Digital Stuff and the LDS Scriptures

Today in institute we watched a video called “That Promised Day” about the establishment of the current LDS canon of scriptures established in the 1970s, and I just wanted to take a minute and point out the connections I see to digital stuff. I don’t know in what categories these things I’ll talk about fit into (I don’t think many people do), but I know that it has something to do with the way we use language and information. So perhaps these things aren’t even worth pointing out, but I think they are interesting, so here goes.

The motivations for the project were based in the effort to improve scriptural literacy across the church in an effort to fulfill the prophecy in D&C 1:20 “that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world.” If men (and women) were going to speak in the name of God, they would have to know the scriptures. In other words, the literate practices of being Mormon, especially in the sense of being a proselyting member, require the member to have at ready reference connections between all of the standard works of scriptures. The church made an enormous effort to facilitate the development of these literate practices in the members. Although the members are not given the means to create and incorporate their own cross references in a way that will effect all other members, allowing all members the ability to develop these literate practices gives more power to the members and takes power away from the leadership by placing the onus of interpretation on all members and not just the select few at the top. This taps into some of the notions of participatory culture put forth by Henry Jenkins.

The Cross references were crowd-sourced: the committees involved used hoards of returned missionaries to test established cross references, and suggest new ones. Those who had already had a lot of practice in the literate practices the church wanted all the members to have gave out their skills for free to allow others to borrow from their literate practices as they develop their own.

The verse-centric footnote system creates a information consumption experience much “surfing” the internet by clicking from link to link. The individual experience of “reading” the scriptures using cross references can be infinitely complicated and individualized in much the same way we experience information on the internet today. In fact the experience of reading the LDS scriptures on the internet is almost equal to the experience of reading it in book form. Maybe God knew there would be old technophobes and wanted to make their transition from the book scriptures to the online scriptures more seamless. There sure are a lot of old folks on iPads at church. (This sound like a “Just sayin'” argument. And I guess in the end it is.)

The church used Computers, which in 1972 was a very new thing, to compile this big data. I don’t know how that fits in, but it’s cool.


Update: A friend Jon Stone passed along a reference to this article where a few of the cross references have been updated to more closely reflect current thinking on specific things, especially how race and skin color are portrayed in the footnotes.

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