Book of Mormon
|Scribblings of the divine|
The Book of Mormon is one of the four main holy scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its offshoots (the others being Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrines and Covenants, alongside the King James Version of the Bible), and by far the easiest one to get a hold of due to the LDS church's printing of vast numbers of inexpensive copies for proselytizing purposes. (PoGP and D&C are not quite so easy to find, though they're available for download from the LDS church's website.) It presents itself as a third Testament to the Bible and purports to tell the story of Israelite expatriates who fled Canaan and wound up in North America, some of whose descendants were witness to the appearance of the risen Jesus among Native American populations (said in Mormon theology to be the descendants, partially or as a whole, of some of these Israelite expats).
The currently produced edition of the book (which the following article refers to) is noticeably different from the original printing, to the point of having a markedly different theology. A replica of the 1830 edition is currently kept in print by Herald House, a publisher associated with the Community of Christ, and is easily found at LDS affiliated bookstores as well.
 Background and controversy
Church founder Joseph Smith, Jr. claimed to have translated it (from an otherwise-unattested language known as 'Reformed Egyptian', a rather odd language for a society of people with a historical enmity towards Egypt to write in) with the aid of a special pair of sacred glasses (identified with the Urim and Thummim of the ancient Israelite temple) from a series of inscribed gold plates found in upstate New York with the aid of an angel named Moroni, and to have obtained testimony of its truth from eleven of his best friends; however, despite this testimony (published in the front of every copy of the Book of Mormon printed), these seem to have been spiritual rather than physical testimonies. Many of those witnesses eventually defected from the Church, and Smith himself had long been known as a conman specializing in divination games involving "magic" stones. Smith claimed after an altercation with his wife over the translation that the plates had been taken back by an enraged Moroni, and the book finished from a second set of plates with similar content; no one other than Smith has ever been proven to have actually seen either set of plates.  You be the judge.
Though held in the highest esteem by the LDS church and its splinter groups (including the Community of Christ, the former Reorganized LDS church, which is otherwise largely liberal Protestant in its theology), it is accepted by no other church within Christendom. In addition, it does not agree at all with the accepted secular history of North American civilization, leading to some very interesting logical backflips on the part of LDS apologists and a distinct lack of interest from secular anthropologists and historians.
And it came to pass that an Israelite and his family did wander far to the east and got on a boat and sailed to a new land. And it came to pass that they were fruitful and multiplied, and had many sons and grandsons and whatnot. And it came to pass that all their offspring eventually split into two tribes, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. And it came to pass that the Nephites stayed true to God, and the Lamanites turned far from God and did do many wicked and sinful things, such as scalping enemies with their tomahawks, painting their faces with war paint, and putting feathers in their hair. And God did bless the Nephites who stayed true to Him with white skin, but the wicked Lamanites did He curse with dark reddish skin. And it came to pass that the Nephites and the Lamanites were perpetually at war for the next, oh, 600 or so pages of the Book of Mormon, until the wicked Lamanites did kill and scalp all the Nephites. And it then came to pass that Jesus decided to pay the Lamanites a visit anyhow and establish His church, so right after this same Jesus had just got finished doing His work halfway across the world, a new star appeared in the sky over North America, and then Jesus did appear and give a bunch of sermons to the Lamanites, mostly plagiarized verbatim from the King James Version of the four Gospels. And it came to pass that a prophecy was given, that a great prophet would later come to re-establish His church in North America, and his name would just happen to be Joseph Smith, blah blah blah blah. And it came to pass that things came to pass, yea, they did come to pass exceedingly, yea, they did come exceedingly to pass.
It's enough to put you to sleep, isn't it?
The Book of Jacob (third "Book" in the Book of Mormon) says, "Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you." So it is puzzling why Mormons are mostly Republicans.
The Book of Jacob also says, "Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none." So it is puzzling why the Mormons were polygamists, at least until the 1890s when they had to reverse the practice in order for Utah to join the Union.
 Literary style
The Book of Mormon seems to have been an intentional stylistic copy of the King James Bible, though generally a poor one. Author Mark Twain, in his book Roughing It, described it as "chloroform in print", and the book is loaded with filler phrases ("And it came to pass" is something of a signature phrase) that seem to serve no other purpose but to give the language an antiquarian feeling.
A peculiarity of the book is that many of the names of the characters are faux-Hebrew; that is, they appear to fit traditional English spellings of Biblical names but are not actually meaningful Hebrew. Many, such as "Mosiah", are apparently portmanteaux of names (i.e. "Moses" and "Isaiah"); others are apparently made up, often terminating in the pseudo-Hebrew suffix "-ihah". (At least one major name, Alma, is presented as a man's name, even though the Hebrew עלמה means "young woman".)
 Women in the Book of Mormon
Science fiction author Orson Scott Card (himself a Mormon) says:
"...women are virtually absent from the Book of Mormon. When they do manage to show up, they are rarely named. There are only three women who are actually of the culture of the Book of Mormon who are given names. One is Sariah, the mother of Nephi. Another is a harlot named Isabel, and the third is a servant woman named Abish.
None of the queens who show up in the story are mentioned by name. None of these writers ever mentions his own wife, and when women do show up in a specific role they're still almost never named. Nephi did not even bother to mention the name of the woman who saved his life by pleading for him in the desert."
Aside from these three women, only Mary the mother of Jesus, Eve, and Sarah the wife of Abraham are even mentioned by name in the entire Book of Mormon.
 Copyright and legal issues
While the name "Book of Mormon" is a trademark held by a holding company connected to the mainline LDS Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, the text itself is freely available in the original English from numerous sites and in several variations on the Internet (translations into other languages, however, have mostly come from within the LDS Church and may be covered by copyright); this article links to several, and the Wikipedia article on the book includes many more.
As mentioned above, the church makes available free copies of the Book of Mormon and the King James Bible to those considering joining the Church.  Pearl of Great Price and Doctrines and Covenants, not so much.
- scriptures.lds.org, the LDS Church's official online repository of works it recognizes as scripture (including PoGP and D&C)
- Project Gutenberg ebook
- Online BoM (Project Gutenberg mirror)
- Skeptic's Annotated Book of Mormon
- Mark Twain's book Roughing It in its entirety
- ↑ The Interactive Bible Warning, very web 1.0-y
- ↑ http://www.heraldhouse.org/cart/edit.asp?p=87785
- ↑ http://deseretbook.com/Book-Mormon-Replica-1830-Edition-Herald-House/i/2609476
- ↑ Due to the lack of the physical plates that Smith claimed to have worked from, all translations of the Book of Mormon are done from the original English. A cynic might find that to be an inexcusable potential loss of information.
- ↑ The possible Hebrew form *moshiyahu, while gibberish ("God's recovered one", maybe?), seems suspiciously close to Mashiakh, but one wonders if Joseph Smith knew that.
- ↑ Your guess is as good as mine how that's supposed to look in Hebrew, but that's another well-known BoM name cliche.
- ↑ The original author of this article got one for free too -- it had apparently fallen out of a missionary's backpack on a subway train in Boston, home of Mormon Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. It is a sad, floppy little book, with the appearance of an even cheaper version of those cheapass $5 "presentation" Bibles sold in discount stores, apparently the same edition that the LDS church sells for $2-$3 in bulk for missionary use.