In the Church, December means different things to different people. If you’re three, you will soon be exiled from that zone of energetic irreverence known as Nursery to your first real class, Sunbeams. If you’re a bishop, holiday cheer is tempered by the month-long grind of tithing settlement. But one change we all look forward to every year is the annual Sunday School curriculum reboot. The anticipation is palpable.
Yes, even this year, with the Old Testament waiting in the wings. Any course of study gets old after twelve months. Universities run on quick 10-week quarters or endless 16-week semesters. Gospel Doctrine is like a 52-week BYU religion class. We’re ready for a change. December is your month to prepare.
And prepare you must. The LDS Bible offers an archaic English translation based on scholarship and original manuscripts five centuries behind the times. Moreover, the narrative is cut up into little snippets (enumerated verses), poetry and prose are made indistinguishable, and chapter headings and footnotes often do their best to Mormonize the text rather than bring the reader into the world of the Old Testament. To get what you deserve from your personal study and Sunday School attendance, you need a supplement or two. If you’re on a tight budget, you can put the titles on your Christmas wish list. If you’re devious, you can kill two birds with one stone by just buying the book you want as a gift for your spouse (hint: kick in three bucks for a really nice card if you try this at home).
Obviously, the book of choice for the average LDS reader is the just-published Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament (Deseret Book, 2009), by Holzapfel, Pike, and Seely. This beautifully illustrated book passed my single-criterion test for LDS books on the Old Testament (it gave an informed rather than dissimulating discussion of the authorship of Isaiah). A little pricey at $45, but as an imposing ornament on your coffee table it will impress any visitor. Kept near the door, it is also handy for repelling burglars or pesky vendors. A classic and affordable LDS alternative is Sidney Sperry’s The Spirit of the Old Testament, now available in a paperback reprint edition at Deseret Book.
Non-LDS scholars, of course, offer dozens of alternative translations and hundreds of books on the Old Testament directed to general readers. For a translation, I’m planning on buying Robert Alter’s The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. For a supplementary text, I’ve got my eye on Walter Brueggemann’s An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. I’ve sampled large chunks of both of these texts and was quite pleased. In fairness to the KJV, I’ll note that Alter thinks it is superior to most (all?) modern translations, but I’ll save that discussion for another post.
Three cheers for the four-year curriculum cycle in Sunday School. Keep that thought in mind as you head into the opening chapters of Gospel Principles in your other weekly class.