Where did the Book of Mormon come from?

Fullness of the Gospel?

Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts,thanby any other book” (see History of the Church 4:461). Twice in the Doctrine and Covenants we read that the fulness of the gospel is found within the Book of Mormon: D&C 20:8,9 “…the Book of Mormon; which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also;” D&C 27:5 “… Moroni, whom I have sent to you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel,…”

Then why does it contain nothing about many key Mormon doctrines? For example: God is an exalted man with a body of flesh and bones, the plurality of gods, the pre-existence, priesthood organisation, temple marriage, three degrees of glory? These were all added later by Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants, or elsewhere in his teachings.

Some of these teachings actually conflict with the Book of Mormon. For example:

1. Does God change?

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, 1979, p.345: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man.”

Book of Mormon, Mormon 9:9: “For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing.”

2. Are many wives and concubines good?

Doctrine & Covenants 132:38-39: “David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, …and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me. David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant…”

Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:24: “Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.”

Changes

The church magazine, The Ensign, published the following quote:

“Both the 1840 and the 1842 editions [of the Book of Mormon] were carefully revised by Joseph Smith. In Mosiah 21:28 and Ether 4:1 the first edition had ‘Benjamin’ where the name Mosiah now appears … In the 1837 edition, the Prophet Joseph Smith made this correction.” (George Horton, The Ensign, Dec. 1983, pp.24-28)

In the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 11:18 says:

“Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh.”

1 Nephi 11:21 says: “And the angel said to me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!”

And 1 Nephi 13:40 says: ” and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal father and the Saviour of the world;…”

However, in the 1981 edition, these verses read:

“… is the mother of the Son of God …”,

“… even the Son of the Eternal Father! …”,

“… that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father …”

respectively. Didn’t God really know who Jesus was?

Archaeological Evidence

Mormons claim that the Book of Mormon is authenticated by archaeological evidence. No such evidence has been found:

1 Nephi 1:2 & Mosiah 1:4 state that the native language of the Hebrews between 600 & 130 BC was Egyptian. Archaeological discoveries show that they spoke Hebrew prior to the Babylonian captivity of 586-538 BC and then the common language became Aramaic.

1 Nephi 18:24 mentions seeds which were supposed to have been brought from the land of Jerusalem to America where they were blessed in abundance. No trace of these crops is found until after the Europeans brought them much later.

Alma 11:4-19 mentions 8 different coins, not one example of which have ever been discovered.

Ether 9:18,19 mentions a number of animals for which there is no evidence of their existence at the time. It also mentions cureloms and cumoms as animals that were especially useful for man. Nobody even knows what they are!

The Smithsonian Institute in Washington has had so many requests from people believing that there is archaeological evidence, and that the Book of Mormon has been used by the Institute for their research, that they have issued an official disclaimer:

“The Smithsonian Institution has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archaeologists see no connection between the archaeology of the New World and the subject matter of the Book.”

The Word of God?

The Book of Mormon convinces many because it sounds like the word of God. This is because it contains large sections which quote directly from the Bible, and many biblical truths are interwoven with the falsehood. It is also written in the same form of language as the King James Authorised Version of the Bible, and Mormons are instructed to use only this version. Once someone has realised this, its seeming spiritual charm is broken.

The Truth

Anyone who has expressed doubts regarding the story of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon will probably have been met with the question, “Well if Joseph didn’t get it from the angel how do you explain the Book of Mormon?” Today the Book of Mormon does seem an unusual book that appears to have sprung from nowhere. Certainly the Church likes to present it as such, insisting that it could only have the history claimed for it because no other explanation “fits”. So our missionary friends will look at us expectantly, confident that we will not be able to meet the challenge “where did it come from?” The Book of Mormon, however, is very much a product of its age and fits neatly into the background of the early 19th Century.

The Book of Mormon was not translated from gold plates by the power of God. It was written by Joseph Smith from the tales he used to tell his family in the evenings by the fire. Tales about the people who were buried in great mounds in the neighbourhood, and which everyone speculated about. His family was very poor, and he hoped that the book would raise money to pay the mortgage on their farm.

The Book of Mormon’s theology is not consistent with later writings, which shows clearly the development of thought as Joseph Smith put his religion together. Moroni’s promise at the end of the Book of Mormon is preceded by the words “ponder it in your hearts.” (Moroni 10:3) We challenge you to take an honest look at the evidence and ponder it in your heart – then you will see that it is not true.

Joseph Smith – Ignorant Farm Boy?

LeGrand Richards, in his book A Marvellous Work and A Wonder, after listing 42 great truths revealed through Joseph Smith, makes this comment:

“Joseph Smith, or any other man, could not have obtained all this information by reading the Bible or studying all the books that have ever been written. It came from God.” (p.411)

Joseph is often cast in the role of ignorant farm boy and thoroughly incapable of writing the Book of Mormon. It is true that Joseph had little formal schooling, but intelligence is not dependent upon education. His personal letters show his depth of thought and grasp of language and he was most eloquent in his writing and speech.

At the beginning of his book LeGrand Richards quotes Jesus’ words about putting new wine into new wineskins (Mark 2:21-22) to explain why God would choose an uneducated lad – so that He could teach the lad the way He wanted, without any traditions or prejudices to get in the way. In fact, many of Joseph’s ideas can be traced to the people around him and the speculations of the day:

His father believed in dreams and visions and as early as 1811, when Joseph was only 6, contended for a return to the original church established by Jesus Christ and his apostles. His parents were both independent religious thinkers. His mother believed that all the Christian creeds were wrong – AS DID MANY PEOPLE OF THE DAY. In fact, in 1809, Alexander Campbell had come out against all Christian creeds and began his own sect (the Disciples of Christ), attempting to return to the early church. Also known as the Campbellites, they were prevalent along that part of the frontier and many later became Mormons because of the similarity of their beliefs.

Even the account of Joseph’s First Vision is remarkably similar to accounts of spectacular conversion stories published in that period. In 1816 Elias Smith, a minister, claimed to have seen “The Lamb once slain” in a vision in the woods. Joseph’s local newspaper published a similar story in October 1823. Alexander Campbell himself wrote in 1824 about a revival in New York during which people had had visions, heard a voice in the woods, or seen the Saviour descending to the tops of the trees.

To people today, the idea of the Urim and Thummim stones, which enabled Joseph to translate the golden plates, is strange, but peep stones were common in Joseph’s time. In March 1826 Joseph was found guilty of being “a disorderly person and an impostor.” He admitted in court that he used a peep stone to discover hidden treasures in the earth. He actually had several, including a dark stone he looked at in his hat, and a clear stone he held up to a candle or the sun.

Joseph’s mother testified to the inventive nature of his mind:

“During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them.” (Quoted in No Man Knows My History, Fawn Brodie, p.35)

The Book Of Mormon – Couldn’t Have Been Written By A Man?

In view of the above quote, it would seem that Joseph had plenty of material on which to draw for such a book. Added to which, local speculation was rife about a highly civilised race that had been wiped out in a great battle and buried in mounds.

Another story that was prevalent was that the Indians were descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. A local pastor, Ethan Smith, published a book in 1823 called View of the Hebrews; or the Ten Tribes of Israel in America. There is no proof that Joseph saw this book before writing the Book of Mormon, but the parallels between the two books are striking.

The Mormon church asserts that he could not have written such a complete book in the 60 days in which the translation took place. Yet those who acted as his scribes never actually saw him translate. It is known that there was a curtain between them and Joseph, and they never saw the plates as he translated. They also testify that his translation was fluent and he never corrected. Since even the best linguists sometimes have to rephrase their translation, Joseph must have been directly inspired by God. Another possibility, of course, is that he was reading from a previously prepared manuscript, or even from memory, considering his unique ability to “tell tales” as witnessed to by his mother. In addition, almost one third of the Book of Mormon is lifted from the Bible.

It is impossible to consider the origin of the Book of Mormon without considering Joseph Smith and the background against which he lived. The book can be explained by Joseph’s fertile mind, mastery of language, and responsiveness to the opinions around him.

The Book Of Mormon – An Ancient Document?

In 1831 Alexander Campbell wrote concerning the Book of Mormon:

“This prophet Smith…wrote…in his Book of Mormon every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies; -infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of free masonry [sic], republican government, and the rights of man.” (Millennial Harbinger, Feb.1831, p.93)

Not only does Joseph Smith tackle these great nineteenth century controversies in his Book of Mormon, but uses material from publications not in existence at the time of the Nephites. There are marked parallels between the Book of Mormon and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Joseph also appears to have drawn from popular books of his day, and even the local newspaper, to create his theological masterpiece. Even Shakespeare is quoted by Lehi, the father of Nephi, ” hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs you must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveller can return” (2 Nephi 1:14). Hamlet, act 3, scene 1, contain the words “from whose bourn no traveller returns…” Famously, the last word in the Book of Jacob is not “Reformed Egyptian” but French, “I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren adieu” (Jacob 7:27)

By far the greatest influence in the writing of the Book of Mormon, however, was the King James Bible. Large sections of the Bible are quoted in the Book of Mormon, including over eighteen chapters of Isaiah, and even the Apocrypha is pressed into service, providing names, concepts and story lines.

Nephi, for instance, is perhaps the most important name in the Book of Mormon. It is found hundreds of times in the book. Four major characters have that name, it is the name of four books, a city, a land, and a people. Mormon scholars have been to great lengths to explain the “Egyptian” origin of this very unusual name. It can be found in the Apocrypha (2 Maccabees 1:36).

An extensive list of parallels between the Book of Mormon and the Bible with Apocrypha has been produced by Jerald and Sandra Tanner in their book Mormonism, Shadow or Reality. Perhaps one of the most remarkable errors is the use of the titles Alpha and Omega. In 3 Nephi Jesus makes a post resurrection appearance in America and, in introducing himself, quotes Revelation 21:6, I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End (3 Nephi 9:18). Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Since Greek was used extensively throughout the Roman Empire, the New Testament was written in Greek. The Nephites, however, had left the Old World in 600 BC and would have had no knowledge of Greek. Indeed, the Book of Mormon was supposed to have been written in “Reformed Egyptian”. Jesus’ words would not have been understood by these people.

It appears that Joseph Smith did not know that these were Greek words. When he was challenged for using Greek in the Book of Mormon he wrote, in 1843,

“The error I speak of is the definition of the word MORMON. It has been stated that this word was derived from the Greek word mormo. This is not the case. There was NO GREEK or Latin upon the plates from which I…translated the Book of Mormon”.

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