What Is The Book Of Mormon?
The Book of Mormon is a religious text of the Latter Day Saint movement, which, according to Latter Day Saint theology, contains writings of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent from 600 BC to AD 421 and during an interlude dated by the text to the unspecified time of the Tower of Babel. It was first published in March 1830 by Joseph Smith as The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi. The Book of Mormon is one of the earliest of the unique writings of the Latter Day Saint movement, the denominations of which typically regard the text primarily as scripture, and secondarily as a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas. The majority of Latter Day Saints believe the book to be a record of real-world history, and many Mormon academics and apologetic organizations strive to affirm the book as historically authentic through their scholarship and research, but mainstream archaeological, historical and scientific communities do not consider the Book of Mormon to be a record of historical events.
According to Smith’s account and the book’s narrative, the Book of Mormon was originally written in otherwise unknown characters referred to as “reformed Egyptian” engraved on golden plates. Smith said that the last prophet to contribute to the book, a man named Moroni, buried it in the Hill Cumorah in present-day Manchester, New York, before his death, and then appeared in a vision to Smith in 1827 as an angel, revealing the location of the plates, and instructing him to translate the plates into English. Most naturalistic views on Book of Mormon origins hold that Smith authored it, whether consciously or subconsciously, drawing on material and ideas from his contemporary 19th-century environment, rather than translating an ancient record.
The Book of Mormon has a number of doctrinal discussions on subjects such as the fall of Adam and Eve, the nature of the Christian atonement, eschatology, agency, priesthood authority, redemption from physical and spiritual death, the nature and conduct of baptism, the age of accountability, the purpose and practice of communion, personalized revelation, economic justice, the anthropomorphic and personal nature of God, the nature of spirits and angels, and the organization of the latter-day church. The pivotal event of the book is the appearance of Jesus Christ in the Americas shortly after his resurrection. Common teachings of the Latter Day Saint movement hold that the Book of Mormon fulfills numerous biblical prophecies by ending a global apostasy and signaling a restoration of the Christian gospel. The book can also be read as a critique of Western society and contains passages condemning immorality, individualism, social inequality, ethnic injustice, nationalism, the rejection of God, revelation, and miraculous religion.
The Book of Mormon is divided into smaller books, titled after individuals named as primary authors or other caretakers of the ancient record the Book of Mormon describes itself as and, in most versions, is divided into chapters and verses. Its English text imitates the style of the King James Version of the Bible, and its grammar and word choice reflect Early Modern English. The Book of Mormon has been fully or partially translated into at least 112 languages.
According to Joseph Smith, he was seventeen years of age when an angel of God named Moroni appeared to him in 1823 and said that a collection of ancient writings was buried in a nearby hill in present-day Wayne County, New York, engraved on golden plates by ancient prophets. The writings were said to describe a people whom God had led from Jerusalem to the Western hemisphere 600 years before Jesus’ birth.[ (This “angel Moroni” figure also appears in the Book of Mormon as the last prophet among these people and had buried the record, which God had promised to bring forth in the latter days.) Smith said this vision occurred on the evening of September 21, 1823, and that on the following day, via divine guidance, he located the burial location of the plates on this hill and was instructed by Moroni to meet him at the same hill on September 22 of the following year to receive further instructions, which repeated annually for the next three years. Smith told his whole immediate family about this angelic encounter by the next night, and his brother William reported that the family wept and “believed all he [Joseph Smith] said” about the angel and plates.
Smith and his family reminisced that as part of what Smith believed was angelic instruction, Moroni provided Smith with a “brief sketch” of the “origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments … righteousness and iniquity” of the “aboriginal inhabitants of the country” (referring to the Nephites and Lamanites who figure in the Book of Mormon’s primary narrative). Smith sometimes shared what he believed he had learned through such angelic encounters with his family in what his mother Lucy Mack Smith called “most amusing recitals”.
In Smith’s account, Moroni allowed him to take the plates on September 22, 1827, four years after his initial visit to the hill, and directed him to translate them into English. Smith said the angel Moroni strictly instructed him to not let anyone else see the plates without divine permission.
As Smith and contemporaries reported, the English manuscript of the Book of Mormon was produced as scribes wrote down Smith’s dictation in multiple sessions between 1828 and 1829, with the dictation of the extant Book of Mormon completed in 1829 in between 53 to 74 working days. Descriptions of the way in which Smith dictated the Book of Mormon vary. Smith himself called the Book of Mormon a translated work, but in public he generally described the process itself only in vague terms, such as saying he translated “by the gift and power of God.” According to some accounts from his family and friends at the time, early on, Smith copied characters off the plates as part of a process of learning to translate an initial corpus. For the majority of the process, accounts describe Smith dictating the text by reading it as it appeared either on seer stones he already possessed or on a set of spectacles that accompanied the plates, prepared by the Lord for the purpose of translating. The spectacles, often called the “Nephite interpreters,” or the “Urim and Thummim,” after the Biblical divination stones, were described by witnesses as two clear seer stones bound together by a metal rim, and attached to a breastplate. Beginning around 1832, both the interpreters and the seer stone were at times referred to as the “Urim and Thummim”, and Smith sometimes used the term interchangeably with “spectacles”. Emma Smith’s and David Whitmer’s accounts describe Smith using the interpreters while dictating for Martin Harris’s scribing and switching to only using his seer stone(s) in subsequent translation. Grant Hardy summarizes Smith’s known dictation process as follows: “Smith looked at a seer stone placed in his hat and then dictated the text of the Book of Mormon to scribes”. Early on, Smith sometimes separated himself from his scribe with a blanket between them, as he did while Martin Harris, a neighbor, scribed his dictation in 1828. Later in the process, such as when Oliver Cowdery or Emma Smith scribed, the plates were left covered up in the open. During some dictation sessions the plates were entirely absent.
In 1828, while scribing for Smith, Harris, at the prompting of his wife Lucy Harris, repeatedly asked Smith to loan him the manuscript pages of the dictation thus far. Smith reluctantly acceded to Harris’s requests. Within weeks, Harris lost the manuscript. Lucy Harris is popularly thought to have stolen these initial manuscript pages. However, historian Don Bradley contests this as probable rumor from after the fact and hypothesizes a member of Harris’s extended family stole the pages. After the loss, Smith recorded that he 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 where he left off (in what is now called the Book of Mosiah), without retranslating what had been in the lost manuscript.
Smith recommenced some Book of Mormon dictation between September 1828 and April 1829 with his wife Emma Smith scribing with occasional help from his brother Samuel Smith, though transcription accomplished was limited. In April 1829, Oliver Cowdery met Smith and, believing Smith’s account of the plates, began scribing for Smith in what became a “burst of rapid-fire translation”. In May, Joseph and Emma Smith along with Cowdery moved in with the Whitmer family, sympathetic neighbors, in an effort to avoid interruptions as they proceeded with producing the manuscript.
While living with the Whitmers, Smith said he received permission to allow eleven specific others to see the uncovered golden plates and, in some cases, handle them. Their written testimonies are known as the Testimony of Three Witnesses, who described seeing the plates in a visionary encounter with an angel, and the Testimony of Eight Witnesses, who described handling the plates as displayed by Smith, and statements signed by them have been published in most editions of the Book of Mormon. Their accounts of the plates’ appearance tend to describe a golden-colored compilation of thin metal sheets (the “plates”) bound together by wires in the shape of a book. In addition to Smith and these eleven, several others described encountering the plates by holding or moving them wrapped in cloth, although without seeing the plates themselves.
The manuscript was completed in June 1829. E. B. Grandin published the Book of Mormon in Palmyra, New York, and it went on sale in his bookstore on March 26, 1830. Smith said he returned the plates to Moroni upon the publication of the book.
Theories of composition
No single theory has consistently dominated naturalistic views on Book of Mormon composition. In the twenty-first century, leading naturalistic interpretations of Book of Mormon origins hold that Smith authored it himself, whether consciously or subconsciously, and simultaneously sincerely believed the Book of Mormon was an authentic sacred history. Eyewitnesses said Smith never referred to notes or other documents while dictating, and Smith’s followers and those close to him “stress[ed] his ignorance” and insisted he lacked the writing and narrative skills necessary to consciously produce a text like the Book of Mormon. Some naturalistic interpretations have therefore compared Smith’s dictation to automatic writing arising from the subconscious. However, Ann Taves considers this description problematic for overemphasizing “lack of control over the content” when historical and comparative study instead suggests Smith “had a highly focused awareness” and “a considerable degree of control over the experience” of dictation.
Other theories of composition hypothesize Smith was able to draw inspiration from other nineteenth-century texts as frameworks or sources for the Book fo Mormon. Since the early-twentieth century, scholars have suggested Smith drew inspiration from View of the Hebrews (an exegetical-anthropological treatise which argued American Indians were descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel), since both associate American Indians with ancient Israel and describe clashes between two dualistically opposed civilizations (View as speculation about American Indian history and the Book of Mormon as its narrative). However, scholars have argued the connections between View and the Book of Mormon are relatively weak. Elizabeth Fenton explains the Book of Mormon “does not present the lost tribes of Israel as the ancestors of American peoples and is in fact explicit in its rejection of that theory” and ultimately heavily revises, rather than borrows, the Hebraic Indian theory.
Some texts and ideas that have been suggested as possible sources for the Book of Mormon precede the nineteenth century. For example, John L. Brooke hypothesized that sixteenth-century Radical Reformation sects such as Muggletonianism provided Smith with inspiration for the Book of Mormon. Brooke considers the Muggletonian belief in Adam and Eve having dual posterity split along the lines of good versus evil a potential inspiration for the oppositional kinship of the Nephites and Lamanites in the Book of Mormon. Historian Richard Bushman has critiqued Brooke’s work on Latter Day Saint religious origins, though, for making unwarranted claims of “causative influence that simply cannot be demonstrated.”
William L. Davis argues the Book of Mormon may be a creative reconfiguration of the 1678 Christian allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan, the “most read and memorized author of the late seventeenth century”. For example, the martyr narrative of Abinadi in the Book of Mormon shares a unique and complex matrix of descriptive language with Faithful’s martyr narrative in Pilgrim’s Progress. Other Book of Mormon narratives offer additional “creative engagement[s]” reworking story arcs in Pilgrim’s Progress. Davis argues in another publication that although Smith’s contemporaries emphasized his lack of training, he did receive some formal education as a lay Methodist exhorter and had additional opportunities for informal education. Furthermore, Smith had several years to prepare for his dictation of the Book of Mormon. Davis posits that after believing he had encountered an angel in 1823, Smith “carefully developed his ideas about the narratives” of the Book of Mormon for several years by making outlines, whether mental or on private notes, until he began dictating in 1828. Smith’s oral presentations about Nephites to his family were also an opportunity to work out ideas and practice oratory. In Davis’s interpretation, Smith believed the dictation he produced reflected an ancient, sacred history, but he assembled the narrative in his own words, as a “ubiquitous presence of nineteenth-century compositional techniques” and “sermonizing strategies” in the Book of Mormon’s text “point directly and specifically to Joseph Smith as the source and assembler of these narrative components.” Historian Thomas G. Alexander criticizes this hypothesis as being a speculative “defense of a theory” with insufficient evidence and contends there is “no evidence that Smith used laying down heads in translating the Book of Mormon.” Nevertheless, as Davis explains, figures in the Book of Mormon itself describe their preaching in terms of “heads” to be “touch[ed] upon” in further detail, suggestive of the technique of laying down heads.
In the nineteenth-century, a popular hypothesis was that Smith collaborated with Sidney Rigdon (a convert to the early Church of Jesus Christ whom Smith did not actually meet until after the Book of Mormon was published) to plagiarize an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spalding and turn into the Book of Mormon. Historians have considered the Spalding manuscript source hypothesis debunked since 1945, when Fawn Brodie thoroughly disproved it in her critical biography of Smith.
Most adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement consider the Book of Mormon an authentic historical record, translated by Smith from actual ancient plates through divine revelation, and this is the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the largest Latter Day Saint denomination.[
Smith said the title page came from the translation of “the very last leaf” of the golden plates, and was not his own composition. 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.”
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 the American continent before the immigration described in 1 Nephi. First 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 and writing the latter part of Mormon and the Book of Moroni).
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 appeared in the original 1830 edition and every official Latter-day Saint edition thereafter.
Main article: Book of Mormon chronology
The books from First Nephi to Omni are described as being from “the small plates of Nephi”. This account begins in ancient Jerusalem around 600 BC, telling 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. The book describes their journey across the Arabian peninsula, and then to a “promised land”, presumably an unspecified location in North or South America, 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, Third Nephi, and Fourth 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 Third Nephi is of particular importance within the Book of Mormon because it contains an account of a visit by Jesus from heaven to the people of the Book of Mormon sometime after his resurrection and ascension. The text says that during this 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 or section within the greater Book of Mormon dealing with events during Mormon’s life is also called the Book of Mormon. 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 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 much earlier people. The account describes a group of families who are led away from the Tower of Babel after it falls to the same “promised land” by a man named Jared and his brother, described as a prophet of God. These Jaredites then establish a society in the promised land, but after successive violent reversals between rival monarchs and faction, their society collapses before Lehi’s family arrive in the promised land.
The Book of Moroni then details the final destruction of the Nephites and the idolatrous state of the remaining society. It also includes significant doctrinal teachings and closes with Moroni’s testimony and an invitation to pray to God for a confirmation of the truthfulness of the account.
Interspersed throughout the narrative are sermons and orations by various speakers, making up just over 40 percent of the Book of Mormon. These passages contain doctrinal and philosophical teachings on a wide range of topics, from basic themes of Christianity and Judaism to political and ideological teachings. Some of the teachings found in the Book of Mormon reiterate themes common to nineteenth-century American Christianity such as describing the Bible as scripture and affirming covenantal theology. Other teachings are unique and distinctive, such as its descriptions of Jesus and the Atonement, rejection of original sin doctrine, and depiction of dialogic revelation.
See also: Godhead (Latter Day Saints)
As 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.” Jesus is mentioned every 1.7 verses on average and is referred to by one hundred different names.
Although much of the Book of Mormon’s internal chronology takes place prior to the birth of Jesus, prophets in the book frequently see him in vision and preach about him, and the people in the book worship Jesus as “pre-Christian Christians.” For example, the book’s first narrator Nephi describes having a vision of the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus, said to have taken place nearly 600 years prior to Jesus’ birth, and late in the book the narrator refers to converted peoples as “children of Christ”. By depicting ancient prophets and peoples as familiar with Jesus as a Savior, the Book of Mormon universalizes Christian salvation as being the same in all times and places, and it implies that even more ancient peoples were familiar with Jesus.
In the Book of Mormon, Jesus visits some early inhabitants of the Americas after his resurrection, and this event is often described as the climax of the book.[ During this ministry, he reiterates many teachings from the New Testament, re-emphasizes salvific baptism, and introduces the ritual consumption of bread and water “in remembrance of [his] body”, a teaching that became the basis for modern Latter-day Saints’ “memorialist” view of their sacrament ordinance (analogous to communion). Jesus’s ministry in the Book of Mormon has been compared to Jesus’s portrayal in the Gospel of John, as Jesus similarly teaches without parables and preaches faith and obedience as a central message.
The Book of Mormon depicts Jesus with “a twist” on Christian trinitarianism. Jesus in the Book of Mormon is distinct from God the Father, much as he is in the New Testament, as he prays to God while during a post-resurrection visit with the Nephites. However, the Book of Mormon also emphasizes Jesus and God have “divine unity,” and other parts of the book call Jesus “the Father and the Son” or describe the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as “one.” As a result, beliefs among the churches of the Latter Day Saint movement range between social trinitarianism (such as among Latter-day Saints) and traditional trinitarianism (such as in Community of Christ).
Distinctively, the Book of Mormon describes Jesus as having, prior to his birth, a spiritual “body” “without flesh and blood” that looked similar to how he would appear during his physical life. According to the book, the Brother of Jared lived before Jesus and saw him manifest in this spiritual “body” thousands of years prior to his birth.
Plan of salvation
The Christian concept of God’s plan of salvation for humanity is a frequently recurring theme of the Book of Mormon. While the Bible does not directly outline a plan of salvation, the Book of Mormon explicitly refers to the concept thirty times, using a variety of terms such as plan of salvation, plan of happiness, and plan of redemption. The Book of Mormon’s plan of salvation doctrine describes life as a probationary time for people to learn the gospel of Christ through revelation given to prophets and have the opportunity to choose whether or not to obey God. Jesus’ atonement then makes repentance possible, enabling the righteous to enter a heavenly state after a final judgment.
Although most of Christianity traditionally considers the fall of man a negative development for humanity, the Book of Mormon instead portrays the fall as a foreordained step in God’s plan of salvation, necessary to securing human agency, joy, growth, and eventual righteousness. This positive interpretation of the Adam and Eve story contributes to the Book of Mormon’s emphasis “on the importance of human freedom and responsibility” to choose salvation.
See also: Revelation in Mormonism
In the Book of Mormon, revelation from God typically manifests as “personalized, dialogic exchange” between God and persons, “rooted in a radically anthropomorphic theology” that personifies deity as a being who hears prayers and provides direct answers to questions. Multiple narratives in the book portray revelation as a dialogue in which petitioners and deity engage one another in a mutual exchange in which God’s contributions originate from outside the mortal recipient. The Book of Mormon also emphasizes regular prayer as a significant component of devotional life, depicting it as a central means through which such dialogic revelation can take place.
Distinctively, the Book of Mormon’s portrayal democratizes revelation by extending it beyond the “Old Testament paradigms” of prophetic authority. In the Book of Mormon, dialogic revelation from God is not the purview of prophets alone but is instead the right of every person. Figures such as Nephi and Ammon receive visions and revelatory direction prior to or without ever becoming prophets, and Laman and Lemuel are rebuked for hesitating to pray for revelation. In the Book of Mormon, God and the divine are directly knowable through revelation and spiritual experience.
Also in contrast with traditional Christian conceptions of revelations is the Book of Mormon’s broader range of revelatory content. In the Book of Mormon, revelatory topics include not only the expected “exegesis of existence” but also questions that are “pragmatic, and at times almost banal in their mundane specificity”. Figures petition God for revelatory answers to doctrinal questions and ecclesiastical crises as well as for inspiration to guide hunts, military campaigns, and sociopolitical decisions, and the Book of Mormon portrays God providing answers to these inquiries.
The Book of Mormon depicts revelation as an active and sometimes laborious experience. For example, the Book of Mormon’s Brother of Jared learns to act not merely as a petitioner with questions but moreover as an interlocutor with “a specific proposal” for God to consider as part of a guided process of miraculous assistance. Also in the Book of Mormon, Enos describes his revelatory experience as a “wrestle which I had before God” that spanned hours of intense prayer.
Like many other early adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement, Smith referenced Book of Mormon scriptures in his preaching relatively infrequently and cited the Bible more often, likely because he was more familiar with the Bible, which he had grown up with. In 1832, Smith dictated a revelation that condemned the “whole church” for treating the Book of Mormon lightly, although even after doing so Smith still referenced the Book of Mormon less often than the Bible. Nevertheless, in 1841 Joseph Smith characterized the Book of Mormon as “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of [the] religion”. Although Smith quoted the book infrequently, he was “absorbed into the world of the Book of Mormon” through its narrative content and conceived of his prophetic identity within the framework of the Book of Mormon’s portrayal of a world history full of sacred records of God’s dealings with humanity and description of him as a revelatory translator.
While they were held in Carthage Jail together, shortly before being killed in a mob attack, Joseph’s brother Hyrum Smith read aloud from the Book of Mormon, and Joseph told the jail guards present that the Book of Mormon was divinely authentic.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Book of Mormon is one of the four sacred texts accepted by Latter-day Saints, who call this scriptural canon the standard works. Church leaders and publications have “strongly affirm[ed]” Smith’s claims of the book’s significance to the faith. According to the church’s “Articles of Faith”—a document written by Joseph Smith in 1842 and canonized by the church as scripture in 1880—members “believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly,” and they “believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God,” without the translation qualification.
Up through the mid-twentieth century, the Book of Mormon’s significance to Latter-day Saints came more from its “status as a sign” than its specific content. Church leaders and missionaries emphasized it as part of a causal chain which held that if the Book of Mormon was “verifiably true revelation of God,” then it justified Smith’s claims to prophetic authority to restore the New Testament church. In addition to signifying Smith’s prophetic calling, the Book of Mormon also signaled the “restoration of all things”, ending what was believed to have been an apostasy from true Christianity. Early Latter-day Saints additionally tended to interpret the Book of Mormon through a millenarian lens and consequently believed the book portended Christ’s imminent Second Coming.
Latter-day Saints have also long believed the Book of Mormon’s contents confirm and fulfill biblical prophecies. For example, “many Latter-day Saints” consider the biblical patriarch Jacob’s description of his son Joseph as “a fruitful bough … whose branches run over a wall” a prophecy of Lehi’s posterity—described as descendants of Joseph—overflowing into the New World. Latter-day Saints also believe the Bible prophesies of the Book of Mormon as an additional testament to God’s dealings with humanity, such as in their interpretation of Ezekiel 37’s injunction to “take thee one stick … For Judah, and … take another stick … For Joseph” as referring to the Bible as the “stick of Judah” and the Book of Mormon as “the stick of Joseph”.
In the 1980s, the church placed greater emphasis on the Book of Mormon as a central text of the faith and on studying and reading it as a means for devotional communion with Jesus Christ. In 1982, it added the subtitle “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” to its official editions of the Book of Mormon. Ezra Taft Benson, the church’s thirteenth president (1985–1994), especially emphasized the Book of Mormon. Referencing Smith’s 1832 revelation, Benson said the church remained under condemnation for treating the Book of Mormon lightly.
Since the late 1980s, Latter-day Saint leaders have encouraged church members to read from the Book of Mormon daily. In an August 2005 message, church president Gordon B. Hinckley challenged each member of the church to re-read the Book of Mormon before the year’s end, and by 2016, “Increasing numbers of Latter-day Saints use[d] the [Book of Mormon] for private and family devotions.” The Book of Mormon is “the principal scriptural focus” of the church and “absolutely central” to Latter-day Saint worship, including in weekly services, Sunday School, youth seminaries, and more.
The church encourages those considering joining the faith to follow the suggestion in the Book of Mormon’s final chapter to study the book, ponder it, and pray to God about it. Latter-day Saints believe that sincerely doing so will provide the reader with a spiritual witness confirming it as true scripture. The relevant passage in the chapter is sometimes referred to as “Moroni’s Promise.”
Approximately 90 to 95% of all Book of Mormon printings have been affiliated with the church. As of October 2020, it has published more than 192 million copies of the Book of Mormon.
Community of Christ
The Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or RLDS Church) views the Book of Mormon as scripture which provides an additional witness of Jesus Christ in support of the Bible. The Community of Christ publishes two versions of the book. The first is the Authorized Edition, first published by the then-RLDS Church in 1908, whose text is based on comparing the original printer’s manuscript and the 1837 Second Edition (or “Kirtland Edition”) of the Book of Mormon. Its content is similar to the Latter-day Saint edition of the Book of Mormon, but the versification is different. The Community of Christ also publishes a “New Authorized Version” (also called a “reader’s edition”), first released in 1966, which attempts to modernize the language of the text by removing archaisms and standardizing punctuation.
Use of the Book of Mormon varies among members of the Community of Christ. The church describes it as scripture and includes references to the Book of Mormon in its official lectionary. In 2010, representatives told the National Council of Churches that “the Book of Mormon is in our DNA”. At the same time, its use in North American congregations declined between the mid-twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Also during this time, the Community of Christ moved away from emphasizing the Book of Mormon as a historically authentic text. Community of Christ president W. Grant McMurray “opened the door to considering the book more myth than history” in the late-twentieth century, and in 2001 he reflected, “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 the Community of Christ World Conference, church 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.” In keeping with this approach, there are “Tens of thousands” of members in some congregations outside North America, such as Haiti and Africa, who “have never used the Book of Mormon”. Some Community of Christ members with “more traditional-thinking” on the Book of Mormon have in turn “either left the church or doubled their efforts to bring the Book of Mormon back to the center of the theological and scriptural life of the church.”
Greater Latter Day Saint movement
Since the death of Joseph Smith in 1844, there have been approximately seventy different churches that have been part of the Latter Day Saint movement, fifty of which were extant as of 2012. Religious studies scholar Paul Gutjahr explains that “each of these sects developed its own special relationship with the Book of Mormon”. For example James Strang, who led a denomination in the nineteenth century, reenacted Smith’s production of the Book of Mormon by claiming in the 1840s and 1850s to receive and translate new scriptures engraved on metal plates, which became the Voree Plates and the Book of the Law of the Lord. William Bickerton led another denomination, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (today called The Church of Jesus Christ), which accepted the Book of Mormon as scripture alongside the Bible although it did not canonize other Latter Day Saint religious texts like the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. The contemporary Church of Jesus Christ continues to consider the “Bible and Book of Mormon together” to be “the foundation of [their] faith and the building blocks of” their church. Separate editions of the Book of Mormon have been published by a number of churches in the Latter Day Saint movement, along with private individuals and organizations not endorsed by any specific denomination.
Views on historical authenticity
Main article: Historicity 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
Mainstream archaeological, historical, and scientific communities do not consider the Book of Mormon an ancient record of actual historical events.[[ Principally, the content of the Book of Mormon does not correlate with archaeological, paleontological, and historical evidence about the past of the Americas. For example, there is no correlation between locations described in the Book of Mormon and known American archaeological sites. There is also no evidence in Mesoamerican societies of cultural influence from anything described in the Book of Mormon. Additionally, the Book of Mormon’s narrative refers to the presence of animals, plants, metals, and technologies that archaeological and scientific studies have found little or no evidence of in post-Pleistocene, pre-Columbian America. Such anachronistic references include crops such as barley, wheat, and silk; livestock like sheep and horses; and metals and technology such as brass, steel, the wheel, and chariots.
Furthermore, until the late-twentieth century, most adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement who affirmed Book of Mormon historicity believed the people described in the Book of Mormon text were the exclusive ancestors of all indigenous peoples in the Americas. However, linguistics and genetics proved that impossible. There are no widely accepted linguistic connections between any Native American languages and Near Eastern languages, and “the diversity of Native American languages could not have developed from a single origin in the time frame” that would be necessary to validate such a view of Book of Mormon historicity. Finally, there is no DNA evidence linking any Native American group to ancestry from the ancient Near East as a belief in Book of Mormon peoples as the exclusive ancestors of indigenous Americans would require. Instead, geneticists find that indigenous Americans’ ancestry traces back to Asia.
Despite this, most adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement consider the Book of Mormon to generally be historically authentic. Within the Latter Day Saint movement there are several apologetic groups and scholars that seek to answer challenges to Book of Mormon historicity in various ways. Most Book of Mormon apologetics is done by Latter-day Saints, and the most active and well-known apologetic groups have been the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS; now defunct) and FAIR (Faithful Answers, Informed Response; formerly FairMormon), both founded and operated by lay Latter-day Saints. Some apologetics aim to reconcile, refute, or dismiss criticisms of Book of Mormon historicity. For example, in response to linguistics and genetics rendering long-popular hemispheric models of Book of Mormon geography impossible, many apologists posit Book of Mormon peoples could have dwelled in a limited geographical region, usually either Mesoamerica or eastern North America, while indigenous peoples of other descents occupied the rest of the Americas. To account for anachronisms, apologists often suggest Smith’s translation assigned familiar terms to unfamiliar ideas. Other apologetics strive to “affirmatively advocat[e]” historicity by identifying parallels between the Book of Mormon and antiquity, such as the presence of several complex chiasmi, a literary form used in ancient Hebrew poetry and in the Old Testament.
Despite the popularity and influence of literature promoting Book of Mormon historicity among Latter-day Saint views, not all Mormons who affirm Book of Mormon historicity are universally persuaded by apologetic work, and some claim historicity more modestly, such as Richard Bushman’s statement that “I read the Book of Mormon as informed Christians read the Bible. As I read, I know the arguments against the book’s historicity, but I can’t help feeling that the words are true and the events happened. I believe it in the face of many questions.”
Although there is a “lack of specific response to” elements of the Book of Mormon that some Latter Day Saints consider evidence of ancient origins, when mainstream scholars do examine such they typically deem them “chance based upon only superficial similarities”. One critic has dubbed alleged parallels an example of parallelomania.
In response to challenges to the Book of Mormon’s historicity, some denominations and adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement consider the Book of Mormon a work of inspired fiction akin to pseudepigrapha or biblical midrash that constitutes scripture by revealing true doctrine about God, similar to a common interpretation of the biblical Book of Job. Many in Community of Christ hold this view, and the leadership takes no official position on Book of Mormon historicity while “Opinions about the Book of Mormon range from both ends of the spectrum” among members. Some Latter-day Saints consider the Book of Mormon fictional, although this view is marginal in the community at large. Church leaders and apologists frequently contend that “what is most fundamentally at stake in historicity is not the book’s status as scripture but Joseph Smith’s claims to prophetic authority.”
A few scholars propose considering the Book of Mormon an ancient and translated source text appended with modern pseudepigraphic expansions from Smith. Proponents hold that this model can simultaneously account for ancient literary artifacts and nineteenth-century influence in the Book of Mormon. However, the interpretation faces criticism “on multiple fronts” for either conceding too much to skepticism or for being more convoluted than straightforward historicism or unhistoricism.
Influenced by continental philosophy, a handful of academics argue for “rethink[ing] the terms of the historicity debates” by understanding the Book of Mormon not as historical or unhistorical (either factual or fictional) but as nonhistorical (existing outside history). Most prominently, James E. Faulconer contends that both skeptical and affirmative approaches to Book of Mormon historicity make the same Enlightenment-derived assumptions about scriptures being representations of external reality, and he argues a more appropriate approach might adopt a premodern understanding of scripture as capable of divinely ordering, rather than simply depicting, reality.
American Indian origins
In the 1800s, most early European Americans had a biblical worldview, and numerous attempts were made to explain the origin of the Native Americans biblically. From the sixteenth century through the early-nineteenth, a common belief was that the Jews, particularly the Lost Ten Tribes, were the ancestors of Native Americans. One of the first books to suggest that Native Americans were descended from Jews was written by Jewish-Dutch rabbi and scholar Manasseh ben Israel in 1650. The Book of Mormon provided theological backing to this proposition, and suggested the lost Tribes of Israel would be found in other locations throughout the world as well. The idea was especially popular in the nineteenth century, when the Book of Mormon was published; archaeologist Stephen Williams notes that “the idea of relating the American Indians to the Lost Tribes of Israel was supported by many at this time.”
Additionally, European settlers viewed the impressive earthworks left behind by the Mound Builder cultures and had some difficulty believing that the Native Americans, whose numbers had been decimated over the previous centuries, could have produced them. A common theory was that a more technologically advanced people had built them, but were overrun and destroyed by a more savage, numerous group. Some observers have suggested the Book of Mormon parallels works within the “mound-builder” genre pervasive in the nineteenth century. Historian Curtis Dahl wrote, “Undoubtedly the most famous and certainly the most influential of all Mound-Builder literature is the Book of Mormon (1830). Whether one wishes to accept it as divinely inspired or the work of Joseph Smith, it fits exactly into the tradition.” Others have argued the Book of Mormon does not comfortably fit the genre, such as historian Richard Bushman who wrote, “When other writers delved into Indian origins, they were explicit about recognizable Indian practices”, such as Abner Cole, who dressed characters in moccasins in his parody of the book. Meanwhile, the “Book of Mormon deposited its people on some unknown shore—not even definitely identified as America—and had them live out their history in a remote place in a distant time, using names that had no connections to modern Indians” and without including stereotypical Indian terms, practices, or tropes.
Critique of the United States
The Book of Mormon can be read as a critique of the United States during Smith’s lifetime. Historian of religion Nathan O. Hatch called the Book of Mormon “a document of profound social protest”, and Bushman “found the book thundering no to the state of the world in Joseph Smith’s time.” In the Jacksonian era of antebellum America, class inequality was a major concern as fiscal downturns and the economy’s transition from guild-based artisanship to private business sharpened socioeconomic disparity. Poll taxes in New York limited access to the vote, and the culture of civil discourse and mores surrounding liberty allowed social elites to ignore and delegitimize populist participation in public discourse. Ethnic injustice was also prominent, as Americans typically stereotyped American Indians as ferocious, lazy, and uncivilized. Meanwhile, Antebellum disestablishment and denominational proliferation could be seen as undermining religious authority through ubiquity as “the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently”, producing sectarian confusion that, for some, only obfuscated the path to spiritual security.
Against the backdrop of these trends, the Book of Mormon “condemned social inequalities, moral abominations, rejection of revelations and miracles, disrespect for Israel (including the Jews), subjection of the Indians, and the abuse of the continent by interloping European migrants.” The book’s narratives critique the “Nationalist puffery” of “bourgeois public sphere[s]” where rules of civil democracy silence the demands of common people. The Book of Mormon also “advocates the cause of the poor” “[a]gainst increasing wealth and inequality”, condemning acquisitiveness as antithetical to righteousness. The book’s Lamanites, whom readers generally identified with American Indians, at times were overwhelmingly righteous, even producing a prophet who preached to backsliding Nephites. The Book of Mormon declared natives to be the rightful inheritors to and leaders of the American continent, relegating European migrants to be “Gentiles … com[ing] onstage as interlopers”. According to the book, implicitly-European Gentiles had an obligation to serve the native people and join their remnant of covenant Israel or else face a violent downfall like the Nephites of the text. And although a “classic version of America’s past … makes a cameo appearance” in the Book of Mormon through a vision of Nephi, the Book of Mormon’s doctrine “contests the amalgam of Enlightenment, republican, Protestant, capitalist, and nationalist values that constituted American culture.” The Book of Mormon’s message can be read as rejecting American denominational pluralism, religious rationalism, capitalist individualism, and nationalist identity, calling instead for ecclesiastical unity, miraculous religion, communitarian economics, and universal society under God’s authority.
The Book of Mormon was dictated by Joseph Smith to several scribes over a period of 13 months, resulting in three manuscripts.
Although 13 months elapsed, the actual translation time was less than 65 actual days of translating.
The 116 lost pages contained the first portion of the Book of Lehi; it was lost after Smith loaned the original, uncopied manuscript to Martin Harris.
The first completed manuscript, called the original manuscript, was completed using a variety of scribes. Portions of the original manuscript were also used for typesetting. 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.
Only 28 percent 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’s archives.
The second completed manuscript, called the printer’s manuscript, was a copy of the original manuscript produced by Oliver Cowdery and two other scribes. 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. Shortly before his death in 1850, Cowdery gave the printer’s manuscript to David Whitmer, another of the Three Witnesses. In 1903, the manuscript was bought from Whitmer’s grandson by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now known as the Community of Christ. On September 20, 2017, the LDS Church purchased the manuscript from the Community of Christ at a reported price of $35 million. The printer’s manuscript is now the earliest surviving complete copy of the Book of Mormon. The manuscript was imaged in 1923 and was recently made available for viewing online.
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 Smith to further correct errors printed in the 1830 and 1837 versions of the Book of Mormon for the 1840 printing of the book.
Ownership history: Book of Mormon printer’s manuscript
In the late-19th century the extant portion of the printer’s manuscript remained with the family of David Whitmer, who had been a principal founder of the Latter Day Saints and who, by the 1870s, led the Church of Christ (Whitmerite). During the 1870s, according to the Chicago Tribune, the LDS Church unsuccessfully attempted to buy it from Whitmer for a record price. Church president Joseph F. Smith refuted this assertion in a 1901 letter, believing such a manuscript “possesses no value whatever.” In 1895, Whitmer’s grandson George Schweich inherited the manuscript. By 1903, Schweich had mortgaged the manuscript for $1,800 and, needing to raise at least that sum, sold a collection including 72-percent of the book of the original printer’s manuscript (John Whitmer’s manuscript history, parts of Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible, manuscript copies of several revelations, and a piece of paper containing copied Book of Mormon characters) to the RLDS Church (now the Community of Christ) for $2,450, with $2,300 of this amount for the printer’s manuscript. The LDS Church had not sought to purchase the manuscript.
In 2015, this remaining portion was published by the Church Historian’s Press in its Joseph Smith Papers series, in Volume Three of “Revelations and Translations”; and, in 2017, the church bought the printer’s manuscript for US$35,000,000.
Chapter and verse notation systems
The original 1830 publication did not have verse markers, although the individual books were divided into relatively long chapters. Just as the Bible’s present chapter and verse notation system is a later addition of Bible publishers to books that were originally solid blocks of undivided text, the chapter and verse markers within the books of the Book of Mormon are conventions, not part of the original text.
Publishers from different factions of the Latter Day Saint movement have published different chapter and verse notation systems. The two most significant are the LDS system, introduced in 1879, and the RLDS system, which is based on the original 1830 chapter divisions.
The RLDS 1908 edition, RLDS 1966 edition, the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) edition, and Restored Covenant editions use the RLDS system while most other current editions use the LDS system.
The Book of Mormon is currently printed by the following publishers:
|Church publishers||Year||Titles and notes|
|The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints||1981||The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. New introductions, chapter summaries, and footnotes. 1920 edition errors corrected based on original manuscript and 1840 edition. Updated in a revised edition in 2013.|
|Community of Christ||1966||“Revised Authorized Version”, based on 1908 Authorized Version, 1837 edition and original manuscript. Notable for the omission of repetitive “it came to pass” phrases.|
|The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite)||2001||Compiled by a committee of Apostles. It uses the chapter and verse designations from the 1879 LDS edition.|
|Church of Christ with the Elijah Message||1957||The Record of the Nephites, “Restored Palmyra Edition”. 1830 text with the 1879 LDS edition’s chapters and verses.|
|Church of Christ (Temple Lot)||1990||Based on 1908 RLDS edition, 1830 edition, printer’s manuscript, and corrections by church leaders.|
|Fellowships of the remnants||2019||Based on Joseph Smith’s last personally-updated 1840 version, with revisions per Denver Snuffer Jr. Distributed jointly with the New Testament, in a volume called the “New Covenants”.|
|Richard Drew||1992||Photo-enlarged facsimile of the 1840 edition|
|Other publishers||Year||Titles and notes|
|Herald Heritage||1970||Facsimile of the 1830 edition.|
|Zarahemla Research Foundation||1999||The Book of Mormon: Restored Covenant Edition. Text from Original and Printer’s Manuscripts, in poetic layout.|
|Bookcraft||1999||The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families. Large print with numerous visuals and explanatory notes.|
|University of Illinois Press||2003||The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition. The text of the 1920 LDS edition reformatted into paragraphs and poetic stanzas and accompanied by some footnotes.|
|Doubleday||2006||The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Text from the LDS edition without footnotes. First Doubleday edition was in 2004.|
|Experience Press||2006||Reset type matching the original 1830 edition in word, line and page. Fixed typographical errors.|
|Stratford Books||2006||Facsimile reprint of 1830 edition.|
|Penguin Classics||2008||Paperback with 1840 text.|
|Yale University Press||2009||The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text. Joseph Smith’s dictated text with hundreds of corrections from Royal Skousen’s study of the original and printer’s manuscripts.|
|The Olive Leaf Foundation||2017||A New Approach To Studying The Book Of Mormon. This contains the complete text of the 1981 edition, but with more modern text formatting. Cross-references and footnotes are replaced by the authors’ own marginal notes, and chapter and verse breaks are also removed.|
|Neal A. Maxwell Institute||2018||The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Maxwell Institute Study Edition. Text from the church’s 1981 and 2013 editions reformatted into paragraphs and poetic stanzas. Selected textual variants discovered in the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project appear in footnotes.|
|Digital Legend Press||2018||Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon|
The following non-current editions marked major developments in the text or reader’s helps printed in the Book of Mormon.
|Publisher||Year||Titles and notes|
|E. B. Grandin||1830||“First edition” in Palmyra. Based on printer’s manuscript copied from original manuscript.|
|Pratt and Goodson||1837||“Second edition” in Kirtland. Revision of first edition, using the printer’s manuscript with emendations and grammatical corrections.|
|Ebenezer Robinson and Smith||1840||“Third edition” in Nauvoo. Revised by Joseph Smith in comparison to the original manuscript. Facsimiles of an original 1840 edition.|
|Young, Kimball and Pratt||1841||“First European edition”. 1837 reprint with British spellings. Future LDS editions descended from this, not the 1840 edition.|
|Joseph Smith Jr.||1842||“Fourth American edition” in Nauvoo. A reprint of the 1840 edition. Facsimiles of an original 1842 edition.|
|Franklin D. Richards||1852||“Third European edition”. Edited by Richards. Introduced primitive verses (numbered paragraphs).|
|James O. Wright||1858||Unauthorized reprinting of 1840 edition. Used by the early RLDS Church in 1860s.|
|Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints||1874||First RLDS edition. 1840 text with verses.|
|Deseret News||1879||Edited by Orson Pratt. Introduced footnotes, new verses, and shorter chapters.|
|Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints||1908||“Authorized Version”. New verses and corrections based on printer’s manuscript.|
|The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints||1920||Edited by James E. Talmage. Added introductions, double columns, chapter summaries, new footnotes, pronunciation guide.|
The following versions are published online:
|Online editions||Year||Description and notes|
|Restoration Edition “New Covenants”||2019||The New Testament and Book of Mormon are published in one book. “It is not the will of the Lord to print any of the new Translation in the [Evening and Morning] Star; but when it is published, it will all go to the world together, in a volume by itself; and the New Testament and the Book of Mormon will be printed together.”– Joseph Smith Jr. Letter, April 21, 1833. Also available in PDF|
|The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ internet edition||2013||Official Internet edition of the church’s edition of the Book of Mormon.|
|The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ audio edition||1994||Official audio edition of the church’s edition of the Book of Mormon in mp3 audio format, 32 kbit/s|
Although some earlier unpublished studies had been prepared, not until the early 1970s was true textual criticism applied to the Book of Mormon. At that time BYU Professor Ellis Rasmussen and his associates were asked by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) to begin preparation for a new edition of its scriptures. One aspect of that effort entailed digitizing the text and preparing appropriate footnotes, another aspect required establishing the most dependable text. To that latter end, Stanley R. Larson (a Rasmussen graduate student) set about applying modern text critical standards to the manuscripts and early editions of the Book of Mormon as his thesis project—which he completed in 1974. Larson carefully examined the original manuscript (the one dictated by Joseph Smith to his scribes) and the printer’s manuscript (the copy Oliver Cowdery prepared for the printer in 1829–1830), and compared them with the first, second, and third editions of the Book of Mormon; this was done to determine what sort of changes had occurred over time and to make judgments as to which readings were the most original. Larson proceeded to publish a set of well-argued articles on the phenomena which he had discovered. Many of his observations were included as improvements in the church’s 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon.
By 1979, with the establishment of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) as a California non-profit research institution, an effort led by Robert F. Smith began to take full account of Larson’s work and to publish a critical text of the Book of Mormon. Thus was born the FARMS Critical Text Project which published the first volume of the three-volume Book of Mormon Critical Text in 1984. The third volume of that first edition was published in 1987, but was already being superseded by a second, revised edition of the entire work, greatly aided through the advice and assistance of a team that included Yale doctoral candidate Grant Hardy, Dr. Gordon C. Thomasson, Professor John W. Welch (the head of FARMS), and Professor Royal Skousen. However, these were merely preliminary steps to a far more exacting and all-encompassing project.
In 1988, with that preliminary phase of the project completed, Skousen took over as editor and head of the FARMS Critical Text of the Book of Mormon Project and proceeded to gather still scattered fragments of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon and to have advanced photographic techniques applied to obtain fine readings from otherwise unreadable pages and fragments. He also closely examined the printer’s manuscript (then owned by RLDS Church) for differences in types of ink or pencil, in order to determine when and by whom they were made. He also collated the various editions of the Book of Mormon down to the present to see what sorts of changes have been made through time.
Skousen and the Critical Text Project have published complete transcripts of the Original and Printer’s Manuscripts (volumes I and II), parts of a history of the text (volume III), and a six-part analysis of textual variants (volume IV). The remainder of the eigh-part history of the text and a complete electronic collation of editions and manuscripts (volumes 5 of the Project) remain forthcoming. In 2009, Yale University published an edition of the Book of Mormon which incorporates all aspects of Skousen’s research.
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. Latter-day Saint scholars view the changes as superficial, done to clarify the meaning of the text.
The Latter-day Saints version of the Book of Mormon has been translated into 83 languages and selections 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 percent of Latter-day Saints and 87 percent of the world’s total population.
Translations into languages without a tradition of writing (e.g., Kaqchikel, Tzotzil) have been published as audio recordings and as transliterations with Latin characters. Translations into American Sign Language are available as video recordings.
Typically, translators are Latter-day Saints who are employed by the church and translate the text from the original English. Each manuscript is reviewed several times before it is approved and published.
In 1998, the church stopped translating selections from the Book of Mormon and announced that instead, each new translation it approves will be a full edition.
Representations in media
Events of the Book of Mormon are the focus of several films produced by the LDS Church, including The Life of Nephi (1915), How Rare a Possession (1987) and The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd (2000). Depictions of Book of Mormon narratives in films not officially commissioned by the church (sometimes colloquially known as Mormon cinema) include The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1: The Journey (2003) and Passage to Zarahemla (2007).
Second Nephi 9:20–27 from the Book of Mormon is quoted in funeral service in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Family Plot.
In 2003, a South Park episode titled “All About Mormons” parodied the origins of the Book of Mormon.
In 2011, a long-running religious satire musical titled The Book of Mormon, written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone in collaboration with Robert Lopez, premiered on Broadway, winning nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Its London production won the Olivier Award for best musical. Although it is titled The Book of Mormon, the musical does not depict Book of Mormon events, although characters do make references to the content of the Book of Mormon. Its plot tells an original story about Latter-day Saint missionaries in the twenty-first century.
In 2019, the church began producing a series of live-action adaptations of various stories within the Book of Mormon, titled Book of Mormon Videos, which it distributed on its website and YouTube channel.
The LDS Church distributes free copies of the Book of Mormon, and it reported in 2011 that 150 million copies of the book have been printed since its initial publication.
The initial printing of the Book of Mormon in 1830 produced 5000 copies. The 50 millionth copy was printed in 1990, with the 100 millionth following in 2000 and reaching 150 million in 2011.
In October 2020, the church announced it had printed over 192 million copies of the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon has occasionally been analyzed in a non-religious context for its literary merits.
The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James’s translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel — half modern glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern — which was about every sentence or two — he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as “exceeding sore,” “and it came to pass,” etc., and made things satisfactory again. “And it came to pass” was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.— Mark Twain, Roughing It, Chapter XVI
Non-Mormons attempting psychiatric analyses [of Joseph Smith] have been content to pin a label upon the youth and have ignored his greatest creative achievement because they found it dull. Dull it is, in truth, but not formless, aimless, or absurd. Its structure shows elaborate design, its narrative is spun coherently, and it demonstrates throughout a unity of purpose. Its matter is drawn directly from the American frontier, from the impassioned revivalist sermons, the popular fallacies about Indian origin, and the current political crusades.— Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, (New York, 1945), pp. 68-69
Terryl Givens wrote,
Searching for literary wonders in the Book of Mormon is a bit like seeking lyrical inspiration in the books of Chronicles or Judges. The Book of Mormon is a work of substantial complexity, however, with numerous well-spun narratives subsumed with a larger comprehensive vision. There is a neat symmetry to the Bible as we have received it.
Grant Hardy wrote,
The Book of Mormon began as 588 densely printed pages in 1830, and the current official edition (reformatted with substantial grammatical editing) still runs to 531 pages. In some ways this is surprising. If the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon were to function as a sign—as tangible evidence that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God—that mission could have been accomplished much more concisely. A fifty page book delivered by an angel is no less miraculous than a thick volume; it’s the heavenly messenger part that makes it hard to believe.
True or not, the Book of Mormon is a powerful epic written on a grand scale with a host of characters, a narrative of human struggle and conflict, of divine intervention, heroic good and atrocious evil, of prophecy, morality, and law. Its narrative structure is complex. The idiom is that of the King James Version, which most Americans assumed to be appropriate for divine revelation…. The Book of Mormon should rank among the great achievements of American literature, but it has never been accorded the status it deserves, since Mormons deny Joseph Smith’s authorship, and non-Mormons, dismissing the work as a fraud, have been more likely to riducule than to read it.— Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848, Pg. 314
In 2019, Oxford University published Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon.
⇒ Click to continue to read The Book of Mormon
- The Book of Mormon 1 (INTRODUCTION, Introduction and Witnesses, The Testimony of the Three Witnesses, The Testimony of the Eight Witnesses, TESTIMONY OF THE PROPHET JOSEPH SMITH, A Brief Explanation about the Book of Mormon, The First Book of Nephi, The Second Book of Nephi, The Book of Jacob, The Book of Enos, The Book of Jarom, The Book of Omni, The Words of Mormon, Words of Mormon 1)
- The Book of Mormon 2 (The Book of Mosiah, The Book of Alma)
- The Book of Mormon 3 (The Book of Helaman, Third Nephi, Fourth Nephi, The Book of Mormon, The Book of Ether, The Book of Moroni)
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia