Book of Mormon
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|Restoration by interpretation
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|Following the needle of the Liahona
“”It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle – keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate.
The Book of
Moron 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 other works being Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants, alongside the King James Version of the Bible), and by far the easiest one to get hold of due to the LDS church's printing of vast numbers of inexpensive copies for proselytizing purposes.[note 1] It presents itself as another testament of Jesus Christ — comparable to the Bible — and purports to tell the story of Israelite expatriates who fled Jerusalem and wound up in the Americas, some of whose descendants allegedly witnessed the appearance of the risen Jesus among Native American populations (said in Mormon theology to be the descendants, partially, of these Israelite expats).
The currently produced edition of the book (which the following article refers to) differs noticeably from the original printing, to the point of having a markedly different theology. Herald House, a publisher associated with the Community of Christ, keeps a replica of the 1830 edition in print, and one can easily find an original version 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 glass-like stones (later 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,[note 2] 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, yet never withdrew their witness claim. Smith himself had long been known as a con man 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 (or including) Smith has ever been proven to have actually seen either set of plates.[note 3] 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.
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 for a time, and the Lamanites turned far from God for a time, and did do many wicked and sinful things, such as drinking blood and delighting in slaughter. And it came to pass that 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 frequently at war, until the wicked Lamanites did kill all the Nephites. The only time of prolonged peace in the land came to pass when it came to pass that Jesus decided to pay the survivors of several calamities surrounding His death a visit anyhow and establish His church, so right after this same Jesus had just got finished doing His work halfway across the world, it came to pass that Jesus did appear and give a bunch of sermons to the People, mostly taken verbatim from the King James Version of the four Gospels.[note 4] And it came to pass that a prophecy
came to pass was given, that a great prophet would later come to re-establish His church in the Americas, and his name would just happen to be Joseph Smith. 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?
As with the proper Old Testament, it is divided into several books arranged in approximately chronological order. It begins with the two books of Nephi, supposedly written by Nephi, son of Lehi. Together with the books of Jacob, Enos, Jarom, and Omni, these form the first part, the Small Plates of Nephi. After this comes the contributions of Mormon, which include a summary of the Large Plates of Nephi, which were apparently lost around the time of the destruction of the Nephite nation. It concludes with a section containing the words of Moroni, the last Nephite prophet.
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. (Then again, maybe not.)
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 the church to avoid horrible repercussions of breaking the law as seen by their prophet in a vision.
“”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.
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." These cities were made of durable materials like "cement", which was actually unknown in pre-Columbian America. They were ringed with city walls. These cities would appear to have vanished without a trace.
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:
- Horses, both wild and domestic
- Domesticated cattle
- Domesticated goats
- Domesticated swine
All of these creatures vanished without a trace. They were not found in the Americas until they were re-introduced by European colonists. Some did exist in prehistoric pre-Columbian America. The ancestors of the Native Americans may have 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 according to accepted secular history.
Spanish horses quickly went feral in the New World, and were also quickly domesticated by the Natives.[note 5] If Old World horses had been introduced in the New World around 600 BCE, it seems likely that those horses would have just as easily established feral populations. Those horses would likely have survived no matter what the humans did to each other. European domestic swine and goats also established feral populations in the New World, but only after they were brought here by European settlers.
The Book of Mormon 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, beans, potatoes, chili peppers, tomatoes, chocolate, tobacco, and other Native American staples.
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:
- Iron and steel. The iron and steel in the Book of Mormon were the kinds susceptible to rust. They were used to make "swords", "cimiters" (i.e. scimitars), and other weapons.
- Chariots and wagons and other wheeled vehicles, except in the case of children's toys.
- Cement as a building material.
All of these technologies vanished without a trace. The Native Americans had no wheeled vehicles. The fearsome Aztec warriors wielded weapons made with obsidian blades inserted in wood; steel would have worked better, if they had any. The smelting and working of iron and steel is an environmentally messy undertaking 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. All metalworking leaves tell-tale signs in soil chemistry and in bricks and stones subjected to ores, fumes, and extreme temperatures. Nothing of the kind has ever been discovered in the Americas.[note 6] Some Central and South American peoples worked metals that were found natively, such as copper, gold, and silver.[note 7] The Book of Mormon does not mention copper, but refers to a mysterious metal called "ziff".
In short, the claims of the Book of Mormon regarding the culture of alleged pre-Columbian civilizations completely lack archeological support. Instead, the text gives every indication that its author simply transplanted Iron Age Middle Eastern culture from the Old World to the New, and just 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 such 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. These claims would remove impossibilities from the Book of Mormon by calling the accuracy of Smith's translation into question.
The concept of a navigational "compass" (as opposed to a pillar of cloud) Joseph Smith placed in the 6th century BCE. Otherwise, historians know of compasses used for navigation only as early as the 11th century CE in Song dynasty China.
Limited geography model
Some Mormon apologists use what they call a "limited geography model" 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, 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. 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 in Illinois. While travelling through Illinois, Smith wrote his wife Emma, identifying the land he was travelling with the land of the Nephites:
“”The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.
Smith clearly intended that his story happened in the northern United States:
“”And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from
|—Doctrine and Covenants 128:20
According to the Book of Mormon, the American civilizations collapsed at around 400 CE, after the battle which led to the extinction of the Nephites. This is not the history of Mesoamerica, either. The classic Maya continued to flourish until around 800 CE, and the civilizations of the Toltecs and Aztecs arose even later.
“”"During the Rectification of the Vuldronaii, the Traveler came as a large moving Torb! Then during the Third Reconciliation of the last of the Meketrex Supplicants, they chose a new form for him, that of a giant Sloar! Many Shubs and Zulls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of a 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 that seem to serve no other purpose but to give the language an antiquarian feeling.[note 8]
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"[note 9]); others are apparently made up, often terminating in the pseudo-Hebrew suffix "-ihah".[note 10] 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, bibbidi bobbidy boo. And this guy.
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.
Language and alphabet
The original language of the Book of Mormon is mentioned fleetingly in the Book of Mormon. Mormon 9:32 claims it is written in "reformed Egyptian" characters. Elsewhere, in 1 Nephi 1:2, it says that Nephi, the author of the Books of Nephi, used "the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians". Joseph Smith claimed to have received the plates from an angel and given them back after translation, so it is impossible to study them, and Smith translated the text using magic not linguistic knowledge, so he was unable to say much else about the language.
Smith did claim to have copied down some of the characters from the golden plates; he says he gave a sample to the classical scholar Charles Anthon to establish their identity in 1828, in a document known as the Anthon Transcript, which is now believed lost (it has been tentatively identified with other documents, but they have been shown not to have been by Smith, and some were unambiguously identified as forgeries). The Anthon Transcript is sometimes identified with the Caractors document, a putative Mormon text now known to have been written by John Whitmer later than 1828 and which probably depicts symbols from the Aztec calendar (as collected by Humboldt in the 1830s). According to various Mormons, Anthon discussed the characters with Martin Harris, an early Mormon bigwig who claimed to have seen the golden plates and who funded early Mormon publications. Some Mormons claim that Anthon authenticated the characters to Harris then destroyed his approving account, because obviously a scholar who uncovered convincing evidence of a new language would want to destroy it. Nonetheless, symbols from the Caractors document have been presented by the Mormons as authentic reformed Egyptian characters, including in a 1844 essay "The Stick of Joseph", which has been reprinted many times since.
Nonetheless, Mormon pseudolinguists like to speculate about what language they might have been written in, ignoring the total lack of evidence. It's certainly true that Egyptian has been written in a variety of alphabets, from the earliest logographic signs (often called hieroglyphs), through various scripts such as hieratic and demotic, to the current Coptic texts in a version of the Greek alphabet. Hence the speculation that reformed Egyptian might be a variation of one of those alphabets, but nobody has convincingly shown a connection, and Mormons have theorized a relationship not only to Hebrew, Egyptian, and other Afro-Asiatic languages, but also to Mayan/Olmec and Ogham writing.
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 names of the women who saved his life by pleading for him in the wilderness.
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
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.[note 11] Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants, are rarely provided free of charge, for they are only available separately in certain languages.
- 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."
- The LDS Church's official online repository of works it recognizes as scripture
- Project Gutenberg ebook
- Online BoM (Project Gutenberg mirror)
- Skeptic's Annotated Book of Mormon
- Mark Twain's book Roughing It in its entirety
- Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine of Covenants, sources of the LDS church's more distinctive doctrines, are not quite so easy to find, though they're available for download from the LDS church's website.
- Don't say anything. Too easy.
- 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 or skeptic might find that to be an inexcusable potential loss of information.
- Some 1600 years before the KJV was written! Truly miraculous.
- In fact, most biologists today believe the genus Equus evolved in North America. But the original population was extirpated in the North American megafauna extinction.
- The exception that proves the rule here is the Norse site at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. A small smithy operated briefly there. It left slag and charcoal and the other archeological traces expected from iron-working. This is one of the ways we know that Europeans had been there.
- Some North American Indians worked copper, but for limited uses only, nowhere near the systematic usage of copper as seen in the Chalcolithic.
- "And it came to pass" is something of a signature phrase. How signature? It occurs 1,120 times in the text. That's a little over two times per page.
- 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 cliché.
- 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.
- The Interactive Bible Warning, very web 1.0-y
- Book of Mormon - 1830 (Heritage Replica). heraldhouse.org.
- Book of Mormon Replica, 1830 Edition. deseretbook.com.
- Mormon 1:7
- Helaman 3:7 - 9
- Mosiah 9:6 - 8
- Alma 18:9, Alma 18:12, Alma 20:6, 3 Nephi 3:22
- Ether 9:19: "And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants".
- Ether 9:18
- 1 Ne. 18:25, Enos 1:21, Ether 9:18
- 3 Nephi 14:6; Ether 9:17-18
- John J. Meyer, Feral Pigs in the United States, Univ. Georgia Press, 2008
- See the Wikipedia article on San Clemente Island goat.
- Alma 11: 7, 15; Mosiah 7: 22; Mosiah 9: 9
- Mosiah 9:9
- 3 Nephi 14:16
- 1 Nephi 16:18, 2 Nephi 5:15, Jarom 1:8, Ether 7:9
- Mosiah 8:11
- 2 Nephi 5:14
- Alma 18:9-10,12, Alma 20:6, 3 Nephi 3:22
- Smithsonian Olmec Legacy. Archived from the original at anthropology.si.edu.
- 1 Nephi 13:7, Alma 1:29, Alma 4:6, Ether 9:17, Ether 10:24
- 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.
- See the Wikipedia article on Macuahuitl.
- Keys, Lynne. Iron slags on archaeological sites: an introduction.
- Joe Miksch, Ancient Mongol Metallurgy an Extreme Polluter, Univ. Pittsburgh, Mar. 6, 2015.
- Mosiah 11:3,8
- Lindsay, Jeff. Plants and Animals in the Book of Mormon: Some Solutions to Apparent Problems
- 1 Nephi 18:12-13. "And it came to pass that after they had bound me, insomuch that I could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the Lord, did cease to work; wherefore, they knew not whither they should steer the ship [...]."
- See the Wikipedia article on Book of Mormon chronology § About 590 BC, on the sea.
- See the Wikipedia article on Liahona.
- Lu, Yongxiang, ed (2014). "4.5 Compass and Navigation". A History of Chinese Science and Technology. 2. Heidelberg: Springer. p. 288-289. ISBN 9783662441664. Retrieved 2017-12-01. "[...] we can say that use of compass in navigation should have begun in the latter half of the 11th century."
- Mormon 6:9–14.
- Dean C. Jessee (1984), The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Deseret Books, p. 324
- See the Wikipedia article on Reformed Egyptian.
- See the Wikipedia article on Golden plates.
- See the Wikipedia article on Anthon Transcript.
- Egyptian Language, James Hoch, Britannica