What is the Book of Mormon?
The Book of Mormon is one of the four standard works that are accepted as scripture by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as by several other churches. First published in 1830 by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, it contains a sacred history of the inhabitants of the American continents from 600 B.C. to 421 A.D. The Book of Mormon derives its name from a prophet of this period who compiled and abridged most of the record.
Discovery and Translation
The English version of the book is the work of Joseph Smith. As he related the circumstances, he received the ancient record on September 22, 1827, under the direction of a heavenly messenger named Moroni. Smith described the record as a series of thin metal plates, having the appearance of gold, each about 6 by 7 inches (15.2 by 17.8 cm) in size. The plates were covered on both sides with small and beautifully engraved characters in a language known as "reformed Egyptian." With the plates was an ancient interpreting device, the Urim and Thummim, consisting of two stones in silver bows, fastened to a breastplate.
The Book of Mormon consists of 15 main parts, known, with one exception, as books. The first six books are translated from the smaller plates of Nephi. Then follows "The Words of Mormon," a brief explanation of the preceding portion of the record and a preface to that which follows. The remaining eight books are a translation of an abridgement of the larger plates of Nephi by Mormon and his son Moroni, and the writings of Mormon and Moroni. Twenty-three recorders participated in writing the history.
Joseph Smith records that he was able to translate the plates "by the gift and power of God," with the aid of the Urim and Thummim. Actual translation from the larger plates began on April 12, 1828, with Martin Harris serving as scribe. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, Harris lost the first 116 pages, and translation was halted for almost a year. Work resumed on April 7, 1829, with Oliver Cowdery as scribe. The translation was completed in June 1829, and, following this, the plates were removed by the heavenly messenger.
The history related in the Book of Mormon begins with the exodus from Jerusalem of a righteous man named Lehi, who, with his family and the family of Ishmael, was led by divine direction to the shores of South America. Here the colony divided into two opposing groups, who became known as the Nephites and the Lamanites, after their chieftains, Nephi and Laman, two sons of Lehi. The Nephites were considered God's chosen people and developed into a highly civilized nation, while the Lamanites lived a nomadic life. The American Indians are thought to be the descendents of the Lamanites.
The history tells of the customs, works, and wars of these two groups, and contains the sermons and teachings of their prophets. The book is a witness to the truth of the Bible and of the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Eternal God.
Two other groups of peoples who were thought to have migrated to the American continent were the Mulekites, who left Jerusalem shortly after Lehi and whose descendents joined the Nephites; and the Jaredites, who migrated at the time of the Tower of Babel and whose record was discovered by the Nephites.
Eleven witnesses testified to having seen and handled the plates from
which the Book of Mormon was translated. All remained firm in this
testimony despite the many attempts to discredit the account. Foremost
among these claims was one that Joseph Smith had adapted a manuscript
by Solomon Spaulding. The discovery of this manuscript and its
publication in 1885 thoroughly disproved any connection with the Book
of Mormon. The Spaulding manuscript is in the library of Oberlin
College in Ohio.
The 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon contained 590 pages and over 306,000 words. The book has been published in 24 languages, including the unique phonetic "Deseret Alphabet," and has been translated into 9 additional languages.