Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon (abbreviated BoM) is, according to Mormons, "another testament of Jesus Christ," written by the ancestors of the American Indians. The Book of Mormon claims that Native Americans are descended from Jews, who escaped the destruction of Jerusalem and crossed the sea to populate North and South America. This tome is a saga that spans from approximately 600BC to 421AD.
The Book of Mormon has 15 books, named for their authors, which are divided into chapter and verse much like the Bible. It is written from the perspective of prophets who handed the book down through the generations. The prose is Old English, much like the King James version of the Bible, and borrows at length from biblical authors such as Isaiah. In fact, the book of 2 Nephi contains large passages quoted verbatim from Isaiah (2 Nephi 11-24,Isaiah 7-14 ).
The Book of Mormon was first printed in 1830.
Joseph Smith claimed to have translated the book from a language he labeled as "reformed Egyptian." The book was written on gold plates, which Smith claimed to have received from an angel. Joseph described the plates thus: "...each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin... The volume was something near six inches in thickness....”(Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons, v3:9, March 1, 1842, 707.) Smith told his followers and family that he was forbidden to show the plates to anyone, or they would be stricken dead.
Joseph probably got the idea for buried metal plates from a story that appeared in a Palmyra paper in 1821, describing the discovery of brass plates found in Canada (Brodie 1945).
Joseph Smith claimed that he was shown the "golden tablets", during his second vision, after his first visitation from God and Christ. The angel, Moroni, appeared to him on the Smith farm in 1823 (although this date changes depending on the source), and revealed the location where the plates were buried. Moroni also instructed Joseph in the use of the Urim and Thummim, seer stones which Smith used to translate the tablets. Moroni appeared to Smith three times that night, cautioning Joseph that he should not try to make any money off of the golden plates.
The next day, Joseph claimed to have found the golden plates buried on the hillside as Moroni had dictated. Each year, for four years, Joseph claims to have revisited the spot (where the plates were buried), only to be turned away by Moroni. Finally, in 1827, Joseph was allowed to unearth and take home the plates.
A translation of the gold plates began in 1829. He allegedly used the Urim and Thummim to translate them, but eyewitnesses also claimed that they saw Joseph place a seer stone (presumably the same one he used during his money-digging exploits) into a hat, cover his head with a cloth, and then dictate the translation to transcribers.
Missing 116 pages
After 116 pages of the Book of Mormon had been transcribed, Martin Harris asked Joseph if he might take copies of those pages to his wife, Lucy. Lucy was skeptical of Smith's claims about the gold plates and wanted to see the work for herself. Smith agreed to let Harris take the 116 pages home to Lucy. Upon receiving the pages, the pages supposedly disappeared. Mrs. Harris told her husband that, if Smith was genuinely translating, then he should be able to reproduce the pages.
Harris returned to Smith with great trepidation and told him about the theft. Smith was furious. He spent two days in secluded prayer. When he emerged from prayer, he told Harris and Emma Smith, that an angel had appeared before him and told him not to re-write the missing 116 pages. The angel had instructed him to cease work on the "Book of Lehi" and instead write the "Book of Nephi". The Book of Nephi would be similar to the Book of Lehi, but since they were written from different points of view, there would be a few differences. Smith thus side-stepped being exposed as a fraud.
Plagarism in the Book of Mormon
It is likely that Joseph Smith got his ideas for the story of the Book of Mormon from several contemporary sources, including Ethan Smith's book: View of the Hebrews. Ethan Smith's book speculated that Native Americans were descended from Hebrew settlers. The view was popular among scholars at the time (Brodie 1945). The book also compared copper breast plates found in New England burial mounds with the ephod (part of the ceremonial garb) of Hebrew high priests, including the Urim and Thumim. This may also be what spawned the breastplate and seer stones that constituted the Urim and Thumim which Joseph Smith sometimes used when "translating" the gold plates.
- Brodie, Fawn. No Man Knows My History. New York, 1945. Vintage Books: New York, 1995. ISBN: 679-73054-0
- Smith likely read and borrowed from Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews. The concept of Native Americans as descendents of the Hebrew people was common at the time, but was soon replaced with the theory of migration from east Asia (Ch 3, pp 46).
- Martin Harris estimated the gold plates (which he did not see, but lifted the box that held them) to weigh 40 to 50 pounds (Ch 4, pp 50).
- Martin Harris insisted on taking a copy of the "reformed Egyptian" characters from the plates to an expert (Ch 4, pp 50).