Great Price

General Application

44 Responses to “Top Ten Book List for LDS Students of the Scriptures”

  1. Dan said

    At the top of my list on Scriptures is James E. Talmage’s “Jesus the Christ.” Amazing, amazing work.
    I also would add in Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible. This is a work from the 19th century, and the full huge volume set is no longer in print, but there is an abridged version selling at Amazon.com.

  2. Matt W. said

    I guess for LDS, I’d say Talmage is the best place to begin. I think “Jesus Christ and the World of the NT” is excellent as well for an LDS book. Ehrman’s introduction to the NT is really good for a non-lds view of the NT for beginners. Barney’s footnotes are terrific, of course. I think having a good Strongs Greek/Hebrew tool is good too, but net bible and crosswalk can give you that for free online and it’s better online.

    I’m not an OT guy.

    for BOM, I haven’t really found a text outside of the book itself that really adds much to it, with the possible exception of Skousen’s textul analysis books (I say possible because they are too expensive for me to own, but I love to thumb them any chance I get)

    For General Doctrine, Gospel Principles is still the best book on the Market, and the EOM is pretty wonderful too.

  3. Nitsav said

    *Givens, By the Hand of Mormon; Nothing else traces the coming-forth and history of interpretation like this does. Highly recommended.

    *Sorenson- An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon; Nothing else demonstrates that the Book of Mormon’s setting is neither the Bible nor 19th century New York the way this does.

    *Barlow, Mormons and the Bible; I think this book is important because it undercuts the common assumption that LDS approached the Bible in a monolithic way from the beginning, that modern literal readings are the only LDS readings. (I often think and argue that reading certain parts of the Bible as a non-historical (ie. non-literal) genre is closer to how Israelites would have understood them at the time.)

    I’m sure I have more, but those leap most readily to mind. Perhaps I’ll post on Old Testament books.

  4. Nitsav said

    Oh, definitely Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament, hands down for NT, no contest. It needs to be widely read.

  5. Robert C. said

    I would strongly recommend, as a first book, something about how to read scripture. This, I think, would be much more valuable than any specific commentary. To think carefully about what it means to read scripture and how to do so, has been much, much more valuable to me than anything specific I’ve read about scripture.

    When I started seriously reading books about scripture, I was frankly quite disappointed with what I found. Although definitely helpful and interesting, I didn’t feel I was really getting much more out of my scripture study until I figured out the lay of the land of biblical scholarship and realized that I wanted help interpreting and thinking about the meaning of scripture, not just learning historical or textual tidbits (though not ignoring historical or textual issues either…).

    I’ve only recently found books that take an approach that I think is more fruitful (and much more along the lines of what I think most members are actually looking for), but my favorite so far is Brueggemann’s Old Testament Theology. He gives an excellent introduction to the clashing worlds of theology and biblical criticism, and a brief discussion of the philosophical presuppositions underlying both approaches. The two first chapter of his book are the best intro to these issues that I’ve seen.

    As far as commentaries for a specific book go, there are two series I would recommend above all others: the International Theological Commentary series, and the Interpretation series (which is reviewed here, along with several other commentary series).

  6. Nitsav said

    My post on Old Testament books and why.
    http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com/2007/10/24/five-recommended-books-for-understanding-the-old-testament/

  7. Nitsav said

    I think I’d also recommend Jim Faulconer’s book on scripture study. It’s a good short introduction to tools and books.

  8. Joe Spencer said

    I don’t know whether I can give a top ten in general, but I’ll try:

    (1) Anything that shatters the way we as Latter-day Saints usually read the scriptures. I think Brueggemann’s text is a perfect example, as Robert suggested. I don’t by any means think this is the best book on the OT, but one of the best resources available to allow our overly narrow horizons to be broadened dramatically.

    (2) Alternate translations and editions. Any serious student of the Bible needs to consult other translations. The NRSV is a really good one (though its failings should not be overlooked). I find Fox’s translation of the Pentateuch helpful for a lot of reasons. And then one should definitely look for the Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon, edited by Grant Hardy. The 1830 edition should be a regular resource, too. http://www.saintswithouthalos.com is a marvelous source for textual issues in the D&C, and one should definitely get a copy of the Book of Commandments. The JST manuscripts, recently published by BYU’s RSC, are invaluable. The Book of Mormon critical text project is marvelous, and something similar is in the works for the Book of Abraham right now.

    (3) A good bible dictionary, such as the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. These dictionaries are a bibliography in and of themselves, and they provide marvelous background information on so many subjects.

    (4) Linguistic resources: first and foremost, a good dictionary. The fourth edition of the American Heritage dictionary is handy for etymological readings, but the OED of course can’t be beat (I got the compact edition—which is complete, just reduced in size and accompanied with a handy magnifying glass—for seventy bucks a used bookstore). One should keep the 1828 Webster’s in mind (it’s online) and one should be very familiar with Strong’s Concordance if one is not proficient in Greek and Hebrew.

    (5) Concordances: every book in the canon has a published concordance, though one need not purchase a print source. The LDS Scriptures on CD-Rom are a wonderful resource for searching, and the recently upgraded LDS Scriptures site at lds.org is simply amazing.

    (6) Commentaries: there are so many commentaries on the Bible, I can’t even begin to list them. I do prefer the Interpretation series, as well as the Continental Commentaries series. The Old Testament Library has a number of great volumes as well. Brant Gardner’s online commentary on the Book of Mormon is the best commentary thus far produced on the Book of Mormon, though Nibley’s four semesters of lectures (in print and DVD form) are an experience worth having. I’ve not yet come across anything I can recommend on either the D&C or the Pearl of Great Price, unfortunately.

    (7) General background surveys: these are necessary for contextualizing commentaries and other books one comes across. The Book of the Acts of God by Fuller and Wright is still a helpful overview of OT and NT scholarship. The general articles in the Jerome Biblical Commentary are simply fantastic. And one should consult longer works. I really like, for all its failings, Gerhard von Rad’s two-volume Old Testament Theology. Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament should, in my humble opinion, be read ten times over before Talmage’s Jesus the Christ, which is very outdated (marvelously written for its day, and saturated with the power of Talmage’s testimony, no doubt; but nonetheless trapped in the scholarship of the early twentieth century). Givens’ By the Hand of Mormon does provide a good overview of how the Book of Mormon has been received, but it is not a textual study by any means. (I’d contend that the books that will begin to unearth what’s really at work in the Book of Mormon are not yet published.) I do think Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling can be read as a very nice introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants, and can be referred to as a source for contextualizing the revelations. Etc.

    (8-10) Now we get to have fun: what do you want to study?

  9. robf said

    OK, maybe I have a different take on this. Hope something here might be useful.

    1) Something by Hugh Nibley*. While they all need to be taken with a grain of salt, and some of his earlier works are clearly outdated in many ways, they all serve the invaluable purpose of showing how much insight an active and committed mind can get from the scriptures by plumbing their depths. I’d perhaps recommend for starters that folks read the transcripts from his BYU Book of Mormon (Teachings of the Book of Mormon) and Pearl of Great Price (Teachings of the Pearl of Great Price) classes. I was able to take Nibley’s Pearl of Great Price class one of the last years he actually taught it, and these books really bring it all back. Following along with Hugh Nibley as he wanders in and out of the scriptures, historical contexts, and modern applications is a true joy. All of the volumes in his Collected Works are worth owning and can provide years worth of exploring. And who knows what we’ll think when we finally see his long-awaited book on Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham. You could pack any top ten list with any number of these books.

    2) John Sorenson* An Ancient American Setting For the Book of Mormon. Unless you’ve carefully read and considered this book, its hard to argue that you’ve really begun to understand the ancient American cultural context that produced the Book of Mormon. Sadly, very few scholars have followed Sorenson and done much to further build our understanding upon the foundation he has provided. I agree with Joe that we have only just started to take the BoM seriously, and most of what has been written on it doesn’t do its cultural or theological content full justice.

    3) We should really come up with a Top 10 Book of Mormon cultural context readings books to start getting up to speed with the knowledge we need in order to build upon Sorenson’s foundations. One place to start might be Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube’s Chronicles of the Mayan Kings and Queens. Any of the books by Linda Schele might also be worth taking a few weeks on. I was able to take Grube’s Mayan Hieroglyphs class at the University of Texas and he’s top notch. While these non-LDS authors might be scandalized to know that their works were being considered as shedding light on the Book of Mormon, these books do show what the world of the Book of Mormon was like–especially during the time of the wars at the end of the Book of Mormon (the beginning of the Classic Maya period). Read enough of this stuff and it’ll expunge the ethereal Minerva Teichert view of the Book of Mormon from your mind forever, and will show you what the Book of Mormon prophets were really up against in trying to create an ancient American Zion.

    4) Chris Hedges War is a Force that Give Us Meaning. I’ve argued before in a book review in Dialogue that everyone should read a book like this to help us more clearly see the role and impact of warfare in the Book of Mormon. We tend to gloss over the Book of Alma war chapters, celebrate our chosen heroes, and turn the Book of Mormon into a defense of our own militaristic impulses. Hedges’ book is not about the scriptures, it is about war, but it is one of the clearest books I know of to help us challenge our cultural readings of the war chapters in the Book of Mormon. If this doesn’t fit the criteria for this list, feel free to chuck it. But read it and you’ll never see Mormon, Moroni, Amalakiah, or the Sons of Helaman in the same light again!

    5) Another vote for Bushman’s* Rough Stone Rolling. Likely to be the best Joseph Smith/early Church history book we’ll see for awhile. Sometimes we read the Doctrine and Covenants (and the even older scriptures) as if they were written in our day by folks who shop at the mall and watch the evening news. I think its important to take a look at the world view and culture of Joseph Smith and the early Mormons, and this may be the easiest book to do that with–even if it isn’t always as lively as The Work and the Glory.

    I think I’ll leave off here for now. I’ve read a lot of New Testament and Historic Jesus works, but not sure there’s any I’d recommend. I haven’t spent as much time on the Old Testament, but I am interested in books that provide more of a cultural context for that–something that takes the archaeology and ethnohistory seriously (which means probably challenging the views of many LDS members on Genesis, Moses, the Exodus, and the “united monarchy”). I don’t have one book that I’d recommend over another, but think that folks should read some books or articles by Margaret Barker to see how some of our LDS understandings of the godhead and Christ may be a better fit with ancient traditions than those espoused by most Jewish and Christian readers of the Scriptures). The online lexicons, interlinear bibles, and additional biblical translations are all important resources for anyone exploring the Bible. Maybe we should come up with a Top 10 online resources list.

    BTW, lots of HTML tags in this one. Hope I didn’t mess them up. Any way we could get a preview feature here on the blog to double check our comments before we submit them?

  10. nhilton said

    Thanks to all of you who’ve commented here thus far.

    Special kudos to those of you (robf & nitsav) who’ve included links to your recommended books! This makes it so much easier to know exactly which book you’re referencing & actually get a copy of it!

    Joe #8, I expected you’d have a LONG list. If you were able to pin yourself down on a particular book fitting your criteria & make a link to it, I think that would help people as they’re actually contemplating getting that book you recommend in general. I.E., I’ve wondered where I can get that new JST BofM by BYU’s RSC. Likewise, I wonder what you really mean by your #1 paragraph. What “shatters” an LDS perspective & exactly why would we want to do this? Do you mean shattering a testimony & rebuilding it on harder ground or do you mean shattering pre-conceptions, and certainly preconceptions are engrained within a testimony. Are you suggesting we read anti-Mormon lit.? because that would certainly be “shattering” I doubt you mean this, but please help us here, please.

    My question on how you might answer my friend’s question, as I’ve detailed in the post, still stands. I haven’t heard any answers to that half of the question at all. I think reading outside the LDS scope of books very well could be “shattering” to a testimony, especially a young or tender testimony, so I’m leary of suggesting titles, i.e. “The Politics of Jesus.” Has anyone here read that? However, I don’t want to advocate “playing it safe” in the sense of never venturing outside of Deseret Book’s list of titles in an effort to insulate ourselves from what the rest of the theological world is considering. This is why I’m asking for your help! For example, there is an audible gasp whenever I pick up my other Bible translations within the sunday school classroom and read from them, i.e. the NIV or the RLDS-JST. We shouldn’t be so scared of someone else’s take on the scriptures!

    Nitsav, your specific LDS references are of great help! I visited your web link & appreciated the post you wrote on the OT resources, too. As I’ve tried getting various copies of the Jerusalem Bible, I’ve been frustrated as to exactly which one to get. Can you help here? I think most of us have read Jim’s book referenced in #7 and all agree it’s a great springboard to further study techniques of scripture, as RobertC points out in #5. In addition to Brueggemann’s Old Testament Theology, what else can continue this study focus of thinking the scriptures? RobF. makes some great suggestions along this line, too!

    Like many of you, LDS publications haven’t always been my first pick when I’m looking for a book (or a movie, nowadays!). In fact, I think the last LDS fiction I read was back in 1984, something about mind control, “The Alliance?”. That was AFTER reading Charly & that genre. BTW, I was 18 in 1984. Since then I simply haven’t had the stomach for it. And this distaste for LDS fiction has bled over onto LDS non-fiction. It is with trepidation that I actually read anything Deseret Book carries! But an Aha! moment occured with Covey’s book about the D&C which gave me a fresh approach to a book I had studied in depth for several years and was getting tired of (honestly). Recently, Jesus Christ & the World of the New Testament. That has been my mainstay as I’ve studied & taught GD this year. But, with the Book of Mormon about to begin, I need some recommendations, which many of you have provided!, to help me enjoy teaching it anew.

    Can anyone speak about Nibley’s “Lehi In the Desert?” Is it outdated or good for today? BTW, I have the Nibley DVD’s referenced in Robf’s #9 and have found them super hard to watch! I can’t even hear Nibley half the time and the photography is terrible! I really, really wanted to enjoy this set & buy the follow-ups but it was terribly disappointing. Robf, having been in Nibley’s classes, were they actually like these DVD’s or better? Maybe I’m just not getting it?!

    Let’s keep thinking on this post topic, please, and come up with a longer, specific list. Thanks!

  11. nhilton said

    MattW #2, As I try to include your lists here, they are too vague for me to know what they are. i.e., what is Barney’s footnotes & EOM? Perhaps I’m just daft, but I’m guessing there might be a daft reader or two lurking & wondering the same thing. Help here, please.

  12. Nitsav said

    Barney’s Footnotes-
    http://feastupontheword.org/Site:NTFootnotes

    EoM is Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

    I’m not clear, I guess, on what exactly your friends question is, other than “what books should I read?” If that’s it, it needs a follow-up question- “about what?”

    Nibley is excellent for opening people’s eyes to the depths of the scriptures, but parts of his books are outdated. He’s useful for demonstrating approach, close-reading.

    I don’t use the Jerusalem Bible (though I have the text), since it was translated from French and then compared to the original languages. The New Jerusalem Bible, however, came directly from the original languages. Beyond that, I’m unaware of what published variants the translation exists in.

    I think I understand what Joe means. Many LDS think they already understand the scriptures because we have a ready-made mental framework to fit it in. The reality is that reading them that way often distorts their message.

    A book that helps one understand first that they are reading through a particular framework (or worldview, or “glasses” or whatnot) is useful. Many people don’t even realize they have assumptions that they bring to the text.

  13. nhilton said

    Some books I’d like feedback on:

    For Book of Mormon, has anyone read Holland’s “Christ and the New Covenant?”

    And for the New Testament, what do you think about the three volumne set: “The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ?”

  14. Nitsav said

    I’ve heard excellent things about Life and Teachings.

    I skimmed part of Christ and the New Covenant. Generally, I really like Holland, but I wasn’t inclined to finish it. I can’t remember why.

  15. robf said

    I was moving very fast and if I linked to the Nibley DVDs I’m sorry. I would think the actual transcripts (they are in print form, and that is what I meant to link to) would be better. Nibley mumbled something awful and it could be a chore to hear him even sitting in the front row of his class in the Maeser building. So DVD no, print version yes.

    It’s been awhile (about since you last read LDS fiction!) since I read Lehi in the Desert so I’ll have to crack it open and give it a read again. If its like his other stuff, there are great nuggets there, though some of his suggestions may be a bit outdated or off. My biggest disappointment with Nibley comes from his overly Old World approach to the Book of Mormon. While there are many, many good insights there, I think it more important to try and figure out the New World context for most of it, since most of the BoM happened in close contact with other American cultures over the course of 2,000+ years. Once you get past Lehi and Nephi and maybe Jacob, much of the Old World stuff probably faded from Nephite culture pretty fast. Not Nibley’s fault for not being a Mesoamerican scholar, but I think important to not lose sight of that limitation.

  16. robf said

    As for the question “Which books should I read?” I think that has to be given an individualized answer as far as specifics go and will depend on what the person is interested in, their level of gospel maturity, intellectual predispositions, etc.

    If you are looking for general guidelines, I’m not sure how helpful I could be on that, since I tend to read lots of things from all over. However, for most members I would hesitate under most circumstances to refer anyone to an “anti” source since its hard to gauge how someone will react to an interpretation or presentation that runs counter to Church teachings.

    That said, while I’m a big fan of science, I also think that care needs to be taken in reading “secular” scholarship–be it scientific or textual–as there are many perhaps initially hidden assumptions made by each discipline that should be considered when evaluating evidence and arguments. For instance, New World archaeology has long had a strong bias against theories of transoceanic contact. Not because there isn’t evidence that this took place, but because a) the science needed as many “independent” cases of the rise of complex civilization as possible, and diffusion of civilization from one part of the world to another made it impossible to have independent cases needed to discover the “laws” of social evolution and b) political correctness mandated that since all people are equal, nobody wanted to hint that any people were incapable of creating “higher” culture all by themselves. Study of transoceanic contacts were (and mostly still are) frowned upon because they go against foundational assumptions in the discipline. Reading “mainstream” studies or overviews based on these assumptions one could get the wrong idea about the possibility for transoceanic contacts, mistaking “scholarly consensus” for established truth.

    Similarly, I think many LDS writings take traditional views for granted as well–often accepting at face value 19th century assumptions about scripture, science, etc. I think some of our own traditions can lead to a loss of light and knowledge as well as some “secular” traditions.

    So rather than answering “what” anyone should read, perhaps I’m more interested in discussing “how” someone should read. I’m all for careful consideration of as much information as possible, carefully weighing evidences and arguments, being slow to judgement and maintaining room for alternative possibilities, all the while seeking for the knowledge that is “edifying” and not throwing out intuition, personal feelings, revealed and received teachings, and personal experiences until and unless completely overpowered by a preponderance of other evidences. I don’t read for “answers” but for “possibilities”. But that may not be what most LDS readers are looking for or comfortable with.

    Not sure any of this helps!

  17. Robert C. said

    rob #16, I like how you put this in terms of the scholarly approach delaying judgment until sufficient evidence is in—there’s something deeply different about faith which must be exercised before we have sufficient evidence (or signs) to justify belief. This has made me wonder about this very tension in the phrase “faithful scholarship”—can there really be such a thing? Isn’t the essence of faith going beyond evidence that can be seen? I think when prophets call us to study scripture, they are calling us to something different than to take up the scriptures in an impersonal, scholarly way—not that this is an excuse for poor thinking or a lazy approach, or ignoring what we can learn from history and other scholarship, but we need to apply ourselves to the scripture and take a step into the unknown and “live the text” even though we don’t really know what it means. I don’t think we should do less scholarly study, rather we need to go beyond scholarship, do more than just study the cultural and textual history, and weigh the strengths and weaknesses of various readings and structures and analysis etc. This is why I particularly like how you invoke the term imagination , I think it’s somehow closer to faith than . . . well, “analysis” for example—but then, Brueggemann uses the term imagination quite a bit also, and I’ve already betrayed my sympathies to him above.

  18. NathanG said

    nhilton
    Here’s how I would answer your friends question.
    Read the scriptures. Read them until you know the stories well enough to remember context of stories when jumping around scriptures. Read them until you are familiar with the doctrines of Christ. (This ought to take a good chunk of time for some testimonies to mature).

    To support this, I would turn to Jacob 2:18-19.
    18 But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
    19 And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.

    I would suggest that our scriptural knowledge could be similar to riches. We need to first obtain the kingdom of God and Christ in our hearts. Then, if we desire, we can fill our minds with whatever topics we desire because we will seek it to do good. I would echo Robert C in saying we need to take that step and “live the text”. If our scripture study (with whatever study aids we use) does not help us come to Christ, and if we neglect writing his word on the fleshy tables of our hearts, then our study is in vain. As an aside, I think writing it in our hearts comes from what we do with our time when we are not studying the scriptures.

    I would also warn about the Alma phenomenon. I’m referring to Alma 29. Alma wanted to be like an angel to cry repentance. I think part of the problem with that is he was looking at the powerful way he was converted, and felt it would be a great way for everyone else to become converted. People writing books could feel that their view makes such perfect sense, and it ought to make perfect sense to everyone else. What they write may have been a turning point for them, but it doesn’t do much for me. That’s not to say that there is no place for these books, it’s just a caution when someone begins to think about reading someone elses work. I personally prefer to gain my own insights and experiences.

    What’s my top 10? I actually don’t read anything but the scriptures. I admit I could benefit from some helps such as a good concordance and dictionaries, but as a general rule, it’s me and my scriptures and my thoughts (and hopefully a healthy dose of the Spirit). My primary goal in reading the scriptures is to come unto Christ, and I trust the Spirit will teach me what I need to know and do. I use my interactions with others (in church, out of church, and on this blog) to challenge my gospel framework and raise further questions. If I have the right question, I can go for days really digesting and disecting the scriptures. When I really get stuck I do turn to some commentary resources to help point me in the right way.

    To prevent me from hypocrisy, I admit freely that my way works well for me, and may not work for anyone else.

  19. Brad Kramer said

    Some recommendations not already mentioned:
    In addition to Alter’s ABC, his translation and commentaries on the Five Books of Moses, and the David Story are outstanding (and a bit more readable).
    Brueggemann’s Prophetic Imagination is an awesome supplement to the work already mentioned here.
    Avraham Gileadi’s translation of (but not his commentary on) the Book of Isaiah.
    BoM:
    I also have to second the Hedges recommendations here. Several essays in Nibley’s Prophetic BoM are indispensable. There are also some essays floating around out there, in particular one by a Jared Hickman on race and narrative deconstruction in the BoM (Nate O once linked to a pdf version of the paper on T&S). I also think that Gardner’s online commentary is (or will be shortly) available in print from Kofford press. Lastly, Mark Thomas’ Digging in Cumorah is a groundbreaking (if shortfalling) effort to engage the BoM text critically while bracketing debates over historicity and authorship.
    NT (here I’ll betray my own preference for work on the gospels over the epistles and Rev):
    Yoder’s book (The Politics of Jesus) is actually not bad. It has its flaws (as do virtually all thesis driven monographs about the NT), but makes compelling arguments against just about every imaginable rationalization for dismissing or mitigating the real-world social, ethical, and political implications of Jesus’ life and teachings.
    Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus (or the shorter Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, for the less ambitious).
    John P. Meier’s A Marginal Jew, Vol 2.
    Marcus Borg’s Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus.
    My two strongest recommendations are:
    William Herzog’s Parables as Subversive Speech.
    And perhaps the most astonishing reading of a scriptural text I’ve yet encountered–Fernando Belo’s A Materialist Reading of the Gospel of Mark (very theoretically dense, but feel free to skip the opening chapter on formal theory). Regardless of how you come down on many of his most far-reaching claims, you’ll never read the Gospels the same way again.

  20. Jim F. said

    To add to those already mentioned, N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, clear and readable, unlikely to disturb anyone’s testimony, likely to give one insights, and founded on good scholarship.

  21. robf said

    Brad, while I found lots to think about in Crossan’s books, I’d be careful about who I recommend them to, as they could be very challenging to traditional conceptions of the gospel narratives. We haven’t really touched historic Jesus research here at FUTW, perhaps a bit surprising since we’re reading the NT this year in GD class. I’m also not up on LDS responses to this research.

  22. Brad Kramer said

    robf,
    Agreed. Crossan’s work needs to be taken con granis salis by believers of all stripes (not that he’s self-referentially non-believing, but his brand of belief is certainly far from the norm for traditional Christians). The value of Crossan’s approach is that it can challenge LDS (those who are interested, at least) to think outside of their box. A knife that can cut both ways, to be sure, but valuable for some.
    Perhaps a better recommendation for an intro to HistJ scholarship is E. P. Sanders’ The Historical Figure of Jesus. Shorter, more readable, less ambitious than Crossan’s work, but fascinating and informative nonetheless.

  23. Jim F. said

    The problems of Crossan are why I recommend Wright.

  24. Brad Kramer said

    The flip side, Jim, is that the problem with Wright is that he doesn’t adequately engage many of Crossan’s most interesting and compelling arguments (e.g. Jesus’ ambiguous relationship with John the Baptist, the significance of the open table, healing as an intervention in the social and not just physiological world). But I’ll certainly acknowledge that Wright is less likely to challenge the preexisting beliefs of LDS. The question is where the value of challenging those ideas ends and the possibility of harming faith begins. Crossan would not be my first recommendation for most LDS. But, then again, most LDS don’t read blogs like these. ;)

  25. Cherylem said

    This is certainly an interesting thread. The problem with not recommending certain books that might “shake a person’s testimony” is that we then collude in maintaining – even encouraging – a degree of ignorance. Additionally, in effect, we are saying that WE can study and read certain things, but not the general person, the every-day member, whose faith is so fragile that it will be shaken by reading what people are thinking about, what scholarship is producing.

    There is something that doesn’t feel right about this.

  26. Brad Kramer said

    Cherylem,
    Well put. I know plenty of people hostile to religious faith who use critical scriptural scholarship as a rationalization for their disbelief. They think that, “if only believers knew X, Y, or Z–they’d see the light and realize the folly of their silly beliefs.” When we, as believers, try to protect our fellows from certain kinds of “threatening” knowledge, we uncritically accept the premises which underly the condescending claims of this particular brand of anti-religious activist.
    An example: the Tanners believe that when Mormons learn about Joseph’s treasure hunting, they will lose their faith. The self-appointed guardians of faith believe the Tanners, and keep knowledge of Smith’s proclivities from leaking out to the ignorant masses. The real problem is that in the information age is inescapable. So when people do find out, their faith is damaged–not because the Tanners were right, but because of the sense that something has been systematically kept from them. “What else am I not being told?”
    If the scholarship is sound and relevant to our faith, then it deserves to be read.
    Can faith that is existentially threatened by intellectually defensible scholarly research really have power to save?

  27. Brad Kramer said

    That might have come across as abrasive. Apologies if so.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that the grounds for recommending or not recommending NT scholarship to LDS interested in NT scholarship should be not the _content_ but the _quality_ (i.e. the academic rigorousness, responsibility, and defensibility) of the scholarship.

  28. nhilton said

    Interesting turn of thought going on here. I recall a similar conversation I had with a scripture study group a year or so ago:

    It was after some had read “Rough Stone Rolling” and were shocked to learn a thing or two about their Prophet. The question of the hour was, “Why didn’t I know this before?” The last thing a faithful member wants to have happen is to have some skeleton in the closet thrown in their face by a non-member or anti as the member is trying to share their testimony. I think “all the cards should be on the table,” for everyone all of the time. However, there were a considerable number of people who did not agree with me, stating that some testimonies just aren’t ready to “read all the cards.” I think the GA agree with this premise, also, since facts are kept to a positive minimum in many church publications, in a way hiding the skeletons from view.

    This same scripture study group had someone in attendance who was offended when I mentioned the idea of the BofM being a fable and how might it affect us if it were a fable, vs. factual. This was on the heals of discussing the literal and figurative aspects of the OT—talking donkey, whole earth covered with water, two of every animal, you know the drill. The mere mention of the idea apparently unsaddled some in the room. The bishop had to call me just to verify I was deserving of that temple recommend he had issued to me a week prior. During our conversation, he cautioned me about selectively exercizing my imagination within a gospel conversation. He felt comfortable talking with me about anything, but didn’t feel that others were likewise safe in engaging in such a conversation. Since then, I keep my thoughts quiet. Lonely.

    So, you see my reluctance at recommending reading outside the cannon of scripture? That is why I asked ya’ll’s opinions.

    I don’t want to be responsible for “un-saddling” someone. This is why the list I’m trying to compile should be “faith promoting” in the most conservative use of that term. So, perhaps you should re-evaluate your recommendations and pull from your list anything that doesn’t fit this criteria.

  29. nhilton said

    Brad, I’d like to include some from your list, but the way you’ve listed puzzles me. Can you be more specific? What is the “Hedges recommendations?” What book do you find the Nibley essays in?

  30. robf said

    On a personal note, having seen a couple people use the information I’ve shared with them to justify their leaving the Church, I’m very sensitive about sharing thoughts that could unhinge a delicate testimony. I can also relate to that not feeling quite right, and to the feeling of loneliness of not having folks to share stuff with. As for Crossan, when I said I’d “be careful” about who I recommended his work to, what I meant to imply was that I could probably imagine a lot more situations where it wouldn’t be appropriate to share his insights than situations where I would feel comfortable doing so.

    Along those lines, I think the books I suggested before would be ones I could recommend to just about anyone at any time–perhaps some of the more easily digested gospel meats?

  31. Brad Kramer said

    nhilton,
    Several here have mentioned Chris Hedges’ War is a Force that Gives us Meaning. I strongly echo those recommendations.
    The Nibley essays I’m thinking of are in vol. 8 of his collected works, The Prophetic Book of Mormon. The essays I like are: “Freemen and Kingmen;” “The Prophetic Book of Mormon;” and especially “Last Call: An Apocalyptic Warning from the Book of Mormon,” and “The Book of Mormon: Forty Years After.”

  32. nhilton said

    Thank you, Brad, for that update. Sorry, I missed the Hedges’ authorship the first time ’round.

    Another suggestion, I have enjoyed the Sperry Symposium compilation of essays on particular books of scripture and feel they are very LDS faith promoting.

  33. Joe Spencer said

    Very interesting discussion.

    A point that may be unspoken here but needs to be said is this: I think we should never, ever give a recommendation to any particular person without context, without clarification, without reasons provided for the recommendation. Recommendation lists can be quite silly, for that reason: if someone asks me, out of the blue, what book I’d recommend (I do get that often enough), I usually mention something that will greatly challenge them to think but that won’t raise any curious questions for them “doctrinally.” A good example is C. S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, which is anything but a doctrinal book, and yet which marvelously disrupts so much of what’s wrong with our thinking much of the time.

    But the reason my list, as you mention, Nanette, is so long is that there is not one way to make a recommendation. It is so much a question of this moment and this person, the questions being raised, the seriousness of the person raising the questions. There are some people to whom you can only recommend Strong’s Concordance without concern, others to whom you can recommend only Nibley, some to whom you can only recommend Dennis Rasmussen’s The Lord’s Question. And then there are some to whom you can recommend Margaret Barker, some to whom you can recommend Crossan, some to whom you can recommend Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ.

    Which is essentially to return to Cheryl’s apt point: there would seem to be something wrong in supposing that there is something I can read but this or that person cannot. You’re absolutely right Cheryl: there is something wrong in supposing that I can handle this while that person can’t. Yes, indeed. But there is something infinitely silly in deciding that I’ve got to recommend the worst, most damaging material I’ve made it through to every person in the name of not holding myself to be more spiritual/intelligent/solid than everyone else (I’m obviously playing with an extreme here, Cheryl: I’m not suggesting you meant that we should do this!). It would be equally as silly to find some middle ground text, some work of decent scholarship and yet semi-faithful in some sense to recommend all the time so that we are treating everyone as equals.

    The point is this: we have to see this person right here and right now in a situation. We have to recognize that this person is summoning me, calling upon me for help or answers, and I’ve got to recommend according to the Spirit (book lists=prepared lesson plans? :) ). I dared the other day to recommend Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling to my whole early morning seminary class… and most of them wrote the title down. But I did so because I felt for some reason I should recommend it. Perhaps there is someone in there who needs to read it for whatever reason… I don’t know. And I recommend books constantly, but always because I’ve been asked to do so (let’s face it, there is nothing more annoying than this: “You like to read, Joe. I’ve got something you’ve got to read!”… what inevitably follows is Tony Hillerman (should I say Stephanie Meyer?), some history of World War II, or something like The Dance of Anger… the point being this: only recommend when asked to do so!!!).

    Anyway, a couple of thoughts.

  34. robf said

    Hey, nothing wrong with a little Tony Hillerman!

  35. Robert C. said

    Reading Joe’s #33, I think a regular “book report” project would be a nice feature for us to add to the blog. I guess Cheryl is already effectively doing this with Elliott, and I think it’s great. If any readers want to write a post reviewing a book (or on any other topic), please feel free to let us know and/or just send us something to post: feastZZZblog@gmail.com (without the Z’s).

  36. nhilton said

    With the new year approaching, I’m just trying to brace myself for the “Could you recommend some ‘extracurricular’ reading?” question that students will ask re: Book of Mormon study. I usually answer this question with a long pause, a puzzled look as I try to discern who is asking the question (i.e. Joe’s #33) and then hum & haw way too much. I really don’t feel qualified to assertain the spiritual condition of anyone! Heck…I read The DaVinci Code overnight & heartily recommended it as a lark until I heard the hoopla over it in UT, esp. BYU. Ugh. Go figure?! I quickly stopped recommending it and pre-empted any recommendation with, “Have you read the New Testament? What did ya think?”

    Robert C.#35, I like your suggestion here. I would, however, like a concise review to begin with and then, if people were interested in more conversation, an on-going post like Cheryl’s on Girrard or Elliott–FWTW.

    Joe, I think you simply suffer from being over-read, if there is such a thing. I certainly would not venture to recommend a book to YOU! You’re the librarian who’s literary experience I would ask. Maybe you should simply run an on-going review on the books you’re constantly reading?!–maybe you’re already doing that elsewhere?

  37. NathanG said

    Joe,
    I’m glad you mentioned C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Great book. I stumbled across it a couple years ago when I was looking for some C.S. Lewis in our community library. It was the only C.S. Lewis on the shelf. I still think about it from time to time.

  38. Joe Spencer said

    Nanette, can I add your comment to my CV, since I’m currently working on my master’s in library science? :)

    More seriously, I wouldn’t mind doing that, though I’m not sure that it would be quite appropriate for this site… though I suppose I think it would, but I could see some not quite agreeing. Though maybe I could make a single post that I continually update? Or something?

    Any of the other “archons” around here want to chime in on that kind of an idea? A book review category, so long as the books reviewed bear on the scriptures in some way (they always do for me: I wouldn’t read them otherwise :) )?

  39. nhilton said

    What I think would be nice is some kind of “bookshelf” listed to the right on the main page, maybe under “Scripture / Lesson links” or “Feast Links.” This bookshelf would list books alphabetically by author, similar to a library. Each book once listed would have a link to the ISBN number at Amazon or another supplier and then a review by someone on the FUTW who has actually READ it. Then, and this is the clincher, anyone from that time on who reads it could add comments to it. Similar to the Amazon comment reviews down at the bottom of the book cite. This way one person might really like the book for valid reasons & be able to state them while another could add their cautions or dislikes for the same book. These books might also be catoragized by book of scripture, i.e. BofM or NT. Sounds like a lot of work. Maybe someone pursuing a masters in library science would like the challenge? :)

  40. nhilton said

    Sorry, I meant LEFT on the main page. Too late for me, obviously!

  41. [...] Here’s a list of suggested reading related to scripture study. This list was compiled via a post I wrote at Feast Upon The Word Blog. The * indicates an LDS [...]

  42. nhilton said

    If any of you have suggestions for Book of Mormon study, please add it here. I’ve added a couple of my own in preparation for teaching the Book of Mormon come January.

  43. Robert C. said

    nhilton, I noticed this review of BOM study aides to the BOM that you and others might be interested in.

  44. Valerie Bond said

    I recommend reading all 10 of the Teachings of the Prophets books that are sold through the church website. They teach them the third hour in church on Sundays but reading them straight through has really helped me tremendously. All new members should read them. It will help them to better learn church history and doctrine. I have been a member for 17 years but we stopped going early on from converting. I had amazing visiting teachers that never gave up on me and were at my door every month and if they couldn’t find me there these dedicated sisters came to my work as well. It was through them that my family has now stepped back into active membership. My son was baptized and my husband and I now for the first time hold a temple recommend and were endowed and sealed to each other in the Nauvoo temple last month. I am very grateful for this church, it’s teachings and doctrines and leaders and prophets but most importantly I’m grateful to my Heavenly Father for never giving up on this lost sheep. Other than the scriptures and teachings of the prophets I would recommend a few others. A marvelous work and a wonder written by the Apostle Le Grand Richards was very very helpful to my husband and I as we were starting to go back to church and struggling to change our lifestyle and follow all the commandments. It explains a lot of the doctrine and really helps a new convert to understand the Book of Mormon. Believing Christ by Stephan E Robinson is an excellent book if you are struggling with a testimony of Christ or forgiveness. Jesus the Christ by James Talmage is an excellent book. I really struggled with knowing who Christ is. I had a strong testimony of Heavenly Father but struggled with my testimony of Christ. I just did not know him. These two books helped me tremendously. They helped me come to know and love him. Jesus the Christ is a very large deep book. If it seems to much of a struggle to read it listen to it on audio. My husband and I listen to it every night. I always learn something new that I didn’t catch every time I listen to it. My life is now is such an example of grace and mercy. I can’t express how grateful I am to Heavenly Father and our Savior for the restoration and teachings of this church. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ~ Amen

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