Book of Mormon

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An illustration of the current LDS edition of the Book of Mormon, depicting the events of Helaman 16. If anything like this ever went down in the prehistoric Americas, we could probably still tell.

The Book of Mormon is a kick-ass musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It is also 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.[1] A replica of the 1830 edition is currently kept in print by Herald House, a publisher associated with the Community of Christ[2], and is easily found at LDS affiliated bookstores as well.[3]

Contents

[edit] 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 (specifically, Hill Cumorah in Palmyra) 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. [4] You be the judge. There is a set of plates on display at the visitor's center at Hill Cumorah; sadly, they're just a prop.

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.

[edit] Synopsis

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 reader did begin to tire from the overuse of the phrase "And it came to pass." 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.

[edit] Anachronisms

The Book of Mormon claims to describe events in the Americas from a period between 2500 BCE and 400 CE. According to the text, the Nephites and Lamanites built walled cities that spread from the east to the west coast somewhere in the Americas. "The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea."[5] Wherever these cities are imagined to have been located, that territory must include upstate New York, site of the Nephites' last stand, where Joseph Smith allegedly found the hidden golden plates.[6] These cities would appear to have vanished without a trace.

[edit] Animal

The Book of Mormon locates a number of animals in the Americas that were in fact absent during the time period it purports to cover. These animals include:

The North American megafauna extinction wiped out the horses and elephants once found here well before the Book of Mormon period.
  • Horses, both wild and domestic[7]
  • Elephants[8]
  • Domesticated cattle[9]
  • Domesticated goats[10]
  • Domesticated swine[11]

All of these creatures vanished without a trace. They were not found in the Americas until they were re-introduced by European colonists. Some may have existed in prehistoric pre-Columbian America. The ancestors of the Native Americans likely killed off the native elephants and horses of North America, as well as a number of creatures the Book of Mormon failed to mention. All of this would have taken place more than five thousand years before the Book of Mormon events.

[edit] Vegetable

It mentioned various cultivated plants that were actually unknown in the Americas, including:

These too vanished without a trace in the archeological record. The Book of Mormon failed to notice maize corn, squash, potatoes, and other Native American staples.

[edit] Mineral

The Book of Mormon also places a number of technologies in the hands of the people it alleges were the ancestors of the Native Americans. These technologies include:

Aztec warriors had to make do without iron or steel, and wielded wooden clubs with stone blades.
  • Iron and steel.[15] The iron and steel in the Book of Mormon were the kinds susceptible to rust.[16] They were used to make "swords", "cimiters" (i.e. scimitars) and other weapons.[17]
  • Chariots and wagons and other wheeled vehicles.[18]
  • Silk.[19]

All of these technologies vanished without a trace. The Native Americans had no wheeled vehicles.[20] The fearsome Aztec warriors wielded weapons made of obsidian blades inserted in wood; steel would have worked better, if they had any.[21] The smelting and working of iron and steel is an environmentally messy project that involves very hot fires that leave behind a great deal of ash and slag. If pre-Columbian Americans were smelting or smithing iron, we could still tell.[22] Nothing of the kind has ever been discovered in the Americas. Some Central and South American peoples worked metals that were found natively, such as copper, gold, and silver. The Book of Mormon does not mention copper, but mentions a mysterious metal called "ziff".[23]

In short, the claims of the Book of Mormon regarding the culture of alleged pre-Columbian civilizations are entirely without support in archeology. Instead, the text gives every indication that it simply transplanted Iron Age Middle Eastern culture from the Old World to the New, and simply assumed that their material cultures would be similar. Smith simply paid no attention to the differences between ancient Palestine and North America that did not relate to his theme of the presence of Hebrew monotheists in the New World.

Mormon apologists typically deal with these anachronisms by saying that the Book of Mormon didn't mean what it said. The cattle were really buffalo or deer. The steel really was copper.[24] These claims would remove impossibilities from the Book of Mormon by calling the accuracy of Smith's translation into question.

[edit] Limited geography model

Some Mormon apologists use what they call a "limited geography model"[wp] that relocates the events of the Book of Mormon to a very small area, usually in Mesoamerica, rather than the continent spanning cities the book actually describes. The attraction of this hypothesis is that this is one of the few areas where Native Americans acquired literacy and the arts of stone masonry needed to build the sorts of buildings the book describes.

The limited geography model is inconsistent with Smith's own interpretations. The hill Cumorah[wp], site of the final battle and resting place of the golden plates, is near Palmyra in New York state. Near this site, the Book of Mormon tells us a battle was fought by an army numbering 230,000 soldiers, and that's just the Lamanites.[25] Of course, no trace of this immense host remains today. In his journey westward, Smith claimed to have identified the resting place of his character Zelph[wp] in Illinois. Smith clearly intended that his story happened in the northern United States:

And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!
—Doctrine and Covenants 128:20

According to the Book of Mormon, the American protocivilizations collapsed at around 400 CE, after the battle of the Hill Cumorah. This is not the history of Mesoamerica, either. The classic Maya[wp] continued to flourish until around 800 CE, and the protocivilizations of the Toltecs[wp] and Aztecs[wp] arose even later.

[edit] Literary style

Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Sloar that day, I can tell you.
—Not the Book of Mormon, but it might as well be.

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"[26]); others are apparently made up, often terminating in the pseudo-Hebrew suffix "-ihah".[27] They tend to sound like patent medicines or 1930s soft drinks:

  • Corihor, Coriantum, Coriantumr;
  • Gid, Giddianhi, Giddonah, Gidgiddonah;
  • Helum, Helam, Helonum, Helaman;
  • Laban, Lamoni, Lehonti, Lehi;
  • Moron, Moroni, Mormon;
  • Sam, Shared, Shez, Shiz, Seezoram;
  • Zelph, Zeezrom, Zenock, Zeram, Zoram.

At least one major name, Alma, is presented as a man's name, even though the Hebrew עלמה means "young woman". Greek names like "Timothy" also appear, despite the characters being wandering Israelites who left the Old World around 600 BCE.

[edit] 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.

[edit] Copyright and legal issues

Whilst 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. [28] Pearl of Great Price and Doctrines and Covenants, are rarely provided free of charge, for they are only available separately in certain languages.

[edit] First printing

August 1829 contract for first printing

"Martin Harris had mortgaged [240 acres] his farm to Mr. E. B. Grandin on August 5, 1829, for the sum of three thousand dollars." Harris's wife recalled: "One day, while at Peter Harris house, I told him he had better leave the company of the Smiths, as their religion was false; to which he replied, if you would let me alone, I could make money by it."

"On August 25, 1829, Grandin entered into a secured transaction, using Harris' land as collateral, to print 5,000 copies of the book for $3,000, to be paid within 18 months after printing began. Half the sum was to be paid by Martin Harris, and the other half was to be paid by Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum)."

Smith fundraising

In order to pay his $1500 share of the costs for printing the Book of Mormon, Smith attempted unsuccessfully to raise at least $500 from his old friend Josiah Stowell.

Canadian Copyright

In the "Winter of 1829" or "around January 1830", Joseph Smith sent a group including Oliver Cowdery and Hiram Page to Toronto to raise money by selling the book's Canadian copyright.

"Joseph heard that there was a chance to sell a copy right in Canada for any useful book that was used in the States. Joseph thought this would be a good opportunity to get a hand on a sum of money which was to be (after the expenses were taken out) for the exclusive benefit of the Smith family and was to be at the disposal of Joseph. Accordingly Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Knight, Hiram Page and Joseph Stoel were chosen (as I understand by revelation) to do the business; we were living from 30 to 100 miles apart. The necessary preparation was made (by them) in a sly manner so as to keep Martin Harris from drawing a share of the money. It was told me we were to go by revelation, but when we had assembled at Father Smiths, there was no revelation for us to go, but we were all anxious to get a revelation to go; and when it came we were to go to Kingston where we were to sell if they would not harden their hearts; but when we got there, there was no purchaser, neither were they authorized at Kingston to buy rights for the Provence; but little York was the place where such business had to be done. We were to get 8,000 dollars. We were treated with the best of respect by all we met with in Kingston – by the above we may learn how a revelation may be received and the person receiving it not be benefitted.”

January 1830 interruption in Printing

"Smith traveled once again from Harmony Palmyra, and placated Harris by entering into a contract on January 16, 1830 stating: "I hereby agree that Martin Harris shall have an equal privilege with me and my friends of selling the Book of Mormon of the edition now printing by Egbert B. Grandin until enough of them shall be sold to pay for the printing of the same.” Smith and Harris then went to Grandin's office, and convinced Grandin to resume printing, which he did on January 26, 1830

On sale

Local paper The Wayne Sentinel "advertised the Book of Mormon for sale in its 26 March 1830 issue. The selling price in Grandin's bookstore ranged from $1.25 to $1.75 per volume. The lower price was no doubt the more realistic price. ... early Mormon missionaries were able to obtain copies of the volume for $1.25, and they seem to have then tried to sell them for $2.50."

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. The Interactive Bible Warning, very web 1.0-y
  2. http://www.heraldhouse.org/cart/edit.asp?p=87785
  3. http://deseretbook.com/Book-Mormon-Replica-1830-Edition-Herald-House/i/2609476
  4. 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.
  5. Mormon 1:7
  6. Mormon 6:6; Moroni 10:2
  7. Alma 18:9, Alma 18:12, Alma 20:6, 3 Nephi 3:22
  8. Ether 9:19: "And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants".
  9. Ether 9:18
  10. 1 Ne. 18:25, Enos 1:21, Ether 9:18
  11. 3 Nephi 14:6; Ether 9:17-18
  12. Alma 11: 7, 15; Mosiah 7: 22; Mosiah 9: 9
  13. Mosiah 9:9
  14. 3 Nephi 14:16
  15. 1 Nephi 16:18, 2 Nephi 5:15, Jarom 1:8, Ether 7:9
  16. Mosiah 8:11
  17. 2 Nephi 5:14
  18. Alma 18:9-10,12, Alma 20:6, 3 Nephi 3:22
  19. 1 Nephi 13:7, Alma 1:29, Alma 4:6, Ether 9:17, Ether 10:24
  20. Wissler, Clark. The American Indian. pp. 32–39 - as quoted by B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, Second Edition, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1992, pg. 99.
  21. See the Wikipedia article on Macuahuitl.
  22. Keys, Lynne. Iron slags on archaeological sites: an introduction.
  23. Mosiah 11:3,8
  24. Lindsay, Jeff. Plants and Animals in the Book of Mormon: Some Solutions to Apparent Problems
  25. Mormon 6:9–14.
  26. 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.
  27. Your guess is as good as mine how that's supposed to look in Hebrew, but that's another well-known BoM name cliche.
  28. 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.
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