Gateway drugs for middle schoolers: Mormon Studies edition

I have a Christmas list, for a not-quite-teenager, with a gap that needs to be filled.The middle schooler in question has read the Book of Mormon on his own from front to back, and from back to front, and was recently observed working his way through Genesis. At home and church, he displays an admirable degree of age-appropriate devotion, and reports from his school teachers are glowing. He enjoys reading, including non-fiction, and could probably read something fairly challenging if it appealed enough to him.

So I’m looking for a companion book for his scripture reading that will provide some additional context, and hopefully introduce him to the sweet enticements of footnotes and quotations from unpublished documents written in dead languages. I’m open to suggestions in any area of possible interest, but the book needs to manage a difficult split between being informed by (or an example of) current scholarship, respecting religious devotion, and having reasonably accessible prose (the middle schooler only speaks one foreign language, and his preparation in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and other Semitic languages is woefully inadequate, as I keep reminding him). If Hugh Nibley were still alive, and had just earned a Ph.D., and had just published a guide to the Old Testament for seminary students, that would be perfect. What’s the next best thing?

27 comments for “Gateway drugs for middle schoolers: Mormon Studies edition

  1. Matt S.
    December 9, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Try Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction by Bushman.

    Also, Who’s Who in the D&C by Susan Easton Black.

    Oh, and don’t forget the biographies of Presidents Hinckley and Monson.

    Maybe these are Church history titles, but I think they are all accessible, faith promoting, and good scholarship.

  2. Julie M. Smith
    December 9, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Perhaps the recent Pres. McKay or Kimball bios.

    Ehrman’s _Misquoting Jesus_ would be a lot of fun. It sounds as if it would be terribly challenging to faith, but that is only true for inerrantists.

  3. Ben
    December 9, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    “If Hugh Nibley were still alive, and had just earned a Ph.D., and had just published a guide to the Old Testament for seminary students, that would be perfect. What’s the next best thing?”

    If you want this OT focused, I’d suggest a NIV Study Bible (but rip out the NT part.) Or perhaps John Walton’s Ancient Near Eastern Thought and The Old Testament. Or Peter Enn’s OT book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.

    All of those are introductory, invoke ANE texts aplenty, and take faith seriously. The first two also have some drawbacks, but still good.

    The Jesus Christ and the world of the NT/ Jehovah and the World of the OT volumes? I really wish those had footnotes, or at least a good bibliography.

  4. December 9, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    And in spite of the title, Enns’ book is really great for LDS.

  5. anita
    December 9, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    my similarly-inclined teenager has enjoyed the FARMS selections of Echoes & Evidences of the B of M, Rediscovering/Reexploring the B of M, Ancient American Setting for Bof M, and Wilcox’s Fire in the Bones.

  6. Jonathan Green
    December 9, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Thanks for the suggestions so far – keep them coming!

  7. Kristine
    December 9, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    I think Jim Kugel’s “The Bible as it Was” or “How to Read…” might not be bad. Also (or instead), Gabriel Josipovici’s “The Book of God: A Response to the Bible.” (Josipovici’s maybe a little easier?)

  8. Geoff of A
    December 9, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Are we talking about reading material for 11 or 12 year olds? This all seems a bit heavy.

    The day the War Began by John Marsden

  9. Cody
    December 9, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Jim Faulconer’s Scripture Study: Tools and Suggestions might be appropriate to create a little n nibley. If you want to create a big N Nibley I’m afraid you are going to be terribly disappointed since Nibleys only come around once a dispensation at most.

  10. Ben
    December 9, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Ooh, I second Sorenson’s Ancient American Setting for an intro to thinking about the Book of Mormon, and Faulconer’s Scripture Study. I think Kugel might be a bit challenging, faith-wise, for a young teen.

  11. Reeder
    December 10, 2010 at 1:04 am

    Maybe Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling”?

  12. Oatmeal
    December 10, 2010 at 4:08 am

    Over 30 years ago, I was the kid in question. Read the Book of Mormon, Mormon Doctrine, Cleon Skousen’s “Treasures of the Book of Mormon” series, and Hal Schindler’s “Orrin Porter Rockell: Man of God, Son of Thunder.”

    I loved the BOM, Mormon Doctrine put me off BRM for the rest of my life, Skousen I found downright silly, and Schindler excited me more about church history than any other author.

  13. JamesM
    December 10, 2010 at 7:16 am

    Faulconer’s “Scripture Study.”

  14. mapman
    December 10, 2010 at 9:10 am

    I’m a teenager (an older one) and I have enjoyed reading Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament, In God’s Image and Likeness, and Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling. I have found many of the articles in the Journal of Book of Mormon studies and the FARMS Review to be interesting.

  15. December 10, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I’m a fan of Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling” – but the book I would recommend truly as a companion to scripture reading would be “Jesus the Christ” by James Talmage. There is nothing better for demonstrating the Christ-centered nature of the scriptures than this book.

  16. December 10, 2010 at 11:15 am

    The problem is that no teenager has a natural interest in history, doctrine, or Mormon Studies. If a parent thinks a kid should read A Very Short Introduction to Mormonism, the best approach is to use the stick and carrot techniques we rely on for other worthwhile but not naturally appealing goals.

    That said, teens do enjoy narrative, so the right kind of biography might work for the right kid. If there was a Mormon equivalent to My Name Is Asher Lev, I’d recommend it. Ender’s Game, maybe? As a newly converted Mormon teen, I enjoyed Jack West’s Book of Mormon on Trial. Then there are OSC’s pseudo-LDS SF books, which are better by any measure than the teen fiction at Deseret Book. Or you could just buy the kid an iPhone and put the LDS scriptures on it.

  17. mapman
    December 10, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Dave: There are teenagers that have a natural interest in history, doctrine, and Mormon Studies. We are capable of sophisticated thought, you know (at least some of us are). I think that part of the reason that most teenagers don’t read much non-fiction on their own is because they think that society would see that as weird.

  18. Adam B.
    December 10, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I would recommend RSR. When I was 11 or 12, I loved history, and I found that biographies were great tools for understanding the major figures in history. Bushman writes in a very readable style, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for an almost-teen.

    Also, “By the Hand of Mormon” by Givens would be good as well to present a contextual study of the Book of Mormon. I encountered it when I was in high school (and before I was a member of the Church), and it helped me understand that there actually were intellectual foundations to the Church and its scriptures.

  19. DR
    December 10, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Institute manuals.

  20. Randy B.
    December 10, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    I’m with Dave (#16). I’d find a book with a good narrative. I like Oatmeal’s suggestion of Schindler’s OPR bio. I also like the McKay (particularly) and Kimball (less so) bios, as Julie suggested.

    As for RSR, I’ve not met a 12 year old yet that I would give that book to with the hope of whetting their appetite. I’m sure that kid exists somewhere (perhaps Kristine or Nate when they were 12?), but they are certainly an aberration. As much as I like RSR, it is no page turner. I’d say look for something with a writing style more like Brodie’s than Bushman’s (though I’m assuming Brodie is not what you’re looking for content-wise).

  21. SUNNofaB.C.Rich
    December 11, 2010 at 1:35 am

    I guess you could always get him a new pocket protector if all else fails…

  22. Cameron N
    December 11, 2010 at 2:09 am

    I think lots of reading teens enjoy history, especially if in a narrative style. Maybe I’m just weird though.

    I haven’t gotten to most of the suggested works myself (although I want to), but I would second the Institute manuals as a nice study guide/background to understanding the scriptures. Especially the Old Testament. If you could convince him to get beyond the stoic cover and maybe have a brief session together where he sees how much some cultural/historical context can illuminate the scriptures, he might get hooked. That’s what I loved most about my seminary class anyway.

  23. December 11, 2010 at 11:05 am

    For the love of all that is holy, do NOT give him the OT Institute manual, unless you want to create either a fundamentalist or really cynical teen!

  24. mapman
    December 11, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Church History in the Fulness of Times is really good, too.

  25. NateR
    December 13, 2010 at 1:28 am

    I would go with Givens The B of M: A Very Short Introduction or Bushman’s Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction. They are short (as the names indicate), accessible, and gives some good insights into the B of M and Mormonism.

  26. Duerma
    December 15, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (2001), ed. John Sorenson, was my gateway drug. Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon ( is another excellent one. There’s another, published around 1999, but I can’t for the life of me remember the name. :(

  27. Jason L.
    December 17, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    What about Robert Alter’s “The Five Books of Moses”? His translations and footnotes are illuminating without being overly didactic (in either opposing or promoting faith). It strikes me as accessible without seeming condescending, providing the not-quite-teenager in question an invitation to discover their own insights as well as the larger world of scriptural scholarship.

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