The Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon, Take Three

This entry is a bit different because it is a sample assignment for one day, not a complete syllabus.

It comes to us from Keith:


The story of Alma’s conversion (and that of the Sons of Mosiah) is recounted in 3 different places:
Mosiah 27: 8-37 (Note also 28:1-4)
Alma 36
Alma 38: 5-8
Please read them carefully noting how the stories each emphasize different things while still having a general similar message.
Who is the author/speaker and audience in each? What general similarities do you note in the stories?

What general differences? What things are included or excluded/omitted in one and not the other(s)?

Especially note specific differences in:
What the angel says:
How Alma reacts and describes his three days of being unconscious:
The confession/message Alma delivers after returning and what he does after:

What do these chapters say (or not) about the Sons of Mosiah?

Do you see similar patterns or events in the Book of Mormon to the accounts here? How are they similar/different?

So what do you think are things we can learn from this? Questions? Comments? Observations?

[There’s lots to take from these chapters, and there’s always more than one key idea someone should learn. I might categorize this lesson under “Conversion” or something along those lines, though I don’t feel bound by that alone–there’s always more that overflows. Part of what I want to do–and the new curriculum is supposed to do this–is to help students become better readers of Scripture.]


Well, I think this is superb. Despite my general disdain for topical (as opposed to sequential) teaching, this assignment shows how topical teaching can be grounded in a legitimately contextualized approach to the text, how it can respect the multi-vocality of scripture, and how it can encourage students to become thoughtful readers of the actual text instead of passive consumers of an instructor’s cherry-picked prooftexts. I particularly appreciate how this lesson teaches not just content (handed down on high from the instructor, which can only be applied to this particular case), but skills (of close reading, of asking questions, of comparing texts, which the student can apply to any scriptures in the future). My only concern would be: What do the other 25 class sessions look like? This is a stellar single lesson, but can this kind of close, thoughtful reading be extended to other types of material in the BoM in way that provides adequate coverage of the entire text and situates the other readings in context? Or is this a one-off due to the unique nature of Alma’s conversion accounts?

3 comments for “The Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon, Take Three

  1. Abu Casey
    November 18, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    I would include Joseph Spencer’s book “An Other Testament” in a class on the Book of Mormon, precisely because it includes several such interesting, close, and unusual readings of the scriptures. Does it fit well topically? Perhaps–Spencer’s reading of Nephi and Laban–that Nephi learned what God meant when he said “commandments” in his interaction with the spirit as he stood over Laban–is interesting and worth thinking a lot about. Spencer also has some interesting things to say about covenant and its role at the national and individual levels (which includes into his fascinating reading of why Noah’s priests ask a question about a passage in Isaiah). Others have mentioned Hardy’s “Understanding the Book of Mormon” as doing some similar work. So I do think there’s a lot more to be done here, but I haven’t thought enough about how to hang it all on a topical peg.

  2. November 19, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    I didn’t see this one earlier — the good ideas are coming in almost too fast to keep up! And I may overlap Julie’s comments. I wanted to record my thoughts before reading those.

    I especially like Keith’s pointing students toward comparing different accounts, and suggesting some questions to consider. Analytical skills like this are taught in literature classes and I suppose in other courses that I’m not familiar with, but I don’t find them very well developed in members of my SS class. Practicing this kind of analysis seems necessary at so many points: multiple First Vision accounts, variants between Biblical and Book of Mormon passages that at first glance appear to be the same, contrasting King James with JST, understanding Jesus’s “ye have heard it said … but I say …” teachings, and on and on.

  3. Keith
    November 19, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks for the comments on this the most popular of the Syllabus threads. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back.

    I think–hope–that similar classes (with a variety of tools/skills for reading) can be developed in a larger syllabus. The idea will be to pick a doctrine, pattern, type, that’s taught, find passages/chapters to read about them, and look (also) for ways those particular passages can be used to teach certain reading, thinking, study skills. At the very least, with any passage we read, we can remind students and ourselves of the context–who’s speaking/writing, audience, context and so on. And other scripture study tools can be brought to bear. Sort of like teaching grammar, but not in a formal grammar class, but as you read various texts. Scripture study skills, but not in a formal scripture study skills course. Lots of the things Grant Hardy mentions, by the way, are the sorts of things I could see adopting under the framework of reading skills. [I note that he’s got something similar to my suggestion for the assignment I posted. We of lesser minds and capacities sometimes think like those with greater.]

    One of the challenges will be to make such things (with reasonable work and effort) accessible and meaningful to a wide variety of students and not just interesting to those of us who like theology or philosophy, Biblical studies, religious studies, literary studies, etc. Rigor, yes. (I really don’t want to dumb things down.) But meaningful to a wide, university level, audience, with all its variety of majors, capabilities, and ways of learning. These skills can be helpful, as Ardis points out, in so many contexts and the more we can help a wide variety of students, the better.

    Similarly, we have to bear in mind in all our syllabus building is that these courses are intended to have a devotional aspect to them. Both intellectually rigorous and spiritually edifying (or, also, if you like, intellectually edifying and spiritually rigorous). Definitely yes to both. Striking a balance between helping students engage in more scholarly, rigorous ways, while also helping them find personal help and meaning in the lives they live and the realities they face are both important and we can’t leave either out and have a course in Religious Ed be what it ought to be. To know and love the Book of Mormon is a goal in service of the larger goal of knowing and loving the Lord the Book speaks of and points us to.

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