What’s The Book of Mormon?
The Book of Mormon (henceforth abbreviated as BoM) is the holy book of the Mormons, and is holy scripture that for Mormons is comparable to what the Bible is for Christians. It is a collection of 15 books, each one printed with the name of the primary author, mostly organized in chronological sequence beginning with the 1 Nephi and ending with the Book of Moroni, with the prophet Moroni being the final contributor to the canon.
The Mormon church claims that its content was “written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation” (1). Joseph Smith, the 19th century founder of the Mormon religion, remarked that it was the “most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (2). It was eventually published in 1830 as The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi.
Importantly, the BoM is not the only scripture used by the Mormons, although it was the first of the several used by the Mormon church. Additional texts include the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of writings containing doctrine and prophecy, and the Pearl of Great Price. The Pearl of Great Price, derived from Jesus parable of the pearl in Matthew 13, includes some biographical details of Smith’s life, Smith’s retranslations of certain parts of Matthew’s gospel, commentaries, a story of Abraham’s early life based on a translation of an Egyptian papyrus, and several articles of faith. Also included as part of holy scripture is the King James version of the Bible. For Mormons, the Bible is viewed as usable but suspect due to its many errors and omissions as a result of its transmission process, and that it is foolish for people to believe the Bible alone is sufficient (2 Nephi 29:6). Mormons believe that the the BoM includes details and truths missing from the Bible.
Origin of The Book of Mormon
According Joseph Smith, the BoM was an ancient native-American record written on hidden golden plates. He claimed that he was guided to these tablets buried on a hill, and that God assisted him in translating them from Reformed Egyptian into English. According to the story it was a man named Moroni who had initially buried the book on the hill and then returned in the year 1827 as an angel to guide Smith to them. Moroni, according to the BoM, was the son of Mormon (after whom the BoM is named), a military commander, prophet, and last remaining survivor of the Nephites of the Americas. He also claimed to have had revelations of Jesus Christ who provided him with visions of the future (Mormon 8:35). As an angel, Moroni instructed Smith to translate the plates and use them for the restoration of the true church of Jesus Christ. According to Mormon belief, God re-established the early Christian Church as found in the New Testament through Joseph Smith, and they therefore believe that their Church is the “only true and living church” because divine authority was restored to it through Smith.
The BoM chronicles a story of ancient inhabitants of the Americas. It tells of how a people, under the guidance of God and several centuries prior to the time of Jesus Christ in the 1st century, were led by a man named Lehi from Jerusalem to the Western Hemisphere. Lehi, an Israelite of the tribe of Manasseh, is told by God that Jerusalem would be destroyed (which occurred shortly after when the Babylonians attacked the city), that he should flee with his family, and that he would be led to a promised land. The group traveled across the Arabian peninsula and arrived at the Arabian Sea where they built ships on which they sailed to the New World (1 Nephi 18:23). In the New World, and after the death of Lehi, disagreement and disharmony in the population resulted in fragmentation of family groups which then subsequently split and evolved into two civilizations, the Nephites and the Lamanites (3). Those who joined with the Lamanites followed the eldest son Laman, and those who joined the Nephites were followers of the righteous, younger son Nephi. These two civilizations battled each other, and the Nephites, being less in number, migrated north (4). It is within this context that the BoM alleges the resurrected Jesus Christ visited the people in the New World (3 Nephi 11), as just after the time of Christ’s crucifixion in the 1st century, Christ appeared to the surviving Lamanites and Nephites. This appearance was followed by a period of 200 years of peace and harmony, after which the people broke apart into factions once again, the Lamanites and Nephites. The Nephites are finally destroyed by the Lamanites in 385 AD, and Mormons believe that the surviving Lamanite people are among the ancestors of the American Indians.
The BoM chronicles two other civilizations. The Jaredites (Book of Ether), who were on the scene prior to Levi’s arrival in the New World, were led by a man named Jared who emigrated from the Tower of Babel to the Americas a few thousand years prior to Levi’s arrival roughly in 600 BC. The Mulekites are another, which are claimed to have their origins in Mulek, the surviving son of Zedekiah who fled from his homeland to the Americas (Helaman 6:10; Omni 1:16).
The Book of Mormon Has the Ability to Draw People to Jesus Christ
The BoM claims to be another witness of Jesus Christ and refers to him frequently throughout (5). There are over 101 names or titles given to Christ in the BoM, and Christ’s appearance to the people of the Americas after his resurrection is considered the crowning event recorded in it (6). Mormons claim that the BoM has a continual influence on the lives of millions of people around the world by bringing them closer to Jesus Christ (7). Becoming a Mormon and believing in the teachings of the BoM, people will make decisions that will ultimately improve their lives and bring them closer to God, lift sadness, uncertainty, and fear, offer purpose and direction, and give people evidence that God is still “a God of miracles” (Mormon 9:10). The BoM is also personal given that it answers questions, provides hope, and solidifies spiritual strength in people.
Apologetic Efforts to Support the Book of Mormon
Printed in the front of the BoM are the testimonies of the “witnesses” (“The Testimony of Three Witnesses” and “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses”) who allegedly saw Joseph Smith translating the BoM from the claimed golden plates. These testimonies constitute sufficient evidence for believing the Book of Mormon is of divine origin. However, strong criticisms have challenged the reliability and trustworthiness of the eyewitness. Additionally, the story of the retrieval of the golden plates is suspicious and stretches credulity on closer analysis. However, Smith undoubtedly possessed some kind of object of which he claimed were the plates, although in almost all instances the object was concealed from the view of others, and often behind a cloth, placed in a box, or hidden behind a curtain. But these difficulties aside, it remains that a study of academic historians and linguists reveals that the BoM hasn’t been viewed favorably in terms of its value as a historical record of people in the Americas (8). It is likely that the four civilizations mentioned in its narratives are fictional (9). Additionally, there are several major difficulties that need to be overcome if one were to ever consider it a reliable historical source, and this includes the problems of anachronisms (putting objects and animals in the wrong time periods and locations), DNA and linguistic problems (both of which show no connection of Native Americans to people from the Ancient Near East), and problems of archaeology. As a result, it is not particularly surprising, as I have discovered in my own time, that Mormons routinely refer to “Mormon scholars” as opposed to actual scholars.
Nonetheless, all considered, it would be difficult to deny that the BoM has had an incredible influence on people. As of 2011 over 150 million copies have been printed, its read by millions, and has featured in books, dramas, and films.
1. The Church of the Latter Day Saints. Introduction. Available.
2. The Church of The Latter-day Saints. The Most Correct Book. Available.
3. The Church of the Latter Day Saints. Introduction.
4. The Church of the Latter Day Saints. Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Available.
5. Black, S. 1987. Finding Christ through the Book of Mormon. p. 60-61.
6. Latter Day Light. 2018. 101 Names of Jesus Christ Found in the Book of Mormon. Available.
7. Mormon.org. What is the Book of Mormon? Available.
8. Givens, T. 2002. By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion. p. 132.
9. Givens, T. 2002. Ibid. p. 146-147.