Aggregating across all 9 conference sessions being analyzed here, the Articles of Faith is definitely the most cited book.
Here’s a post that won’t appeal much to non-LDS readers. But for the Mormons out there…
The Bible’s a big book, so Christians have their work cut out them. My copy is 1,590 pages long. (Of course, it would be much shorter if it didn’t also have a bunch of footnotes.)
But Latter-day Saints (Mormons) also treat the Book of Mormon (531 pages), the Doctrine and Covenants (294 pages), and the Pearl of Great Price (61 pages) as scriptural. That’s a lot to read. Some Mormons try to read them all, some focus on a small chunk, some give up and don’t bother.
Lately I got to wondering: Of all these books to choose from, what do the church’s general authorities read? It occurred to me today that there was an easy way to find out.
The answer is below the jump…
How to Figure it Out: Data Source
Twice each year, Latter-day Saints can tune into General Conference, where the church’s general authorities give addresses that are televised around the world and posted online . There are a LOT of general authorities, but most speakers come from the highest levels of church authority: The First Presidency, the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and a handful of other speakers to fill out the schedule. Each speaker chooses whatever topic feels appropriate to him or her. Typically, they stick closely with topics found in the various canonical books.
And there’s the rub. By looking through each speech and counting up citations to each scriptural book, we can make a rough guess as to which scriptural books occupy the general authorities’ attention.
Think about it. If you’re writing a speech that will be heard by millions of Mormons around the world, you’ll probably spend lots of time thinking about what to say. You’ll also spend lots of time studying your chosen topic in the scriptures so that you can be sure not to embarrass yourself by inaccurately articulating church doctrine. As you do so, if you read the New Testament more than the Pearl of Great Price, you’re probably more likely to cite the New Testament in your talk–since that’s what you’re most familiar with.
So I programmed a quick piece of code to (1) pull each conference talk from April 2005 through April 2009 from the church’s website, lds.org; (2) scan each talk looking for scriptural references; and (3) compile the data into a pretty format.
The Results: Which Scriptures Get Cited?
I’ll start by looking at which canons (e.g. New Testament, Book of Mormon, etc) get cited the most, then I’ll give a list of the specific books within those canons that get cited.
To clarify: By canon, I mean (for example) the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, etc. By book, I mean (for example) Genesis, Exodus, etc.
General authorities don’t show much consistent preference for a single canon, although they do show a consistent preference against one–the Old Testament. As you see in the chart below (click to enlarge), the Old Testament manages just a small handful of citations over each of the past 9 general conferences.
The Pearl of Great Price does surprisingly well. It’s short length (61 pages!) masks what is (apparently) a more powerful influence per page. There’s no Song of Solomon in the Pearl of Great Price watering down its usefulness, I guess.
The Book of Mormon enjoyed a brief spike in popularity in the two 2006 conferences–probably as a result of then-President Hinckley’s admonition that every member of the church read or re-read it by the end of 2005. (Oddly, though, the BoM made a poor showing in October 2005 general conference, during the middle of this challenge.) Otherwise, the Book of Mormon is mostly in 2nd-to-last place, but well ahead of the Old Testament.
The New Testament–my personal favorite–maintains a respectable, consistent showing in the middle of the pack. It would do better if the entire NT were cited regularly, not just parts of it; keep reading.
Aggregating across all 9 conference sessions being analyzed here, the Articles of Faith is definitely the most cited book. On average over the past 9 general conferences, it has received 3 citations during each conference. (Actually, that’s the median, not the average.)
After adjusting for the short length of the Articles of Faith (only 1 page), that comes out to 300 citations for each 100 pages of text. (For each book, the number of citations is adjusted for the length of the book; when I report “adjusted citations,” I’m reporting the number of citations for each 100 pages of text.)
Here’s the list of most-cited books in descending order. Each number is adjusted for the length of each book. The numbers you see are medians (similar to an average) for the April 2005 through April 2009 general conferences:
|PoGP||The Articles of Faith||300|
|NT||The Epistle of James||50|
|PoGP||Selections from the Book of Moses||43|
|DC||Doctrine and Covenants||36|
|NT||The Epistle to the Romans||22|
|PoGP||The Book of Abraham||21|
|NT||To the Hebrews||12|
That’s the 48 most-cited books. The remaining 41 books received an average of 0 (adjusted) citations. (Some of them were cited once or twice, but not enough to register an average.)
The New Testament does much better in this table than in the previous chart. The gospels and some of the epistles rank right at the top of the list. Apparently the New Testament’s overall lower rank in the previous section is caused by some NT books being rarely cited (e.g. 2 Peter, Jude, Titus, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 and 3 John, Colossians, and Philemon).
Again, the Old Testament does poorly. Only Malachi receives significant attention. The rest of the OT books are at the very bottom of the table (and most don’t show up in the table at all). I’m particularly surprised to see Isaiah used so rarely, given that Mormons believe that they are commanded to read it .
Why Do We Care?
If you’re not Mormon you probably don’t care, and I don’t blame you. Even if you are Mormon, you might not care, and that’s fine. But if you don’t care, I question why you are still reading this. Go find something better to do.
For the rest of you, the preceding data show one way to structure your own scripture study. Mormons look to the church’s leaders as experts on doctrine and practice. Many of these leaders have spent years studying the Bible, Book of Mormon, etc. If they find certain books more useful than others, perhaps they’re onto something that Latter-day Saints generally may find useful.
Alternatively, the data above might serve as a mild corrective. Church leaders have, in the past, urged Latter-day Saints to place greater priority on one book or another for a time. For example, the church’s late president Ezra Taft Benson thought that Latter-day Saints weren’t paying enough attention to the Book of Mormon in their personal study, a view apparently shared by another late president, Gordon Hinckley, who challenged all members to re-read it in 2005. Perhaps these leaders would be disappointed that the Book of Mormon doesn’t get cited more.
And as another example, of course, there’s a passage in the Book of Mormon in which Christ himself rebukes those who do not pay sufficient attention to the Old Testament book of Isaiah–a book which, surprisingly, is cited rarely in these general conference.
Anyway, I’m off to memorize the Articles of Faith, I guess? It’s only a page…