Someone recently referred me to Brigham Young University’s online LDS Scripture Citation Index, a database of scripture citations from General Conference (an event, held twice a year, in which the top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints give speeches addressed to the general membership), and, just as I usually do when presented with a lot of data on a topic that interests me, I proceeded to waste far too much of my rather limited free time crunching numbers and looking for interesting patterns.
The Mormon scriptural canon consists of the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants (a collection of Joseph Smith’s “revelations”), and a slim volume of miscellanea called the Pearl of Great Price. The graph below shows how many times each book of scripture was cited each year from 1942 to 2009. (The figures for 1957 have been doubled because only one conference was held that year instead of the usual two.)
As you can see, the Book of Mormon, which had previously been languishing in Pearl-of-Great-Price-like obscurity, suddenly shot to the top in 1985, since which time it has been cited about as frequently as the New Testament (formerly the undisputed top dog) and Doctrine and Covenants. What happened in 1985? Ezra Taft Benson.
It’s also interesting to look at the changing fortunes of some individual verses. The tables below show the number of citations per decade for eleven especially prominent passages. These eleven were chosen because each of them has had at least one decade in which it was cited 30 times or more.
Matthew 11:28 has been steadily rising in popularity and is the only Bible verse to have reached the 30-citation mark in the post-Benson era.
Matthew 22:39 and John 17:3 both peaked in the sixties and have been declining — but not dramatically — since.
Acts 4:12, which also peaked in the sixties, is clearly on the way out.
These three verses from the Book of Mormon — 2 Nephi 31:20, Mosiah 3:19, and Mosiah 18:9 — all leapt to prominence in the Benson era and have been popular ever since.
Moroni 10:4 is the only Book of Mormon verse to have reached the 30-citation mark before Ezra Taft Benson. It actually dropped in popularity during his tenure, though it seems to be making a comeback.
If scriptures were stocks, this would be the one to invest in. It’s gone from zero to 36 and shows no signs of slowing down. I’m not sure what exactly that says about the Mormon zeitgeist, since it seems like a pretty nondescript verse to me.
Although the Pearl of Great Price is consistently Mormonism’s least-cited book of scripture, the two heavyweight champion verses — Moses 1:39 and Joseph Smith History 1:17 — both come from it. Moses 1:39 is the only verse to have been cited at least 30 times in every one of the six decades.