The first commercial edition of the Book of Mormon by a major trade publisher will be available in bookstores on November 16 this year after its publication by Doubleday in New York.
It will be the first time since its publication in 1830 that a trade publisher has handled distribution of the Book of Mormon outside the Church.
A contract between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Doubleday is expected to be finalized shortly.
The Book of Mormon, whose full name includes the subtitle “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” is considered the foundational religious text and scripture for 12 million Latter-day Saints worldwide. It is regarded as a companion volume to the Bible.
Doubleday and Church officials have been working for more than a year on the project, ensuring that the text remains faithful to the authorized edition already used by Church members and missionaries.
S. Kent Brown, professor of Ancient Scripture and director of Ancient Studies at BYU, said “The publication of the Book of Mormon by a national publisher is an acknowledgement of respect for the book and that it has entered into the mainstream of American life.
“Doubleday is obviously hoping that there are a lot of people who will look at the book who didn’t look at it before. Since they are in publishing to make money, they will want to see the sales go forward with some brusqueness and they are assuming that many people who have not already looked at it, will. People may read this book in the context of a private setting, where they can do it without feeling any pressure from acquaintances either for or against it, who have otherwise never considered reading it.
“I suspect there are several 100,000 people out there who will do just that—and that is what Doubleday is thinking.
Dr. Brown said, “When the Book of Mormon was first published, E.B. Grandin was concerned his association with it would hurt his business. Now, Doubleday has determined there is something in this book that is worth publishing and it will help their business. That marks the significance ot it.”
The new hardcover edition will reflect design changes introduced by Doubleday to make the volume more easily read and understood by a non-Mormon audience, but will remain faithful to the text itself.
For example, the new edition will not include the exhaustive cross-references and index included in the volume used by Church members. Footnotes have been eliminated, and the approximate dates at the bottom of many pages will appear in the brief chapter headings. A special seven-page Reference Guide will be included to help orient the reader who is less familiar with the Church and its teachings.
Millions of copies of the Book of Mormon are in print, in dozens of languages. They have typically been distributed by missionaries and Church members in inexpensive editions or obtained from Church distribution outlets. A “readers’ edition” of the 1928 Book of Mormon is available from the University of Illinois Press.
Elder Henry B. Eyring, a member of the Church’s Council of Twelve Apostles who also serves on its Scripture Committee, said that the Church was not asking members to go and buy new scriptures for themselves.
“The new edition uses the authorized text, so buying new scriptures is not necessary,” he said. “However, many members may feel that this new edition would be an ideal gift for friends who are not members of the Church.”
Elder Eyring said that the First Presidency of the Church had authorized the new publication, feeling that this would allow the sacred volume to be more readily obtainable by the general public at such places as airport bookstores and through major popular retail outlets, including their web sites.
The book will sell for $24.95.
Doubleday Religion Division Vice President Michelle Rapkin said: “The Mormon faith has become one of the largest in America. We’re proud to be the first publisher to bring this vitally important work to bookstores across the country and to add it to our outstanding library of authorized religious texts.”
The project became a reality after Doubleday approached Church-owned Deseret Book, the Church’s commercial publisher. The matter was referred to the First Presidency, the highest governing body of the Church, for consideration.
Beginning with Danish in 1851, the full text of the Book of Mormon has been published in 72 languages, and selections of it in another 32. Printed copies have totaled more than 120 million.
From the beginning, Church members have accepted it as scripture.
“The Book of Mormon makes the Latter-day Saints what we are,” says S. Kent Brown, director of ancient studies at Brigham Young University.
In his article, “The Book of Mormon: A Minimal Statement,” ancient-scripture scholar Hugh W. Nibley writes, “Just as the New Testament clarified the long-misunderstood message of the Old, so the Book of Mormon is held to reiterate the messages of both Testaments in a way that restores their full meaning.”
According to the record, a small group of Israelites led by a man named Lehi left Jerusalem around 600 B.C. They traveled to the sea, built a boat and continued over sea to the Americas.
Following the party’s arrival in the New World, growing disharmony caused family groups to fragment into clans that eventually became two opposing nations. Conflicts ensued during the recorded 1,000 years, leading to the eventual demise of one of these nations.
Within the context of this story, says Brown, stands a series of prophecies and testimonies about Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, including, strikingly, a visit by the risen, resurrected Jesus to the people in the New World.
The Book of Mormon tells how these events were meticulously recorded on metal plates. The responsibility for maintaining and adding to this record, begun by the first people who left Jerusalem, was passed along from generation to generation.
Dennis L. Largey, associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, says these records were kept by commandment of God. “The prophets and record-keepers knew that their writings were intended to do specific things.”
As an example, Largey refers to the Book of Mormon’s title page, which states that the record was created to convince “the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”
One of the last record-keepers was an ancient American prophet named Mormon who abridged the centuries of records into a concise account on golden plates.
This abridged record was passed from Mormon to his son Moroni (pronounced Mo-RONE-eye), the last known survivor of his nation, who, near the end of his life, buried the plates in a hill located in what centuries later became upstate New York.
Latter-day Saints believe that it was to this hill, today called the Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra, New York, that Moroni returned in 1823 as an angel to lead the teenage boy Joseph Smith to the hidden plates. Joseph Smith later founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Early Church history records that Moroni eventually gave custody of the golden plates to Joseph Smith, who permitted 11 other men to see and handle them. These witnesses’ written testimonies follow the Book of Mormon’s introduction.
Announcements of the first published Book of Mormon appeared in March 1830. Later that summer, Church missionaries began distributing copies.
Reading the Book of Mormon became many early converts’ first introduction to the Church as copies of the book were passed from friend to friend and family to family.
Such was the case with Brigham Young, a young carpenter and painter living in Mendon, New York, who later became second president of the Church, leader of the historic Mormon pioneer trek and a key figure in the settlement of the American West.