Recommended Reading List for Students of the LDS (Mormon) Religion
Sometimes members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or investigators feel overwhelmed when first confronted with the big lists of arguments that critics often compile in an effort to shock or overwhelm others. Even though many of the arguments might be easy to answer, the critic sometimes isn’t interested in answers but in shock and awe. Faced with “the Big List” and no easy answers to cope with it all, it can be easy to assume the preponderance of evidence is on the other side and to just buckle. But before you buckle, it’s good to realize there is another side to the story. Not only are there some answers, and often some good answers, to many of the questions or attacks raised, there is also an intriguing and growing body of evidence in favor of key LDS positions. Too often those who are swayed by the Big List of attacks never dug into the pro-LDS side or were even aware of the large body of literature that might have helped them understand the issues in a new light.
To help those who would like to understand some of the evidences in favor of the LDS position, and to see how intelligent Latter-day Saints cope with some of the intellectual challenges that we face as Mormons, as Christians, and as believers in God, I offer here my recommended reading list. These books and articles are among those that have contributed to my personal testimony and intellectual appreciation of the Gospel, or have helped me and others I know in various ways. I don’t agree with every position and argument made, but feel that there is some high-quality content in each of these. Most are from LDS writers, but some are not.
Book of Mormon Topics
- In the Footsteps of Lehi by Warren P. Aston and Michaela K. Aston (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Comp., 1994; now available in a revised 2012 edition with enhanced photos and on Kindle). My favorite single book on the Book of Mormon, and is one of the most important resources I discuss on my Book of Mormon Evidences page. This book traces the details behind the discovery of stunning Arabian Peninsula candidates for specific places mentioned in the Book of Mormon in Nephi’s record of his journey across the Peninsula to a place he called Bountiful. Long ridiculed as ridiculous, this journey now comes to life with a high level of plausibility. The Arabian Peninsula offers some of the most impressive evidence for Book of Mormon plausibility. Very cool.
- Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book by John Sorenson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013)–a lifetime of work from a serious scholar gives us this massive collection of evidences pointing to Mesoamerica as a plausible candidate for the location of the Book of Mormon events in the New World. Numerous detailed correspondences between Mesoamerican cultures, terrain, ecosystems, and so forth offer parallels packed with implications for the Book of Mormon. Not to be lightly dismissed.
- Journal of Book of Mormon Studies –large collection of scholarly and cutting-edge articles on the Book of Mormon, many of which provide impressive evidences for its ancient authenticity and its divine origins. Provided by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute. One of many intriguing examples in this publication is “Volcanic Destruction in the Book of Mormon: Possible Evidence from Ice Cores” by Benjamin R. Jordan, JBMS, vol. 12, no. 1 (2003). This large PDF file is definitely worth the read.
- Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem – free online book offering scholarly insights into the world of Lehi in 600 B.C., where modern scholarship now has a lot to say that offers interesting evidence relevant to the Book of Mormon.
- The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books by John Tvedtnes–outstanding scholarship on issues like writing on ancient plates, burying sacred records, and other practices that help us appreciate the plausibility of the gold plates and the Nephite record buried in the hill often called Cumorah.
- Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, John W. Welch (Provo: FARMS, 2002)–fascinating compilation of new insights that modern scholarship offers into many of the details of the Book of Mormon. Many evidences for the ancient authenticity of this book.
- King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom” edited by Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch (Provo: Maxwell Institute, 1998). This book demonstrates that King Benjamin’s speech as described in Mosiah 1-6 comprises numerous ancient Semitic themes and elements that, in my opinion, could not have been fabricated by Joseph Smith or simply stumbled upon by chance. It stands as a remarkable example of an ancient covenant ceremony rich with temple themes and other ancient concepts. My favorite chapter might be “Kingship. Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1–6″ which discusses a specific ancient covenant pattern not known in Joseph Smith’s day that is amply represented in King Benjamin’s covenant-making ceremony at the temple. This pattern is also found in the LDS temple, by the way–see the book of non-LDS scholar Jon Levenson mentioned below and also see my LDSFAQ page on the LDS Temple and Masonry for further details.
- The scholarship of Richard L. Anderson on the credibility and real history of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. See especially his book, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses.
- Chiasmus in Antiquity: Structures, Analyses, Exegesis, ed. by John Welch (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute, 1998). Scholarly insights into the ancient role of chiasmus in scripture and other texts, including the Book of Mormon. See also my page on chiasmus in the Book of Mormon.
- Science and the Book of Mormon: Cureloms, Cumoms, Horses & More by Dr. Wade E. Miller (Laguna Niguel, CA: KCT and Associates, 2010). A prominent geologist and paleontologist gives a brief but relatively thorough treatment of some scientific issues often used as arguments against the Book of Mormon, such as the apparent anachronisms of horses and elephants. The emphasis is on animals, but some plants, steel, glass, silk, and linen are also treated. Shows that there are possibilities and much more plausibility than critics have let on.
- “Authentic Ancient Metal Plates,” good summary at TempleStudy.com.
Resources Dealing with a Broad Range of LDS Topics
- The FARMS Review of Books — until 2011 when this series was discontinued, this was arguably the leading source of LDS apologetics information responding directly to critical publications. Highly interesting, sometimes entertaining, and typically well documented.
- The Mormon Interpreter – this new scholarly online publication provides bold defense and scholarly insight.
- FAIRMormon.org and the FAIR Mormon Blog — great answers to many tough questions and abundant resources on many complex issues.
- Michael Ash’s Shaken Faith Syndrome and related resources available at the FAIRMormon Bookstore. Great summary of basic responses to many of the “Big List” attacks from critics of the Church.
Appreciating the LDS Temple
- The Temple in Time and Eternity edited by Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo: FARMS, 1999). While some modern elements have been used in the temple, its core is ancient. Discussions of topics like baptism for the dead, covenants, the prayer circle, and other elements provide strong evidence that this was not just made up based on modern elements in the 1830s.
- Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985) by Jon D. Levenson, a Jewish scholar at Harvard. This outstanding non-LDS book is available on Kindle now, after being out of print for a while. I read this shortly after reading Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane, transl. W. R. Trask, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1959), which helped me appreciate the ancient concept of sacred space and places connecting the heavens and earth. But Levenson’s book was most valuable. There I encountered evidence that ancient temple concepts–covenant making, symbols, meanings–had been restored. One of the most exciting discoveries was that a typical ancient form of covenant making had been restored. This ancient pattern for making a covenant between God and man or a king and his subjects is known as the “covenant formulary” and includes six major steps, all of which I recognize in the LDS temple. That pattern wasn’t known to scholars until nearly a century after the LDS temple concept was revealed. Fun reading – especially the first few chapters.
- The writings of Margaret Barker, the non-LDS Protestant scholar who has attracted a great deal of attention with her breakthrough works showing that the religion and practices of the First Temple in Jerusalem were much different than previously supposed. Suddenly, some significant LDS temple perspectives as well as some alleged anachronisms in the Book of Mormon have become a lot more plausible. I especially enjoyed her book, Temple Mysticism. See a collection of some of her works at Thinly Veiled and also see her website, MargaretBarker.com.
- Temples of the Ancient World, ed. by Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994). This includes one of my favorite single articles on the temple, John M. Lundquist’s scholarly work, “What Is a Temple? A Preliminary Typology” (PDF), originally printed in H. B. Huffman, F. A. Spina, and A. R. W. Green, eds., The Quest for the Kingdom of God: Studies in Honor of George E. Mendenhall (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1983).
- “Them Sneaky Early Christians” by Barry R. Bickmore for FARMS Review of Books, 2000, a review of Guy G. Stroumsa. Hidden Wisdom: Esoteric Traditions and the Roots of Christian Mysticism (Leiden: Brill, 1996). Discusses the authentic ancient Christian nature of secret mysteries and ordinances, providing some valuable background for the reality of temple-related rites as a legitimate part of Christianity.
- Temple Themes in the Book of Moses by Jeffrey Bradshaw (Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Publishing, 2010). Extensive sources are used to show numerous connections to the ancient world and temple themes in the Book of Moses.
Personal Perspectives and Testimonies
Sometimes individual Latter-day Saints have remarkable stories to share or insights into the Gospel that can help us grow. Here are some writings that have been valuable to me:
- A Distant Prayer: Miracles of the 49th Combat Mission by Jerry Borrowman and Joseph Banks (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2001). The story of a flight engineer on a B-17 bomber who was shot down over Nazi Germany and imprisoned. The stories of his survival and eventual escape have many lessons for our mortal journey, and some profound spiritual implications as well.
- The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy by Dr. Terryl L. Givens (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997; Kindle edition published 2012). One of Mormondom’s great contemporary writers and thinkers, Terryl Givens shows how a thinking Latter-day Saint can find great satisfaction with the Gospel, while also coming to terms with the factors that make us an oddity and a subject of extensive misunderstanding. A book that could be helpful to those in and out of the LDS faith.
- Mormon Scholars Testify, a recent website with personal commentaries from many LDS scholars showing that thinkers can be believers with intelligent testimonies, too.