History and Story Behind the Book of Mormon Part 1

About the Church of Latter-Day Saints holy Book of Mormon, history of the famous religious work.



Religion: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon).

Publication Date: 1830, Palmyra, N.Y.

How Written: There is a Mormon version and a non-Mormon version of the story behind the Book of Mormon. According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the period from 600 B.C. to 421 A.D. marked the arrival in America of emigrants from Palestine and Babylonia, the appearance of Christ in America after his ascension, and subsequent wars among the people, ending in their destruction. The history and teachings of the era were recorded by the prophets, then compiled and abridged by military leader and prophet Mormon, and then written onto gold plates by Moroni, Mormon's son, during the 5th century A.D. These plates were buried in the earth.

Some 1,400 years later, on Sept. 21, 1823, Moroni as a resurrected being, or angel, appeared to Joseph Smith in a series of visions, telling Smith of the contents and location of the plates as well as enjoining Smith not to disclose their whereabouts or misuse them. Moroni further informed Joseph Smith of his mission--to translate the plates--and of the fact that two stones, called Urim and Thummim, attached to a breastplate beside the plates would enable Smith to translate the plates from hieroglyphics into English. Such stones had been used by seers in biblical times.

Smith found the plates and stones on Cumorah Hill in Manchester, N.Y., but he had to return to the site once a year for four years until the messenger permitted him to obtain the plates and begin the translation on Sept. 22, 1827. The plates were about 6 in. wide and 8 in. long and about the thickness of tin. Smith was assisted by David Whitmer (whose home was used for the work), Oliver Cowdery (main scribe), and Martin Harris (financial support and scribe), all three of whom bore witness to the appearance of divine messengers and to the gold plates themselves. The manner of translation was to place the stones over the hieroglyphs. Through Urim and Thummim the prophet would see the English equivalents instead of the characters. If there was an error, the characters would remain visible until corrected. If correct, the words would fade and a new line would appear.

According to non-Mormon critics, there is evidence that part of the book is actually an excerpt from a 19th-century novel about the origin of the Indians by minister Solomon Spaulding, who died in 1816, only a few years before Smith's visitation by Moroni and the work of translating the plates.

Although this hypothesis is not new, having been voiced as early as 1833, the newest hoopla is based on a 1977 claim by handwriting experts that 12 pages of the Smith manuscript appear to be written in Spaulding's hand.

Still further criticism, by way of shaving Smith's moral fiber a few hairs, is the report that Smith was convicted of hiring himself out to find buried treasure with the seer stones (Time, July 11, 1977).

The Church remains unmoved by the controversy, welcoming the examination of its archives and holding to the belief that the book was divinely inspired.

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