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What is the Book of Mormon?

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Book of Mormon basics

What is the Book of Mormon? This article orients new readers to the nature and content of this volume of scripture. (Click here for full article)


DETAILED QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Book of Mormon Overview

The Book of Mormon is one of four books considered to be scripture by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the other three being the Holy Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. These four books are referred to as the “standard works” by Latter-day Saints, who consider them to be God’s word and equal in authority.

The Book of Mormon is an ancient text that was written in the western hemisphere in the late 4th and early 5th centuries A.D. It is an account of a specific group of people whose ancestors came from Jerusalem in the early 6th century B.C. Although the Book of Mormon is sometimes referred to as a history of that society, it is really a religious text with historical events used to teach and explain religious principles. The Book of Mormon was engraved on gold plates and buried in a stone box around the year 421 A.D. In 1827, Joseph Smith, a young man living in the state of New York in the United States, uncovered these plates and translated them into English.

The Book of Mormon is a little less than half the size of the Old Testament and is larger than the New Testament. The English editions of the Book of Mormon published today generally result in a book of over 500 pages. The Book of Mormon has been translated from English into over 105 languages. Approximately 130 million copies of the Book of Mormon have been printed since 1830.

Book of Mormon is Christ-centered

Wrote one author:

Years ago, Susan Easton Black tabulated all of the occurrences of the names and titles of Jesus in the Book of Mormon.[1]...According to Black, 101 names or titles of Christ are presented in the Book of Mormon. These include the names/titles Lord God Omnipotent, Redeemer of Israel, Shepherd, and Son of the Living God, each of which is found once in the work. The names/titles Stone, True Messiah, Mighty One of Jacob, and Great Creator are each found twice; the names/titles Holy One of Israel, Lamb of God, Lord Jesus Christ, Redeemer, and Messiah each appear 10 or more times; and the names/titles Christ, God, Jesus, Lord, and Lord God are each found at least 100 times in the book. In all, the 101 names/titles of Christ are collectively presented 3,925 times in 6,607 Book of Mormon verses.[2] Black’s tabulation of the names and titles shows that on average, one name or title of Christ appears once every 1.7 verses.[3]

Book of Mormon Synopsis

Lehi, a wealthy and faithful Israelite of the tribe of Manasseh, lives in Jerusalem in the late 7th century B.C. Having heard the preaching of Jeremiah and other prophets, he prays to God and receives a vision. Lehi is told by God that Jerusalem will be destroyed and the Lehi should take his family and flee into the wilderness and that they will be led to a promised land.

Lehi, his wife Sariah, and their children leave Jerusalem and travel southward. Lehi’s four oldest sons, Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephite, are sent back to Jerusalem to obtain the Hebrew scriptures and other writings, as well as to bring Ishmael and his family to join Lehi’s group. Lehi’s group travels south through what is now Saudi Arabia and then east to the shore of the Arabian Sea. There they build boats and travel to the western hemisphere.

After arriving in the Americas, Lehi dies and the family group splits into two factions: the Lamanites (those following the eldest son Laman) and the Nephites (those following the righteous, younger son Nephi).

The Lamanites quickly fall into idolatry and reject their religious heritage and culture. The Nephites, however, generally follow the religious traditions of Abraham and Moses, though they often fall into idolatry, materialism, and other sins. A series of prophets are sent to the Nephites to keep them faithful to the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to the teachings of Moses. These prophets also teach that the Messiah will be sent to the Israelites in Jerusalem, and that after He is crucified at Jerusalem He will appear to the Nephites and bring peace.

These two groups remain in a state of near constant warfare, with the Lamanites being significantly more numerous than the Nephites. The Nephites migrate north several times, and during the 3rd century B.C. they come into contact with a civilization descended from a group of Jews that had fled Jerusalem at the time of its destruction (the Mulekites). The Mulekites and Nephites combine and are thereafter referred to as Nephites.

The climax of the Book of Mormon is a cataclysmic destruction of much of the Nephite and Lamanite civilizations at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem. Shortly after this destruction the resurrected Jesus Christ appears to the surviving righteous people. Christ establishes a church among the people and delivers to them many of the teachings that appear in the New Testament gospel.

There follows a period of about 200 years of peace and harmony, after which the people begin again to break apart into factions. By the mid 4th century A.D., the people are again divided into Lamanites and Nephites, but both having rejected Christ and His teachings. There is a major battle around the year A.D. 385 which destroys nearly all of the Nephites. The book ends with the writings of Mormon and his son Moroni, the two last Nephite prophets. They create the Book of Mormon by abridging the records of their civilization and writing the text on gold plates. The final entry in the Book of Mormon is written around A.D. 421 by Moroni and indicates that God instructed him to bury the plates and that they will be found and translated in the future.

There is one additional civilization that is discussed in the Book of Mormon. The Jaredites were a group that left the Old World around the time of the Tower of Babel and were led by God to the Americas. This culture lasted from approximately 2200 B.C. until the 4th or 5th century B.C. The Mulekites had met a survivor of the Jaredites, and the Nephites found a written history of that people as recorded by a Jaredite prophet named Ether. Moroni’s abridgement of, and commentary on, this record appears within the Book of Mormon as the Book of Ether.

Book of Mormon Authors

The Book of Mormon was primarily written and assembled by Mormon, a Nephite who lived in the Americas during the 4th century A.D. Mormon created the Book of Mormon by abridging the records of his people as they had been kept from approximately 600 B.C. until his day. The books of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, Third Nephi, Fourth Nephi, and the first seven chapters of Mormon were all written by Mormon and are his selection and abridgement of the historical records kept by the “kings” of his people. These books cover a period from about 130 B.C. to about A.D. 385. The first part of Mormon’s abridgement, which covered the period from 600 B.C. to 130 B.C., was lost by Joseph Smith and Martin Harris during the translation process in 1827, which is why Mormon’s existing abridgement in our Book of Mormon only covers the records beginning in about 130 B.C.

The books of First Nephi, Second Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, and Omni are the writings of various Nephite religious leaders from about 600 B.C. to about 200 B.C. Each of these books is named after the author, except that Jarom and Omni include brief writings by people in addition to Jarom and Omni. All of these books were written on what was called the “small plates of Nephi.” Mormon had attached these plates (apparently without editing) to the end of his own writings, which made it possible for the modern translation of the Book of Mormon to contain some of the earlier history and prophecies. After the first part of the record had been lost, Joseph Smith was instructed to translate the “small plates” from the end of the record and to place that translation where the earlier part of Mormon’s record had been.

The Words of Mormon is a short book by Mormon that was written to connect the narrative of the small plates, which end with the book of Omni, to the rest of the book, beginning with Mosiah. The Words of Mormon were written by Mormon in around A.D. 385 but deal with the events between Omni and Mosiah during the 2nd century B.C.

After Mormon died, his son Moroni completed the Book of Mormon as we have it today by adding four pieces. First, Moroni finished his father’s record (the Book of Mormon section within the overall Book of Mormon) by adding what are now chapters 8 and 9. Second, Moroni added the Book of Ether, his condensed summary of, and his commentary on, an ancient record from an earlier civilization, called the Jaredites, that existed from approximately 2200 B.C. to around the 4th or 5th century B.C. Third, Moroni added his own book to the end of the compilation of his father. And finally, Moroni added to the end of the record what is now the title page of the Book of Mormon.

The last recorded date in Moroni’s writings corresponds roughly to A.D. 421.

It should be noted that in the period between the 2nd century B.C. and the 1st century A.D. there were six generations of men who contributed to the books of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, 3rd Nephi, and 4th Nephi. They were Alma, Alma the Younger (son of Alma), Helaman (son of Alma the Younger), Helaman (son of Helaman), Nephi (son of the second Helaman), and Nephi (son of Nephi). The first Alma’s story is included in the second half of the Book of Mosiah. The Book of Alma is named for Alma the Younger and contains both his record and the record of his son Helaman. The Book of Helaman is a record of Helaman, son of Helaman. The books of 3rd and 4th Nephi refer to the ministries of the two Nephi's respectively, though the Book of 4th Nephi covers a period long beyond the mortal ministry of Nephi son of Nephi.

The following is a flow chart showing who kept the records and how they were passed on throughout the history of the Book of Mormon.

Bomrec.jpg

Book of Mormon Textual Divisions

The Book of Mormon is divided into books, chapters, and verses, similar to how the Bible is now published, but only the division into books is from the original text. The title page and the individual book introductions are part of the original Book of Mormon text. The Book of Mormon introduction, chapter headings, footnotes, modern year correspondences, supplementary materials, and the division into chapters and verses were added in the second half of the 19th century and in the 20th century, and those portions are not considered part of the revealed text of the Book of Mormon.

Listed below are the 15 books within the Book of Mormon. The years and number of pages are approximates.

  • The Book of First Nephi
    • Author: Nephi
    • Years covered: 600 B.C. – 580 B.C.
    • Year written: mid 6th century B.C.
    • Number of pages: 52
  • The Book of Second Nephi
    • Author: Nephi
    • Years covered: 580 B.C. – 544 B.C.
    • Year written: 544 B.C.
    • Number of pages: 64
  • The Book of Jacob
    • Author: Jacob (brother of Nephi)
    • Years covered: 544 B.C. – 530 B.C.
    • Year written: 530 B.C.
    • Number of pages: 19
  • The Book of Enos
    • Author: Enos (son of Jacob)
    • Years covered: 530 B.C.
    • Year written: early 5th century B.C.
    • Number of pages: 2
  • The Book of Jarom
    • Author: Jarom (son of Enos) and others
    • Years covered: 420 B.C.
    • Year written:
    • Number of pages: 2
  • The Book of Omni
    • Author: Omni (descendant of Jarom) and others
    • Years covered: 323 B.C.
    • Year written: late 4th century and 3rd century B.C.
    • Number of pages: 3
  • Words of Mormon
    • Author: Mormon
    • Years covered: mid 4th century A.D. and 2nd century B.C.
    • Year written: 4th century A.D.
    • Number of pages: 2
  • The Book of Mosiah
    • Author: Mormon (using records of Mosiah)
    • Years covered: 130 B.C. – 91 B.C.
    • Year written: 4th century A.D.
    • Number of pages: 62
  • The Book of Alma
    • Author: Mormon (using records of Alma and Helaman)
    • Years covered: 91 B.C. – 52 B.C.
    • Year written: 4th century A.D.
    • Number of pages: 161
  • The Book of Helaman
    • Author: Mormon (using records of Helaman and Nephi)
    • Years covered: 52 B.C. – 1 B.C.
    • Year written: 4th century A.D.
    • Number of pages: 38
  • The Book of Third Nephi
    • Author: Mormon (using records of Nephi)
    • Years covered: A.D. 1 – A.D. 36
    • Year written: 4th century A.D.
    • Number of pages: 59
  • The Book of Fourth Nephi
    • Author: Mormon (using records of Nephi and others)
    • Years covered: A.D. 36 – A.D. 322
    • Year written: 4th century A.D.
    • Number of pages: 4
  • The Book of Mormon
    • Author: Mormon and Moroni (son of Mormon)
    • Years covered: A.D. 322 – A.D. 385
    • Year written: A.D. 385
    • Number of pages: 18
  • The Book of Ether
    • Author: Moroni (using records of Ether)
    • Years covered: 2200 B.C. – 400 B.C.
    • Year written: late 4th or early 5th century A.D.
    • Number of pages: 31
  • The Book of Moroni
    • Author: Moroni (son of Mormon)
    • Years covered: late 4th and early 5th century A.D.
    • Year written: A.D. 421
    • Number of pages: 14

Book of Mormon Location

The Book of Mormon begins in Jerusalem, and the route of the group to the shore of the Arabian Sea has been identified and is generally accepted by Book of Mormon scholars. However, the site of their landing in the western hemisphere is not known. Based on a variety of internal evidences, most Book of Mormon scholars today believe that the Book of Mormon narrative takes place near Guatemala and the Yucatan peninsula.

The Jaredite culture existed somewhere to the north of the Lehite cultures, but close enough so that the Nephites found some of the ruins of the Jaredite civilization within a few days or weeks of traveling by foot from the Nephite lands. (Mosiah 8:&-11; compare with Mosiah 23:1-3 and Mosiah 24:25.)

Historically, most Book of Mormon readers, including most LDS leaders, assumed that the Book of Mormon civilizations extended far into both North and South America. The primary textual support for this view has been the Book of Mormon statements regarding a “land northward” and a “land southward” separated by a “narrow neck of land.” LDS Church leaders have also frequently used Book of Mormon statements about a promised land to include the United States specifically. This view of the Book of Mormon is called the “Hemispheric Geography Theory” (HGT).

An alternate opinion of where the Book of Mormon lands are located is that the entire narrative takes place within a relatively small area, probably little more than a few hundred miles between the furthest points. This view, called the “Limited Geography Theory” (LGT) was first proposed during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, but remained a minority opinion until the second half of the 20th century. Today, nearly all Book of Mormon scholars believe the textual evidence for the LGT is overwhelming.

It should be noted that both the HGT and the LGT can either accept or reject the assumption that non-Lehite peoples and cultures existed before, during, and after the Book of Mormon cultures. Both theories can also either accept or reject the idea that all, or nearly all, of pre-Columbian Native Americans could have been descended, at least in part, from Lehi. And finally, neither the HGT nor the LGT imply that it should be possible to determine Lehi ancestry from modern Native American DNA.

Although many Book of Mormon scholars see references to non-Lehite cultures and peoples within the text of the Book of Mormon, the Book of Mormon does not overtly reference non-Lehite civilizations or peoples. This fact, combined with the paucity of written material from New World antiquity and the discontinuities of New World civilizations, languages, and occupations, makes it difficult to identify existing ancient ruins and artifacts as being of Lehite origin or to confidently place Lehite culture within a specific ancient American context. A commonly held view of many Book of Mormon scholars is that the Jaredites were associated with the Olmec culture and the Nephites and Lamanites were associated with the Mayan culture.

Book of Mormon Translation

Joseph Smith, who was born in 1805 in the state of Vermont in the United States, was visited by an angel several times one night in 1823. The angel identified himself as the ancient Nephi prophet Moroni, and he told Joseph about the existence of an ancient record of his people. Moroni told Joseph that the record was written on gold plates and that in time Joseph would be allowed to retrieve the plates and translate them. The following day Joseph went to a nearby hill as directed by the angel, and there under a large rock he saw a stone box and the ancient plates within it.

Joseph was not permitted to remove the plates until 1827. Almost immediately after Joseph Smith retrieved the plates, enemies became aware of them and tried to steal them. Joseph and his wife Emma were forced to move as persecution increased.

Joseph Smith, who had very little education, said that he had been able to translate the Book of Mormon through the power of God. His translation process involved his receiving direct revelation from God, often through the medium of the Urim and Thummim or through a seerstone. Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon while a scribe wrote down what was said. The entire translation process took approximately 60 days and involved at least three scribes: Emma Smith, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery.

At one point during the translation process, Martin Harris pressured Joseph into letting Martin take the transcript to show to his wife, who had been upset with Martin over his involvement with the Book of Mormon translation. These pages, which covered over 300 years of Nephite history and religious discourse, were lost and never recovered. This event had been foreseen by God, and when the plates had been originally assembled, Mormon had been inspired to include a separate set of plates that covered some of the time period as covered by the lost manuscript.

The gold plates were taken by the angel after the translation, but a number of witnesses were allowed to see and feel them. Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery (the “Three Witnesses”) were visited by an angel, who showed them the plates, and these witnesses heard the voice of God declaring the translation to be correct (note that many critics of the Church unjustifiably assume this means the original manuscript was perfect and thus no changes of any kind should have been needed or made in the published Book of Mormon). Another eight men were allowed to see, handle, and lift the plates, though there was no spiritual or supernatural event associated with it. The written testimonies of the three and eight witnesses appears at the front of the printed editions of the Book of Mormon.

In addition to the testimony of the twelve official witnesses (Joseph Smith, the Three Witnesses, and the Eight Witnesses), a number of other people also were witnesses to the existence of the plates. Most of these experiences occurred under natural circumstances, such as Emma moving them and hearing the metallic sound of their rustling under their covering while she was doing housecleaning. Others had miraculous experiences, such as Mary Whitmer being shown the plates by Moroni after she had sacrificed so much to support Joseph while he translated the plates in her home.

The original manuscript of the Book of Mormon consisted of a stream of words without punctuation and with inconsistent spelling. The manuscript was recopied for use by the printer, and this manuscript is called the printer’s manuscript. About one third of the original manuscript and all of the printer’s manuscript are still extant. The printer had to add all of the punctuation, and he did so based on his own reading of the text.

The Book of Mormon was first published in 1829. Over the years, Joseph Smith occasionally corrected errors that had appeared in the first printing, and he also made a few changes to the Book of Mormon text that he felt better expressed what had been on the plates. Nearly every edition of the Book of Mormon since then has involved some minor changes as scholars analyze the various manuscripts to try to determine the original translation of the Book of Mormon plates.

Book of Mormon Teachings

Book of Mormon Resources

Complete Text

  • Click here for free copy of the Book of Mormon, with no obligation
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  • Click here for an on-line searchable Book of Mormon

Study Aids

Bibliography

The FARMS Review often produces a yearly bibliography on the Book of Mormon:

  • Glenn Cooper, "Book of Mormon Bibliography (1988)," FARMS Review of Books 1/1 (1989): 135–144. off-site
  • Adam Lamoreaux, "Book of Mormon Bibliography (1989)," FARMS Review of Books 2/1 (1990): 267–273. off-site
  • I. Andrew Teasdale, "Book of Mormon Bibliography (1990)," FARMS Review of Books 3/1 (1991): 323–336. off-site
  • Andrew Teasdale, "1991 Book of Mormon Bibliography," FARMS Review of Books 4/1 (1992): 263–272. off-site
  • I. Andrew Teasdale, "1992 Book of Mormon Bibliography," FARMS Review of Books 5/1 (1993): 355–388. off-site
  • Anonymous, "1993 Book of Mormon Bibliography," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 335–348. off-site
  • Daniel B. McKinlay, "1994 Book of Mormon Bibliography," FARMS Review of Books 7/2 (1995): 265–276. off-site
  • Anonymous, "1995 Book of Mormon Bibliography," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 397–412. off-site
  • Richard D. Van Orden, "Review of: A Comprehensive Annotated Book of Mormon Bibliography," FARMS Review of Books 9/2 (1997): 33–38. off-site
  • Anonymous, "1996 Book of Mormon Bibliography," FARMS Review of Books 9/2 (1997): 203–212. off-site
  • Anonymous, "1997 Book of Mormon Bibliography," FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998): 211–218. off-site
  • Anonymous, "1998 Book of Mormon Bibliography," FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 329–336. off-site
  • Anonymous, "1999 Book of Mormon Bibliography," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 445–452. off-site
  • Anonymous, "2000 Book of Mormon Bibliography," FARMS Review of Books 13/2 (2001): 295–299. off-site
  • Anonymous, "2002 Book of Mormon Bibliography," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 457–464. off-site

Endnotes

  1. [note]  Susan Easton Black, Finding Christ through the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987). Susan Ward Easton [Black], “Names of Christ in the Book of Mormon,” Ensign (July 1978): 60-61.
  2. [note]  Black, Finding Christ, 5. Chapter 22
  3. [note]  Donald W. Parry, "The Book of Mormon," in Susan Easton Black, Expressions of Faith: Testimonies of Latter-day Saint Scholars (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1996), 216–217.


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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