(Meridian Magazine; Scot Facer Proctor)
This month we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the landmark publication of Elder James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ. Most of us have been greatly influenced by this wonderful book. Many tie their testimonies of the Savior to their first reading of this book. Others have made a life-long study of Talmage’s work. It is required reading for missionaries. No book in our culture, save the scriptures, has been sold or distributed wider. It truly is a foundational work. What better way to celebrate this most amazing and sacred publication than to announce the ‘production’ of the Second Century Edition! Let me explain why I purposely used the word ‘production’ rather than publication.
A few years ago we were sitting in our office and we received a call from our dear friend, BYU Professor D. Kelly Ogden. He wanted to float an idea past us. He said, “You know, in a few years it will be the 100th anniversary of the publication of Jesus the Christ, have you ever thought about putting together a new edition? If so, would you like to work together on it?” Well, yes, we had been thinking about it since we had completed new editions of Lucy Mack Smith’s history in 1996 and Parley P. Pratt’s in 2000. We were very excited about the idea and we were also very excited to work with Kelly.
Kelly Ogden’s life seemed to be destined to center in the Middle East and specifically in Israel. His master’s degree was in the Hebrew language and his PhD was in Middle East studies. He and his family lived in the Holy Land for a dozen years. He was the first associate director of the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies and he served twice as the branch president of the Jerusalem Branch. Kelly has literally walked the length and width of the country of Israel, coming to know the trails, the roads and hills, valleys and plains of this place where Jesus walked. Being with Kelly in Israel is like being with a walking, talking encyclopedia. Yes, we wanted to work with Kelly on this project!
I spent part of my growing up years living in Ankara, Turkey and then traveling extensively throughout the Middle East. In my American school in Ankara, traveling was encouraged and counted as an excused absence. We took advantage of that. My first trip to the Holy Land was just two months before the Six Day War in 1967. Maurine and I have been traveling regularly to the Holy Land since the late 80’s. We go there every year and sometimes many times a year. It is like a second home to us. We have dear friends in every quarter. Walking through the Old City of Jerusalem is like a homecoming.
So, the team was set. Now we had to figure out the format of the 2nd Century edition. We were not going to change Elder Talmage’s text at all, but we did want to greatly enhance the readability of the work and add as much interest as possible.
Having published 33,000 original articles on Meridian in the past 16 ½ years, we have come to know a few keys things about how to get someone to read something. You have to have lots of entry points. You have to keep their interest going. You have to have visual aids. You have to hold their hand and keep walking with them through the entire experience. All these things became important to us as we started.
The photographer in me said, “We need to add hundreds of photographs, all newly shot for this edition.” We all wanted to add as much art as possible, preferably from as many Latter-day Saint artists as we could find, and, of course, from the masters as well. We knew that Elder Talmage did not use the Joseph Smith Translation so we had to add in the pertinent footnotes. Kelly insisted on giving the reader easy access to definitions of more difficult words in the text. Maurine wanted to change the division of the paragraphs so they were easier to follow and much shorter—and to add sub-titles that would walk the reader through the text. The project unfolded like a poppy opening to the morning sun. We became more and more excited with each new idea and approach.
We started with our wish list and then we had to figure out how to make each component become a reality. Technology has come so far in 100 years, it’s clear that a 2nd Century Edition would have to incorporate the best and latest this world has to offer.
It became clear that there was no way we could do a print edition. This had to be an electronic version, one that was extremely accessible to anyone with a computer or a smart device. But one question haunted me: Why do we not see electronic editions of any of the gorgeous National Geographic, photo-rich books? We went to a publisher that we had worked with many times to see if they would work with us and make this a reality. They declined based on their assessment that their “platform would not support what [we were] wanting to do.” We accepted that. In further conversations they told us they really did not know how to do what we were proposing. That became the challenge for us: How to do what we envisioned.