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The Book of Mormon is a sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement, it can be found online here. It was first published in March 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr. as The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi. According to Smith, the book was originally written in otherwise unknown characters referred to as "reformed Egyptian" on golden plates that he discovered in 1823 and then translated. The plates, Smith said, had been buried in a hill near his home in Manchester, New York, where he found them by the guidance of an angel, a resurrected ancient American prophet-historian named Moroni.

The Book of Mormon is the earliest of the defining publications of the Latter Day Saint movement. The churches of the movement typically regard the Book of Mormon not only as scripture, but as a historical record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, written by American prophets from perhaps as early as 2500 B.C. to about 400 A.D.

The Book of Mormon is divided into smaller books, titled after the individuals named as primary authors and, in most versions, divided into chapters and verses. It is written in English, very similar to the Early Modern English linguistic style of the King James Version of the Bible, and has since been fully or partially translated into 108 languages. The Book of Mormon has a number of original and distinctive doctrinal discussions on subjects such as the fall of Adam and Eve, the nature of the Atonement, eschatology, redemption from physical and spiritual death, and the organization of the latter-day church.

 

Origin

Joseph Smith Jr. said that when he was seventeen years of age an angel of God, named Moroni, appeared to him and told him that a collection of ancient writings, engraved on golden plates by ancient prophets, was buried in a nearby hill in Wayne County, New York. The writings described a people whom God had led from Jerusalem to the Western Hemisphere 600 years before Jesus’ birth. According to the narrative, Moroni was the last prophet among these people and had buried the record, which God had promised to bring forth in the latter days. Smith stated that he was instructed by Moroni to meet at the hill annually each September 22 to receive further instructions and that four years after the initial visit, in 1827, he was allowed to take the plates and was directed to translate them into English.

Smith's first published description of the plates said that the plates "had the appearance of gold," and were described by Martin Harris, one of Smith's early scribes, to be "fastened together in the shape of a book by wires." Smith called the engraved writing on the plates "reformed Egyptian." A portion of the text on the plates was also "sealed" according to his account, so its presumed content was not included in the Book of Mormon.

In addition to Smith's account regarding the plates, eleven others signed affidavits that they saw and handled the golden plates for themselves. Their written testimonies are known as the Testimony of Three Witnesses and the Testimony of Eight Witnesses. These affidavits are published as part of the introductory pages to the Book of Mormon.

Smith enlisted the help of his neighbor, Martin Harris (one of the Three Witnesses), who later mortgaged his farm to underwrite the printing of the Book of Mormon, as a scribe during his initial work on the text. In 1828, Harris, prompted by his wife, Lucy Harris, repeatedly requested that Smith lend him the current pages that had been translated. Smith reluctantly relented to Harris' requests. Lucy Harris is thought to have stolen the first 116 pages. After the loss, Smith recorded that he had lost the ability to translate, and that Moroni had taken back the plates to be returned only after Smith repented. Smith later stated that God allowed him to resume translation, but directed that he begin translating another part of the plates. In 1829, with the assistance of Oliver Cowdery, work on the Book of Mormon recommenced, and was completed in a remarkably short period (April-June 1829). Smith said that he then returned the plates to Moroni upon the publication of the book.

 

Allegations of fabrication

Critics of the Book of Mormon claim that the book was fabricated by Smithand/or portions of it were plagiarized from various works that were available to Smith, ranging from the King James Bible, The Wonders of Nature, View of the Hebrews, to an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spalding.

For a few followers of the LDS movement, unresolved issues of the book's historical authenticity and the lack of conclusive archaeological evidence have led them to adopt a compromise position that the Book of Mormon may be the creation of Smith, but that it was nevertheless created through divine inspiration. Most in the LDS movement believe Smith's position that it is a literal historical record.

 

Title

Smith stated that the title page, and presumably the actual title of the 1830 edition, came from the translation of "the very last leaf" of the golden plates, and was written by the prophet-historian Moroni. The title page states that the purpose of the Book of Mormon is "to [show] unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers;...and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”

 

Organization

The Book of Mormon is organized as a compilation of smaller books, each named after its main named narrator or a prominent leader, beginning with the First Book of Nephi (1 Nephi) and ending with the Book of Moroni.

The book's sequence is primarily chronological based on the narrative content of the book. Exceptions include the Words of Mormon and the Book of Ether. The Words of Mormon contains editorial commentary by Mormon. The Book of Ether is presented as the narrative of an earlier group of people who had come to America before the immigration described in 1 Nephi. 1 Nephi through Omni are written in first-person narrative, as are Mormon and Moroni. The remainder of the Book of Mormon is written in third-person historical narrative, said to be compiled and abridged by Mormon (with Moroni abridging the Book of Ether).

Most modern editions of the book have been divided into chapters and verses. Most editions of the book also contain supplementary material, including the Testimony of Three Witnesses and the Testimony of Eight Witnesses, which are statements by men who said they saw the golden plates with Joseph Smith and could verify their existence.

 

Chronology

Cover page of The Book of Mormon from an original 1830 edition, by Joseph Smith, Jr.

(Image from the U.S. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.)

The books from 1 Nephi to Omni are described as being from "the small plates of Nephi".This account begins in ancient Jerusalem around 600 BC. It tells the story of a man named Lehi, his family, and several others as they are led by God from Jerusalem shortly before the fall of that city to the Babylonians in 586 BC. The book describes their journey across the Arabian peninsula, and then to the promised land, the Americas, by ship. These books recount the group's dealings from approximately 600 BC to about 130 BC, during which time the community grew and split into two main groups, which are called the Nephites and the Lamanites, that frequently warred with each other.

Following this section is the Words of Mormon. This small book, said to be written in AD 385 by Mormon, is a short introduction to the books of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, 3 Nephi, and 4 Nephi. These books are described as being abridged from a large quantity of existing records called "the large plates of Nephi" that detailed the people's history from the time of Omni to Mormon's own life. The book of 3 Nephi is of particular importance within the Book of Mormon because it contains an account of a visit by Jesus from heaven to the Americas sometime after his resurrection and ascension. The text says that during this American visit, he repeated much of the same doctrine and instruction given in the Gospels of the Bible and he established an enlightened, peaceful society which endured for several generations, but which eventually broke into warring factions again.

The book of Mormon is an account of the events during Mormon's life. Mormon is said to have received the charge of taking care of the records that had been hidden, once he was old enough. The book includes an account of the wars, Mormon's leading of portions of the Nephite army, and his retrieving and caring for the records. Mormon is eventually killed in battle after having handed down the records to his son Moroni.

According to the text, Moroni then made an abridgment (called the Book of Ether) of a record from a previous people called the Jaredites. The account describes a group of families led from the Tower of Babel to the Americas, headed by a man named Jared and his brother. The Jaredite civilization is presented as existing on the American continent beginning about 2500 BC, - long before Lehi's family arrived in 600 BC - and as being much larger and more developed. The dating in the text is only an approximation.

The Book of Moroni then details the final destruction of the Nephites and the idolatrous state of the remaining society. It mentions a few spiritual insights and some important doctrinal teachings, and then closes with Moroni's testimony and an invitation to pray to God for a confirmation of the truthfulness of the account.

 

Doctrinal and philosophical teachings

A depiction of Joseph Smith's description of receiving the golden plates from the angel Moroni at the Hill Cumorah.

The Book of Mormon contains doctrinal and philosophical teachings on a wide range of topics, from basic themes of Christianity and Judaism to political and ideological teachings.

 

Jesus

Stated on the title page, the Book of Mormon's central purpose is for the "convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations."

The book describes Jesus, prior to his birth, as a spirit "without flesh and blood", although with a spirit "body" that looked similar to how Jesus would appear during his physical life. Jesus is described as "the Father and the Son". He is said to be:

"God himself [who] shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people...[b]eing the Father and the Son — the Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son — and they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth."

Other parts of the book portray the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as "one” Beliefs among the churches of the Latter Day Saint movement encompass nontrinitarianism (in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) to Trinitarianism (particularly among the Community of Christ).

In furtherance of its theme of reconciling Jews and Gentiles to Jesus, the book describes a variety of visions or visitations to some of the early inhabitants in the Americas involving Jesus. Most notable among these is a described visit of Jesus to a group of early inhabitants shortly after his resurrection. Many of the book's narrators described other visions of Jesus, including one by a narrator who, according to the book, lived thousands of years before Jesus, but who saw the "body" of Jesus' spirit thousands of years prior to his birth. In another vision, according to the book, a different narrator described a vision of the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus, including a prophecy of Jesus' name, said to have taken place nearly 600 years prior to Jesus' birth,

In the narrative, at the time of King Benjamin (about 130 BC), the Nephite believers were called "the children of Christ". At another place, the faithful members of the church at the time of Captain Moroni (73 B.C.) were called "Christians" by their enemies, because of their belief in Jesus Christ. The book also states that for nearly 200 years after Jesus' appearance at the temple in the Americas, the land was filled with peace and prosperity because of the people's obedience to his commandments. Later, the prophet Mormon worked to convince the faithless people of his time (360 A.D.) of Christ. The prophet Moroni is said to have buried the plates with faith in Christ. Many other prophets in the book also wrote of the reality of the Messiah.

Jesus spoke to the Jews in Jerusalem of “other sheep” who would hear his voice, which the Book of Mormon claims meant that the Nephites and other remnants of the lost tribes of Israel throughout the world were to be visited by Jesus after his resurrection.

 

Other distinctive religious teachings

On most religious issues, Book of Mormon doctrines are similar to those found in the Bible and among other Christian denominations. Among its distinctive theological interpretations are the following:

  • The Old Testament prophet Isaiah spoke of prophets who would "whisper out of the dust." The Book of Mormon interprets this as a reference to itself.
  • The Book of Mormon describes the Fall of Man as a prerequisite for procreation. "Adam fell that men might be, and men are, that they might have joy."

 

Teachings about political theology

The book delves into political and ideological themes, but places them within a Christian or Jewish context. Among these themes are American exceptionalism. According to the book, the Americas are portrayed as a "land of promise", the world's most exceptional land of the time. The book states that any righteous society possessing the land would be protected, whereas if they became wicked they would be destroyed and replaced with a more righteous civilization.

On the issue of war and violence, the book teaches that war is justified for people to "defend themselves against their enemies". However they were never to "give an offense," or to "raise their sword...except it were to preserve their lives." The book praises the faith of a group of former warriors who took an oath of complete pacifism, refusing to take arms even to defend themselves and their people. However, 2,000 of their descendants, who had not taken the oath of their parents not to take up arms against their enemies, chose to go to battle against the Lamanites, and it states that in the battle the 2,000 men were protected by God, and none of them died.

The book points out monarchy as an ideal form of government, but only when the monarch is righteous. However, the book warns of the evil that occurs when the king is wicked and therefore suggests that it is not generally good to have a king. The book further records the decision of the people to be ruled no longer by kings, choosing instead a form of democracy led by elected judges. When citizens referred to as "king-men" attempted to overthrow a democratically-elected government and establish an unrighteous king, the book praises a military commander who executed pro-monarchy citizens who had vowed to destroy the church of God and were unwilling to defend their country from hostile invading forces. The book also speaks favorably of a particular instance of what appears to be a peaceful Christ-centered theocracy, which lasted approximately 194 years before contentions began again.

The book supports notions of economic justice, achieved through voluntary donation of "substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor”. In one case, all the citizens held their property in common. Concern for the poor is portrayed as leading to collective wealth. However, when individuals within a society began to disdain and ignore the poor, to "wear costly apparel," and otherwise engage in wickedness for personal gain, such societies are repeatedly portrayed in the book as being ripe for destruction.

 

Religious significance

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Book of Mormon is one of four sacred texts or standard works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The other texts are the Bible (the King James Version), the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Church members officially regard the Book of Mormon as the "most correct" book of scripture, in that "a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book." This is, in part, because church members believe the Bible was the result of a multiple-step translation process and the Book of Mormon was not. Joseph Smith told of receiving a revelation condemning the "whole church" for treating the Book of Mormon and the former commandments lightly. Every church president since Joseph Smith has stressed the importance of studying the Book of Mormon along with the church's other standard works.

The Book of Mormon’s significance was reiterated in the late 20th century by Ezra Taft Benson, Apostle and 13th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In an August 2005 Ensign message, then LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley challenged each member of the church to re-read the Book of Mormon before the year's end. The book’s importance is commonly stressed at the twice-yearly general conference and at special devotionals by general authorities.

The church encourages discovery of the book’s truth by following the suggestion in the final chapter to study, ponder, and pray to God concerning its veracity. This passage is referred to as Moroni's Promise.

 

Community of Christ

The Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, views the Book of Mormon as an additional witness of Jesus Christ and publishes two versions of the book through its official publishing arm, Herald House. The Authorized Edition is based on the original printer's manuscript and the 1837 Second Edition (or Kirtland Edition) of the Book of Mormon. Its content is similar to the Book of Mormon published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the versification is different. The Community of Christ also publishes a 1966 "Revised Authorized Edition" which attempts to modernize some of the language.

In 2001, Community of Christ President W. Grant McMurray reflected on increasing questions about the Book of Mormon: "The proper use of the Book of Mormon as sacred scripture has been under wide discussion in the 1970s and beyond, in part because of long-standing questions about its historical authenticity and in part because of perceived theological inadequacies, including matters of race and ethnicity."

At the 2007 Community of Christ World Conference, President Stephen M. Veazey ruled out of order a resolution to "reaffirm the Book of Mormon as a divinely inspired record." He stated that "while the Church affirms the Book of Mormon as scripture, and makes it available for study and use in various languages, we do not attempt to mandate the degree of belief or use. This position is in keeping with our longstanding tradition that belief in the Book of Mormon is not to be used as a test of fellowship or membership in the church."

 

Greater Latter Day Saint Movement

There are a number of other churches that are part of the Latter Day Saint movement. Most of these churches were created as a result of issues ranging from differing doctrinal interpretations and acceptance of the movement's scriptures (the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price), to disagreements with the leadership of the original Church of Christ as formed by Joseph Smith or his successors. These groups all have in common the acceptance of the Book of Mormon as scripture. It is this acceptance which distinguishes the churches of the Latter Day Saint Movement from other Christian denominations. A number of churches in the Latter Day Saint Movement have published their own editions of the Book of Mormon, along with private individuals and foundations not endorsed by any specific denomination. The Book of Mormon has been published under alternate titles such as The Nephite Record and The Record of the Nephites.

 

Historical Authenticity

Main article: Historical Authenticity of the Book of Mormon

See also: Criticism of the Book of Mormon, Archaeology and the Book of Mormon, Genetics and the Book of Mormon, Linguistics and the Book of Mormon, Origin of the Book of Mormon, and Book of Mormon anachronisms

Most adherents of the LDS movement consider the Book of Mormon to be a historically accurate account. The archaeological, historical and scientific communities have in general been skeptical about the claims of the Book of Mormon. Critics of such tend to focus on four main areas:

  • The lack of correlation between locations described in the Book of Mormon and American archaeological sites.
  • References to animals, plants, metals and technologies in the Book of Mormon that archaeological or scientific studies have found no evidence of in post-Pleistocene, pre-Columbian America, frequently referred to as anachronisms. Items typically listed include cattle, horses, asses, oxen, sheep, swine, goats, elephants, wheat, steel, brass, chains, iron, scimitars, and chariots.
  • The lack of linguistic connection between any Native American languages and Near Eastern languages.
  • The lack of DNA evidence linking any Native American group to the ancient Near East.

Within the LDS movement, there have been many apologetical groups attempting to reconcile these apparent discrepancies. Among those apologetic groups, a great amount of work has been published by Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), and Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR), attempting to either prove the veracity of Book of Mormon claims, or countering arguments critical of its historical authenticity.

 

Manuscripts

The Book of Mormon was dictated by Joseph Smith to several scribes over a period of nearly two years, resulting in an original manuscript that was eventually printed into the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, minus the first 116 pages of the Book of Lehi, which were lost after Smith lent the uncopied manuscript to Martin Harris who gave them to his wife Lucy. These pages were never returned and are assumed to be lost. The original manuscript was then hand copied by Oliver Cowdery and two other scribes into a manuscript for the printer. It is at this point that initial copyediting of the Book of Mormon was completed. Observations of the original manuscript show little evidence of corrections to the text. Critical comparisons between surviving portions of the manuscripts show an average of two to three changes per page from the original manuscript to the printer's manuscript, with most changes being corrections of scribal errors such as misspellings or the correction, or standardization, of grammar inconsequential to the meaning of the text. The printer's manuscript was further edited, adding paragraphing and punctuation to the first third of the text.

The printer's manuscript was not used fully in the typesetting of the 1830 version of Book of Mormon, portions of the original manuscript were also used for typesetting. The original manuscript was used by Joseph Smith to further correct errors printed in the 1830 and 1837 versions of the Book of Mormon for the 1840 printing of the book. In October 1841, the entire original manuscript was placed into the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House, and sealed up until nearly forty years later when the cornerstone was reopened. It was then discovered that much of the original manuscript had been destroyed by water seepage and mold. Surviving manuscript pages were handed out to various families and individuals in the 1880s.  A total of only 28% of the original manuscript now survives, including a remarkable find of fragments from 58 pages in 1991. The majority of what remains of the original manuscript is now kept in the LDS Church Archives. The printer's manuscript is now the earliest complete surviving copy of the Book of Mormon, being nearly 100% extant; it is owned by the Community of Christ.

 

Textual Criticism

In 1989, scholars at Brigham Young University began work on a critical text edition of the Book of Mormon. Volumes 1 and 2, published in 2001, contain transcriptions of all the text variants of the English editions of the Book of Mormon, from the original manuscript to the newest editions. Volume 4, which is being published in parts, is a critical analysis of all the text variants. Volume 3, which is not yet published, will describe the history of all the English-language texts from Joseph Smith to today.

Differences between the original and printer's manuscript, the 1830 printed version, and modern versions of the Book of Mormon have led some critics to claim that evidence has been systematically removed that could have proven that Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon, or are attempts to hide embarrassing aspects of the church's past.

 

Non-English translations

The LDS version of the Book of Mormon has been translated into 83 languages, and selections of the Book of Mormon have been translated into an additional 25 languages. In 2001, the LDS church reported that all or part of the Book of Mormon was available in the native language of 99% of Latter-day Saints and 87% of the world's total population.

Translations into languages without a tradition of writing (e.g., Kakchiqel, Tzotzil) are available on audio cassette.

 Translations into American Sign Language are available on videocassette and DVD.

Typically, translators are members of the LDS Church who are employed by the church and translate the text from the original English. Each manuscript is reviewed many times before it is approved and published.

In 1998, the LDS Church stopped translating selections from the Book of Mormon, and instead announced that each new translation it approves will be a full edition.

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