"Never since the day of Joseph Smith; never since the translation of the Book of Mormon; never since the receipt of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants and the inspired writings in the Pearl of Great Price — never has there been such an opportunity to increase gospel scholarship as has now come to those who have our new English editions of the scriptures." — Elder Bruce R. McConkie
Wm. James Mortimer seemed a natural fit to be on the committee to create a new LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible. As the vice president and general manager of Deseret Book, he was already responsible for producing and distributing scriptures for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like many Mormons in the 1970s, his scripture reading was casual — but that was going to change.
"I was asked to serve as the secretary — the arms and the legs as it were — of three very busy members of the Quorum of the Twelve," Mortimer said. The Scriptures Publication Committee was led by Elder Thomas S. Monson, of the Quorum of the Twelve and committee chairman, and Elders Boyd K. Packer and Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Many other volunteers on the committee worked on the content of the new Bible — creating extensive footnotes, a topical guide, references to the Joseph Smith Translation, revising and expanding the Bible dictionary, and more. Mortimer's responsibility, however, was the typesetting, proofreading and publishing of the book.
"I carried out the instructions of those brethren," Mortimer said. "But I can't tell you the sweet, peaceful feelings that I felt every time we had a meeting with the Scriptures Committee." Each of the three apostles brought different strengths to the committee. "President Monson's strength was in the printing and the typesetting and the processes of publishing. He was very much into that. It had been his life's work.
"Elder Packer, his concern from day one, was whether it was going to cost too much. And he was always looking out for any way to avoid extravagant expenses.
"Elder McConkie was the scholar of them all. He was the biblical scholar ... he did all the chapter headings and was carefully reading all the proofs," Mortimer said.
Finding a publisher was difficult. The complexity of typesetting such extensive footnotes was beyond what computers could do at the time. Mortimer turned to the publisher of the old LDS missionary edition of the Bible, Cambridge University Press in England. Cambridge, which began publication of the King James Version in 1611, still used the old monotype typesetting, a process that used individual pieces of metal for every letter, space and punctuation mark.
In June 1977, Mortimer went with BYU professor Ellis T. Rasmussen to England to meet with Cambridge officials.
The head of Cambridge University Press started out the meeting by telling Mortimer and Rasmussen what Cambridge would do. Ellis and Mortimer looked at each other and knew the meeting wasn't heading in the right direction. "Everything he was saying was not what we wanted, it was what they wanted," Mortimer said. "To be honest, I don't remember (what the problem was), all I know is that it was wrong. The Spirit was working within me and saying, 'He doesn't understand. You've got to set him straight.'"
Mortimer interrupted and explained the church's goals. "I'm not really sure what I said, but when I finished I was a little embarrassed that I had interrupted him and began to tell him what to do," Mortimer said. "But he very politely said, 'Thank you, Mr. Mortimer. Please tell us what you want, and we will try to do it.'"
"He accepted it, and we had a wonderful, wonderful working relationship with Cambridge. What we needed, they provided," Mortimer said.
The work began on typesetting in the first quarter of 1978. Mortimer, Rasmussen and Eleanor Knowles kept busy checking the work of the typesetters as they made their way through the Bible.
Cambridge and the church's team did multiple proofreadings of the text. After printing, only three minor typographical errors have been found in 30 years, according to Mortimer.
"This was sacred work, and we didn't have room for messy typos," Mortimer said. "Plus, you may know that President Monson ... can pick up a typo quicker than anybody I have ever seen. And he was very concerned that the typos be minimized. And they were."
One time, Mortimer was in England to read proofs when a sub-editor found a mistake in the chapter heading of Isaiah 29. "You've got this mixed up," the sub-editor said. "This must go somewhere else."
Mortimer looked at the chapter heading, which read, "Nephites shall speak as a voice from the dust — The apostasy, restoration of the gospel, and coming forth of Book of Mormon are foretold."
"There's something wrong here. This doesn't fit this chapter," the sub-editor said.
"Oh, yes it does," Mortimer replied.
He then explained how Isaiah 29 verified the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Mortimer remembers it as probably being the only time he affirmed spiritually what the church was trying to do.He repeated that the heading was not a mistake.
"Well, it doesn't make any sense to me," the sub-editor said. "But if that's the way you want it, that's the way you'll get it."
By May 1979 the typesetting was done and the final pages were being made ready for printing. The work was superb, but there was a problem.
"We wanted a Bible that would be useful to all ages of the church, but particularly to the young people," Mortimer said. "The first targeted group to use the new Bibles was the seminary youth."
The Bible had to be finished in time for the first day of seminary in the fall of 1979. "We didn't know if we were going to make it or not," Mortimer said.
Cambridge University Press couldn't print the several hundred thousand copies in time. Their interest lay in printing the leather-bound style. Another printer had to be found that could do a large printing quickly of the less-expensive style.
Mortimer approached National Bible Press in Philadelphia, the publisher of the Gideon Bibles. He flew to Philadelphia in May to meet with them. The manager, Leonard DeStasio, met Mortimer at the airport and drove him to the plant. DeStasio had a private parking place that was marked with his initials. "When ... I saw 'LDS' on his parking place I thought, 'Gosh, I must be in the right place," Mortimer said with a laugh.
Mortimer accepted National's bid later that month. By June they had the final "slick proofs" from Cambridge and had begun printing. It looked like the seminary students would start their new year with new Bibles.
In the middle of June, DeStasio called Mortimer.
"Jim, I don't know how to tell you this, but I forgot, I don't know why I didn't think about it, but every year we close our plant for the month of July for repairs, maintenance and all the employees take their vacations during the month of July. Our plant will be closed for the month of July — there is no way we can get books to you by August."
"Leonard, don't tell me that. It can't possibly be," Mortimer said.
"Yeah, that's the way it is."
Mortimer felt downtrodden. He sought the Lord in prayer, "What do we do? What do we do?"
He called DeStasio the next day.
"Leonard, I pondered this overnight. When I went through your plant I saw that you had four separate printing presses. ... Is there any possibility that during that month you could keep one of those presses open and printing our work through the whole month of July?"
"I haven't thought of that," DeStasio said. "I doubt that the union would let us do that."
"Would you at least think about it and at least try?"
The next day DeStasio called back. "You can't believe what happened. I went to the union steward. I made that proposal. And the union steward, instead of just rejecting it out of hand said, 'Well, let's talk to the men and see what they want to do.'"
The workers said they hated July vacations when everything was hot and crowded. More than enough volunteered to do the work. DeStasio told Mortimer, "We will proceed."
The first copies of the new LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible came off the press on Aug. 7, 1979. Several copies arrived by air express the next day in Salt Lake City. "I had the opportunity to take the first copies to the brethren," Mortimer said. "They were very pleased. There was not one negative comment."Comment on this story
Mortimer said he had always had a testimony and always loved the scriptures. But in the process of publishing a new LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible, he found himself transformed from a casual reader to an "intense scripture studier."
"My life has greatly improved because of the scriptures. I couldn't live without them," Mortimer said.
As he was producing a new edition of the scriptures, the scriptures were producing a new edition of him.
Wm. James Mortimer is the former publisher of the Deseret News. E-mail: email@example.com