The Book of Mormon

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The Book of Mormon (henceforth abbreviated as BoM) is the sacred book of the Mormons. It is a collection of 15 books, on each of which is printed the name of its primary author. It is mostly organized in chronological sequence beginning with the 1 Nephi and ending with the Book of Moroni. The prophet Moroni is believed to be 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 nineteenth century founder of the Mormon religion, remarked that it is 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.

The BoM is not the only scripture used by the Mormons. 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 re-translations 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 sacred scripture is the King James version of the Bible. For Mormons, the Bible is viewed as usable but suspect because of its many errors and omissions. It is foolish for people to believe the Bible alone is sufficient (2 Nephi 29:6) and 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 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 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. Mormons believe that their Church is the “only true and living church” because divine authority was restored to it through Smith.

Its Narrative

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 birth of Jesus in the first 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 will be destroyed, that he should flee with his family, and that he will be led to a promised land. The group traveled across the Arabian peninsula and arrived at the Arabian Sea where they built ships to sail 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 the fragmentation of family groups. The people then 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 claims the resurrected Jesus visited the people in the New World (3 Nephi 11). Just after Jesus’ crucifixion in the first century, he 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 Nephites were finally destroyed by the Lamanites in 385 CE 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) were on the scene prior to Lehi’s arrival in the New World and were led by Jared. Jared emigrated from the Tower of Babel to the Americas a few thousand years prior to Lehi’s arrival around 600 BCE. The Mulekites were another people who are claimed to have their origin 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 Jesus in the BoM and his 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 (7). By being a Mormon and believing in the teachings of the BoM, believers 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 because it attempts to answers deep existential questions, provide hope, and solidify spiritual strength in its readers.

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 are claimed to have seen Joseph Smith translating the BoM from the golden plates. These testimonies constitute for Mormons sufficient evidence for believing the BoM is of divine origin. However, strong criticisms have challenged the reliability and trustworthiness of the eyewitnesses. Further, the story of the retrieval of the golden plates is suspicious and stretches credulity on closer analysis. It does seem to have been the case that Smith possessed some kind of object that he claimed to be the plates, although this object was always concealed from the eyes of others. It is said to have been concealed behind a cloth, placed in a box, or hidden behind a curtain.

The analysis of historians and linguists of the BoM reveals that it has not been viewed favourably in respect to its value as a historical record of people in the Americas (8). The four civilizations mentioned in its narratives are fictional creations (9). There are several major difficulties that need to be overcome if one wishes to consider the BoM as a reliable historical source. This includes the problem of anachronisms (putting objects and animals in the wrong time periods and locations), DNA and linguistic inconsistencies (both of which show no connection of Native Americans to people from the Ancient Near East), and problems of archaeology.

Legacy

It cannot be denied that the BoM has a significant influence on people. As of 2011, over 150 million copies have been printed, which means that it is read by millions of people around the world. The BoM has also featured in entertainment media, such as in books, dramas, documentaries, and films, which has taken it to new audiences.

References

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.

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