In this episode of Rejected Books, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon Volume 1 --- First and Second Nephi by Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet.
Now, as a bit of full disclosure, I've always felt a bit of a connection to Robert Millet as he was once my stake president. I can't remember if I ever actually spoke with him or not, but still. He's my guy.
Until I read this book.
Lady Steed and I, since the beginning of our marriage, have read scriptures together nearly every night, usually the Book of Mormon. We've been through it so many times now and in so many ways (once we read it, for instance, in the order it was originally translated) (some chapters we read, switching turns when we hit commas) that we were getting desperate for ways to keep it fresh. So I decided we needed a thoughtful and thought-provoking and conversation-starting commentary. After asking around and looking around I discovered that the field of Book of Mormon commentaries was rather lacking in excellence. The best seemed to be the Millet/McConkie books so I bought volume one used on Amazon and we started in on it early 2009.
Fast forward to June. We are painting our bedroom and in the process of moving things out, our scriptures and the commentary get stuck in a box. We are so relieved to no longer be suffering through that awful awful soul-sucking book that we don't bother to find our scriptures for a couple months. We, who read nearly every night our entire marriage, stopped reading scriptures because of Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon.
To quote Moroni of Book of Mormon fame:
Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually. Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil. For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil [and] whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
This book is evil.
There. I said it. And I mean it.
This book is hollow and worthless. Perhaps, being generous, 10% of its words are helpful in a study of the book of Mormon. The rest is repetition, bloviation, self-promotion, obviosity, and filler.
The only reason we stuck with it as long as we did is 1) I had paid for it and 2) if we stayed on pace, we would finish it in one year and then I could slam it online, and we would never have to think about it again. (At that point, I did not have the Rejected Books series to slam books I would not finished.)
So what sin exactly does this book commit?
Well, there are many as I hinted above, but mostly it comes down to this: Having very little to say and hiding that lack in complex syntax, $64 words, repeating the obvious, and making extradoctrinal arguments treated as gospel truth. Yes, there were moments where they might quote a bit of Talmadge that was insightful or a line here that was interesting, but for each moment like that, there were twenty entries which just rewrote an elegant phrase of phrase of scripture, turning its ten words into 300 and cutting its message in half. Reading this commentary deflated the beauty and spiritual value into a couple of guys listening to each other talk.
The purpose of this book is not to draw you unto Christ, but to impress you with the brains of Millet and McConkie. And how do they intend to do that? By breaking every rule George Orwell gave us as regards good writing. To riff on his rules, changing them into rules M & McC's obviously hold dear:
1. Slip in as many tired metaphor as you possibly can.
2. Never use a short word if you can fit in six or seven long ones.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, hide that fact by building a new paragraph around it.
4. Never use the passive unless it'll make you sound like a pompous blowhard.
5. Assume that scientific words and jargon will make your audience think you are smarter than them.
Any book that claims to offer insight into doctrine but instead offers smoke, any book that claims to deepen your understanding of scripture but instead drives you away from scripture, any book that serves more to aggrandize its author's reputations than what it allegedly celebrates, any such book is a bad book.
Having finally written this rejection of Doctrinal Commentary, I can now get rid of it and my life will improve. I hope our scripture-study habit eventually recover fully from this attack upon them.
One last note before we go. I apologize for not transcribing some examples from the book for you that you might judge for yourself, but every time I opened the book with that intend I was flooded with anger and irritation and I felt sick to my stomach. So feel free to investigate my claims on your own, but be cautious about actually inviting this thing into your home.