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Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon is a sacred text of Mormonism first published in Palmyra, New York, USA, in March 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr. The book's self-declared main purpose is to testify of Jesus Christ, through the writings of ancient American prophets. It asserts that its principal author was the prophet Mormon, who compiled most of its contents in the 4th century A.D., and that Smith later translated the record by divine inspiration via a Urim and Thummim. Other authorship theories propose that the book was an original or derivative work of fiction by Joseph Smith or one of his associates.
Along with the Bible, the Book of Mormon is esteemed as part of the scriptural canon of numerous churches that grew out of the religious movement begun by Joseph Smith, Jr., sometimes called the Latter Day Saint movement. It is one of the four books of scripture accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - along with the King James version of the Holy Bible, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants.
Contents of the Book of Mormon
The book's organization
- The First Book of Nephi: His Reign and Ministry text
- The Second Book of Nephi text
- The Book of Jacob: The Brother of Nephi text
- The Book of Enos text
- The Book of Jarom text
- The Book of Omni text
- Words of Mormon text
- The Book of Mosiah text
- The Book of Alma: The Son of Alma text
- The Book of Helaman text
- Third Nephi: The Book of Nephi, The Son of Nephi, Who Was the Son of Helaman text
- Fourth Nephi: The Book of Nephi, Who Is the Son of Nephi, One of the Disciples of Jesus Christ text
- The Book of Mormon text
- The Book of Ether text
- The Book of Moroni text
For the most part, the book is arranged chronologically, with earlier books depicting earlier events. Notable exceptions include "Words of Mormon", which is an editorial insertion by the purported author Mormon, and the "Book of Ether", which is a purported translation of an even earlier work. The books of "1 Nephi" through "Omni" are first-person narratives, as are "Mormon" and "Moroni". The remainder of The Book of Mormon is purportedly a third-person historical narrative and commentary compiled by Mormon and Moroni.
In the version of The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the book also contains introductory text concerning the origins of the book, its contents and purpose. This material is divided as follows:
- Title Page text
- Introduction text
- The Testimony of Three Witnesses text
- The Testimony of Eight Witnesses text
- The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith text
- A Brief Explanation About The Book of Mormon text
Investigation of the book
Interestingly, the book makes reference to its own personal investigation on the part of the reader. This can be found in the 10th chapter of Moroni, versus 3 through 5. Other investigations into the validity of this book, and their results, are given further below.
Summary of the book's narrative
The opening page describes the book as follows: "Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.
An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also, which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven—Which is to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever— And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations—And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ."
1 Nephi begins in ancient Jerusalem around 600 BC, at roughly the same time as the Book of Jeremiah in the Bible. It tells the story of Lehi, his family, and several others as they are led by God to travel from Jerusalem to the Americas. The books from 1 Nephi to Omni recount the group's dealings from around 600 BC to around 130 BC, in which they grow to a sizeable number, and eventually split into two groups, the Nephites and the Lamanites. The information from the latter two thirds of this time span is extremely sparse.
The Words of Mormon written in AD 385 by Mormon, is a short introduction to the books of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, 3 Nephi and 4 Nephi. Mormon compiled The Book of Mormon (thus the name). He included the books 1 Nephi to Omni, then abridged large quantity of collected records detailing the national history from the end of Omni until his own time.
3 Nephi contains an account of the visit of the glorified, resurrected Jesus to the Americas after his ministry in Jerusalem. Here Christ gives much of the same instruction given in the Gospels of the Bible, and establishes an enlightened, peaceful society which endures several generations.
Mormon is an account of the events which occurred during Mormon's life, after the enlightened society of 3 and 4 Nephi had deteriorated yet again into warring groups.
Ether is an abridgment by Moroni, written shortly after the death of Mormon, his father. It describes a much earlier civilization beginning at the time of the Tower of Babel. In this account, a man named Jared, his family and others were led by God to the Americas before the languages were confounded and formed a civilization long before Lehi's family arrived in 1 Nephi.
Moroni then witnesses the final destruction of his people and the idolatrous state of the remaining society. He adds a few spiritual insights and mentions some important doctrinal teachings, as well as an invitation to pray to God for a confirmation of the truthfulness of the account.
The book's major themes
The purpose of The Book of Mormon as stated on its original title page "is to show the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord has done for their fathers" and to convince "Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself to all nations."
Testimony of Christ
Every prophet cited in the Book of Mormon teaches about Jesus Christ. The crowning event of the Book of Mormon is the visitation of Christ to the Nephites around the year 34 AD (3 Nephi 11-26).
From the time that Lehi left Jerusalem, 600 years was the predicted date of Jesus' birth. (1 Nephi 10:4, 19:8; See 3 Nephi 1) The first prophets in the Book of Mormon, Lehi and Nephi, saw the birth, ministry, and death of Christ in a vision. (1 Nephi 11) The name "Jesus Christ" was revealed to King Benjamin by an angel around the year 124 BC (Mosiah 3:8). At that point in time, the Nephites were called "the children of Christ" (Mosiah 5:7) The faithful members of the church in the time of Captain Moroni (73 BC) were called "Christians" by their enemies, because of their belief in Christ. (Alma 46:13-15) For nearly 200 years after the visitation of Christ, the land was filled with peace and prosperity because of the people's obedience to Christ's commandments. (4 Nephi) The great prophet general Mormon worked to convince the faithless people of his time of Christ. (360 AD) Moroni buried the plates with faith in Christ (See title page).
Major doctrinal teachings
The following teachings are especially notable in The Book of Mormon:
- Christ spoke to the Jews in Jerusalem of 'other sheep' who would hear his voice (see KJV Bible, St. John 10:16), which the Book of Mormon explains meant that the Nephites and other remnants of the Twelve Tribes of Israel throughout the world were to be visited by Christ after his resurrection. The various groups had their own prophets, and each recorded their history and dealings with God. These records will eventually be had among men, and will complement the Bible and Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 15:13-24, 3 Nephi 16:1-4, 2 Nephi 29:7-14).
- The land of the Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites, which is the American continent, is choice above all other lands (1 Nephi 2:20; 13:30; 2 Nephi 1:5; 10:19; Jacob 5:43; Ether 1:38, 42; 2:7; 2:10-12, 15; 9:20; 10:28; 13:2 LDS).
- Inasmuch as ye keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land, but inasmuch as ye keep not my commandments, ye shall be cut off from my presence (1 Nephi 2:20; 4:14; 2 Nephi 1:20; 4:4; Jarom 1:9; Omni 1:6; Mosiah 1:7; 2:22; 2:31; Alma 9:13; 36:1; 36:30; 37:13; 38:1; 48:15; 48:25; Helaman 3:20; 50:20; 3 Nephi 5:22 LDS).
- All mankind must be born again, for the natural man is an enemy to God until he yields to the holy spirit and is born of Christ, being changed to a state of righteousness, becoming his son or daughter (Mosiah 3:19; 27:25; Alma 22:15-18; Moroni 10:34 LDS).
- Between death and the resurrection the spirit returns to God and awaits the resurrection in either a place of rest or a place of darkness and torment. At the resurrection, the spirit and body shall be reunited, not one hair of the head shall be lost, and this resurrection shall come to all (Alma 11:42-45; 40:11-14, 23 LDS).
- Giving to the poor is a key facet of staying right with God (2 Nephi 9:30; Mosiah 4:26 LDS)
Dominant narrative themes
The following narrative themes are especially consistent in The Book of Mormon:
- The Pride Cycle. At the moment God blesses his people most, they forget him in pride until by tribulation they are brought to humility and repentance, which brings the blessings of God. Pride of heart because of exceeding riches unto wearing costly apparel and despising the poor is a beginning of wickedness (2 Nephi 26:20; 28:13; Jacob 2:13; Alma 1:6, 27, 32; 4:6-13; 5:53; 31:28; 32:2-3; Hel. 4:12; 6:39; 4 Nephi 1:24; Mormon 8:37 LDS).
Origin of the Book of Mormon
Joseph Smith's official account
According to Joseph Smith and his associates, this is how the records comprising The Book of Mormon were found and translated:
- The original record was engraved on thin, pliable sheets of metal with the appearance of gold and bound with rings at one edge, much like a modern book. At the end of Moroni's ministry (around AD 421), he hid these gold plates along with several other artifacts in a stone box.
- In 1823, Joseph Smith was directed by God to the place where the plates were stored. He was not immediately allowed to take them, but was eventually entrusted with them. With God's help he was able to translate the characters (some apparently related to 600 B.C. Egyptian with Hebrew influence (Mormon 9:32,34)) into English.
- The heavy plates were assumed to be of gold, and were consequently much sought-after by some monetarily inclined individuals. Joseph Smith and his family reported many attempts by others to find and take the plates.
- Joseph Smith was allowed to show the plates to several people, and these accounts are recorded in the front of The Book of Mormon as "The Testimony of Three Witnesses" and "The Testimony of Eight Witnesses". Most of the witnesses became disaffected with Joseph Smith or the church he founded, but did not disavow their statements on the origin of the book.
- After translation was complete, the angel received the plates from Joseph Smith, and no public account of their whereabouts has been made since.
See Golden Plates
Alternative explanations for the authorship of the Book of Mormon have arisen. Most of these explanations attack the concept of Joseph Smith receiving divine revelations. An incomplete list of alternative origins of The Book of Mormon is given below.
Smith as author
Smith wrote the Book of Mormon and just said he translated it. Although Hugh Nibley, a Mormon scholar, denies this as a possibility claiming that writing such a book in the given period of time is practically impossible and citing the claim that Joseph, an unlearned man, and his scribes never went back to rewrite or revisit a section previously written, others disagree. They feel that it could be possible to fabricate a story that is consistent and they say doing so with scribes could only make the task easier. This position tends to be the most common among Smith's critics.
Smith colleague as author
Someone else (Sidney Rigdon or some close friend of Smith) wrote the book and allowed Smith to take credit for it. Given that Smith was not particularly educated (he claims that he had nothing beyond a third grade education), this is more probable than Smith writing the book on his own. Both Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery were very educated and could have helped Smith fabricate the story. This would also help explain why different sections of the book appear to be written by different authors.
Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery both denied this claim, however. Their account of the method of translation is consistent, even with Smith's wife's account. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith knew of or had contact with Sidney Rigdon until after the Book of Mormon had been published.
Smith as plagiarist
Smith plagiarised the book either: from the manuscript of another book relating to early American inhabitants which was stolen and altered, from the actual plates themselves, having inserted material not in the original, or from an unpublished novel about early American inhabitants which Smith read and from which he used ideas to compose the book. The unpublished novel was written by one Solomon Spaulding. However, Spaulding's romantic novel has almost nothing in common to the Book of Mormon, with the exception of the story revolving around a group of seafaring Romans who sail to the New World around 2 millenia ago.
Similarities between the Book of Mormon and the Christian Bible have also led to speculation that he plagiarised from the Bible as well.
See Linguistics and the Book of Mormon for additional information and analysis on authorship.
Latter Day Saint views concerning the book's historicity
The dominant and widely accepted view among Latter Day Saints is that the Book of Mormon is a true account of the people whose history it documents. But not all Latter Day Saints consider the Book of Mormon to be a work of history. Some see the book as a work of inspired or divine fiction, similar to the Book of Job or the parables of Jesus Christ.
Since the time of its publication, it has been common among Latter Day Saints to view and explain the Book of Mormon as a comprehensive history of the American Indians. But in the light of careful research, which consistently shows the book and the archeological record speaking in much more limited terms, many Latter Day Saint scholars have suggested that the book is a history of only a small group of Native Americans in Central America. See Archaeology and the Book of Mormon.
Role of the Book of Mormon in Mormonism
Many find the role of the Book of Mormon in Mormonism enigmatic in that it does not receive the expected central focus indicated by its purported history, origin, and role in the beginning of Mormonism.
Apologetic Point of View
This phenomenon was decried in a revelation of Smith's that pronounced a condemnation on the "whole church" for treating the Book of Mormon "lightly" until they should "repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written, that they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom" (D&C 84:55-58 LDS) It was also decried repeatedly and unmistakedly in the late 20th century by Ezra Taft Benson, 13th President of the LDS Church.
Critical Point of View
Critics of Mormonism have also noted that the Book of Mormon does not seem entirely consistent with Mormon (LDS) doctrine. The book's Introduction states that the Book of Mormon "contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel," though it does not dictate some specific doctrines important to most Mormons (LDS) including the origin of God, Baptism for the dead and other temple work, and pre-existence. It also does not dictate the doctrine of plural marriage, or polygamy, which some 'fundamentalist' Mormons maintain (LDS Church members currently practicing are excommunicated). Some LDS members, however, point to a statement made by Joseph Smith to the effect that the only real doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are Faith, Repentance, and Baptism, and that all other doctrines and practices are but appendages to those tenets. They comment that no official statement on the origin of God has been made since it is unrelated to those three things; that no sanction is given of plural marriage since it is not a doctrine but a practice, rarely entered into and then only by commandment of God; that Baptism for the Dead is included in the doctrine of Baptism; and that knowledge of the preexistence has been given by divine revelation in our day, and increases the knowledge and understanding of Our Heavenly Father, but may not be included in the Book of Mormon precisely because our salvation is not contingent upon that knowledge. Other Mormons (especially outside the LDS Church) might agree to some extent with critics.
The following passages are some that appear to casual observers to conflict with Mormon (LDS) doctrines:
- There is only one God, says Mosiah 15:4. Critics argue that this means the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit cannot be three individuals, and man cannot be made like God. Most Mormons, however, interpret this passage as a reference to the unity of the Godhead, and specifically to the Father of Spirits (God the Father, or Our Father in Heaven), as the only object of worship, at the head of that presidency. Likewise, believers might add, to state that there is only one Pope would not imply that there had never been a Pope before, or that there would never be another. Nor would it imply that the Pope does not or cannot operate as the head of some group of leadership.
- God is static (Mormon 9:9: "the same yesterday, today, and forever"), so, critics argue, he could not have evolved from a man. Most Mormons believe this refers to God's constancy for the duration of time or his transcendence of time, rather than to his having never gone through any changes, growth, or development himself.
- Desiring many wives is "wicked" (Jacob 1:15). Critics argue that the doctrine of plural marriage contradicts the Book of Mormon. Few Mormons would argue that desiring multiple wives is good, but since the same passage states indirectly that God sometimes commands his people to have more than one wife, this passage can also be interpreted as being consistent with the doctrine of plural marriage.
- 27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
- 28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
- 29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
- 30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.
Book of Mormon Editions
The Book of Mormon is published today in the following forms:
- by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under the expanded title The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ
- for the Community of Christ by Herald House as Book of Mormon - Revised Authorized Version (1966) and Book of Mormon - Authorized Version (1908)
- by the Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite) as The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates taken from the Plates of Nephi — an original edition compiled by a committee made up of Bickertonite apostles Thurman S. Furnier, Charles Ashton and William H. Cadman
- for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) by Richard Drew, Burlington (Voree), Wisconsin — a photo enlarged facsimile of the 1840 edition
- by Zarahemla Research Foundation as The Book of Mormon - Restored Covenant Edition
- by the University of Illinois Press as The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition (2003)
- by Double Day Press under the title The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ (2004)
Some critics have suggested that some of the changes across editions significantly affect the meaning of the Book of Mormon and indicate an agenda inconsistent with the idea of a revealed or inspired book. Most of these changes have been discussed in official Church publications including the Ensign, Improvement Era , Millennial Star and Times and Seasons, and usually are consistent with early pre- and post-publication edits made by Joseph Smith. See Linguistics and the Book of Mormon.
For the first time since its original publication, a special edition of The Book of Mormon was printed by a trade publisher for commercial distribution. While it contains all the original text of the English edition of the Book of Mormon, it lacks the footnotes and cross-references of the church-published version. This hardcover edition of the book was made available on November 16 2004 by Doubleday.
- Archaeology and the Book of Mormon
- Golden Plates
- Linguistics and the Book of Mormon
- Record of the Nephites
- Reformed Egyptian
- Book of Mormon (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Edition)
- Book of Mormon (Community of Christ Edition)
- The Book Of Mormon for Palm OS
- The Book Of Mormon for Pocket PC
- Book of Mormon Evidences
- Skeptics Annotated Book of Mormon
- A Review of The Book of Mormon by Mark Twain
- KSL article on the new commercial version of the Book of Mormon
- Audio Book of Mormon in mp3 format (free download)
- Doubleday's page on their commerical version of the book
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