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Wikipedia: Book of Mormon
Book of Mormon
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Book of Mormon is a sacred text of Mormonism first published in Palmyra, New York, USA, in May 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr The title page lists its author as Mormon, who purportedly compiled the book in the fourth century A.D. in North America. Non-Mormons typically believe it is an original work of Joseph Smith.

The Book of Mormon is published today by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under the expanded title The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, as part of the church's scriptural canon. Editions of the book have been also published by the Community of Christ. In addition, the book is part of the canon of numerous other smaller churches that grew out of the religious movement begun by Joseph Smith, Jr.

Contents of the Book of Mormon

The book's organization

The format of The Book of Mormon is similar to that of the Bible. The book is composed of the following books, which have been divided into chapters and verses similar to the Bible:

For the most part, the book is arranged chronologically, with earlier books depicting earlier events. Notable exceptions include "Words of Mormon", which is an editorial insertion by the purported author Mormon, and the "Book of Ether", which is a purported translation of an even earlier work. The books of "1 Nephi" through "Omni" are first-person narratives, as are "Mormon" and "Moroni". The remainder of The Book of Mormon is purportedly a third-person historical narrative and commentary compiled by Mormon and Moroni.

In the version of The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the book also contains introductory text concerning the origins of the book, its contents and purpose. This material is divided as follows:

  • Title Page text
  • Introduction text
  • The Testimony of Three Witnesses text
  • The Testimony of Eight Witnesses text
  • The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith text
  • A Brief Explanation About The Book of Mormon text

Summary of the book's narrative

1 Nephi begins in ancient
Jerusalem around 600 BC, at roughly the same time as the Book of Jeremiah in the Bible. It tells the story of Lehi, his family, and several others as they are led by God to travel from Jerusalem to the Americas. The books from 1 Nephi to Omni recount the group's dealings from around 600 BC to around 130 BC, in which they grow to a sizeable number, and eventually split into two groups, the Nephites and the Lamanites.

The Words of Mormon, allegedly written in AD 385, is a short introduction to the books of Mosiah: Alma, 3 Nephi and 4 Nephi. Mormon compiled The Book of Mormon (thus the name). He included the original records comprising 1 Nephi - Omni, then abridged a large quantity of collected records detailing the national history from the end of Omni until his own time.

3 Nephi contains an account of the visit of the glorified, resurrected Jesus Christ to the Americas after his ministry in Jerusalem. Here he gives much of the same instruction given in the Gospels of the Bible, and establishes an enlightened, peaceful society which endures several generations.

Mormon is an account of the events which occurred during Mormon's life, after the enlightened society of 3 and 4 Nephi had deteriorated yet again into warring groups.

Ether is another abridgement by Mormon, this time of the records of a much earlier civilization beginning at the time of the Tower of Babel. In this account, a man named Jared, his family and others were led by God to the Americas before the languages were confounded and formed a civilization long before Lehi's family arrived. Mormon placed this account after the end of his own work, before turning over the record to his son Moroni.

Moroni witnesses the final destruction of his people and the idolatrous state of the remaining society. He adds a few spiritual insights and mentions some important doctrinal teachings, as well as an invitation to pray to God for a confirmation of the truthfulness of the account.

The book's major doctrines and themes

Origin of the Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith's official account

According to Joseph Smith and his associates, this is how the records comprising The Book of Mormon were found and translated:

The original record was engraved on thin, pliable sheets of metal with the appearance of gold and bound with rings at one edge, much like a modern book. At the end of Moroni's ministry (around AD 421), he hid these gold plates along with several other artifacts in a stone box.

In 1823, Joseph Smith was directed by God to the place where the plates were stored. He was not immediately allowed to take them, but was eventually entrusted with them. With God's help he was able to translate the characters (some apparently related to 600 B.C. Egyptian with Hebrew influence (Mormon 9:32,34)) into English.

The heavy plates were assumed to be of gold, and were consequently much sought-after by some monetarily inclined individuals. Joseph Smith and his family reported many attempts by others to find and take the plates.

Joseph Smith was allowed to show the plates to several people, and these accounts are recorded in the front of The Book of Mormon as "The Testimony of Three Witnesses" and "The Testimony of Eight Witnesses". Most of the witnesses became disaffected with Joseph Smith or the church he founded, but did not disavow their statements on the origin of the book.

After translation was complete, the angel received the plates from Joseph Smith, and no public account of their whereabouts has been made since.

See Golden Plates

Alternate explanations

A complete list of various alternate explanations offered for the origin of The Book of Mormon is given below. Since no consensus has formed around any one of them as a plausible substitute for Smith's controversial claims, they all continue among critics as contending candidates.

Smith as author

Smith wrote, not translated, the book himself.

Smith colleague as author

Someone else (
Sidney Rigdon or some close friend of Smith) wrote the book and allowed Smith to take credit for it.

Smith as plagiarist

Smith plagiarised the book either:
  • from the manuscript of another book relating to early American inhabitants which was stolen and altered, or
  • from an unpublished novel about early American inhabitants which Smith read and from which he used ideas to compose the book.

See
Linguistics and the Book of Mormon.

The role of the Book of Mormon in Mormonism

Relationship between the Book of Mormon and the Bible

Most
Latter Day Saints view the Book of Mormon as equivalent to the Bible in its authority as a work of scripture.

Latter Day Saint views concerning the book's historicity

Not all Latter Day Saints consider the Book of Mormon to be a work of history. Some see the book as a work of inspired or divine fiction, similar to the Book of Job or the parables of Jesus Christ. However, few Latter Day Saints would admit to believing that the Book of Mormon is anything other than a true account of the people who's history it purports to document.

At the time of its publication, the Book of Mormon was publicized as a comprehensive history of the American Indians. As recent scholarship has failed thus far to uncover irrefutable proof of a large civilization consistent with the book, many Latter Day Saint apologetic scholars have proposed that the book is a history of only a small group of Native Americans in Central America, and is not reflective of Native American history as a whole. See Archaeology and the Book of Mormon.

Consistency with Latter Day Saint doctrines after 1830

Critics charge the Book of Mormon is inconsistent with Mormon doctrine. Though called "the fullness of the everlasting gospel," it does not dictate important doctrines including polygamy, humanity of God, baptism for dead, and preexistence. Believers in the Book of Mormon, however, point to a statement made by Joseph Smith, to the effect that the only real doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are Faith, Repentance, and Baptism, and that all other doctrines and practices are but appendages to those tenets. They comment that no official statement on the humanity of God has been been made since it is unrelated to those 3 things; that no mention is made of plural marriage since it is not a doctrine but a practice, rarely entered into and then only by commandment of God; that Baptism for the Dead is included in the doctrine of Baptism; and that knowledge of the preexistence has been given by divine revelation in our day, and increases our knowledge and understanding of Our Heavenly Father, but may not be included in the Book of Mormon precisely because our Salvation is not contingent upon that knowledge.

The following passages appear to conflict with Mormon doctrines, when taken literally:

  • There is only one God, says Mosiah 15:4, so, critics argue, God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit cannot be three gods, and man cannot evolve to be a god. Mormons, however, interpret this passage as a reference to the united Godhead, and specifically to Elohim (God, or Our Father in Heaven), as the only object of worship, at the head of that presidency. Likewise, believers might add, to state that there is only one Pope would not imply that there had never been a Pope before, or that there would never be another. Nor would you assume from this statement that the Pope does not or cannot operate as the head of some quorum of leadership.
  • God is static (Mormon 9:9: "the same yesterday, today, and forever"), so, critics argue, he could not have evolved from a man. Mormons believe this to be more a reference to God's constancy for the duration of time, than to his having never gone through any changes, growth, or development himself.
  • Desiring many wives is "wicked" (Jacob 1:15), so, critics argue, multiple marriage is bad. Doctrine & Covenants 132 declares that even as David was not only justified, but also assisted, in the killing of Goliath, even so there are times when God commands men to do what would otherwise be forbidden, when it is in His wisdom to do so. Abraham was commanded to lie and say that his wife was his sister (thereby sparing him from probable murder and her from probable rape), and later to kill his own son (but stopped from doing so, in a test of his obedience). Mention is made of plural marriage entered into by well-known Biblical prophets, such as: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, and Moses, and that they were all justified in doing so, so long as they had been commanded to do it. The "desiring [of] many wives and concubines" by the people of Nephi, as mentioned in Jacob 1:15, was unrighteous inasmuch as it had not been commanded by God.

The book has undergone a number of changes over the years, some affecting its consistency with LDS doctrine. Most of these changes have been discussed in Church publications including the Ensign, Improvement Era, Millenial Star and Times and Seasons, and usually are consistent with early pre- and post-publication edits made by Joseph Smith. See
Linguistics and the Book of Mormon.

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