A Brief History of the Book of Mormon
In 600 BC, the people of Jerusalem had gone astray. Many prophets had been sent to them to warn them to repent. One of them was a man named Lehi who lived in Jerusalem with his family. Lehi had been warned in a vision that if the people didn't repent, Jerusalem would be destroyed and the survivors would be carried off captive to Babylon.
Lehi preached repentance, but the people refused to listen. To the contrary, they wanted to stone him. The Lord warned Lehi that the people had been given enough chance to repent and it was now time for him to flee the city, take his family, and head off into the wilderness. Lehi was told that if they remained faithful, they would be led to a Promised Land.
After traveling for some time, they pitched their camp on the borders of the Red Sea. On two occasions, Lehi was instructed to send his sons back to Jerusalem. The first time was to secure the scriptures from a record keeper named Laban. The Lord let Lehi know that if they were to found a new society in the Promised Land, they would need the scriptures in order to survive spiritually. The scriptures they took contained the books of Moses, a history of the Jews up to the reign of king Zedekiah, and writings of prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. (Much of these writings are included in what we know today as the Old Testament.)
Lehi had begun his journey with his wife, Sariah, and four sons, Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi. The group quickly grew as the second time the sons were sent back to Jerusalem was for them to convince the family of Ishmael to join them in their journey. Ishmael had single daughters who married Lehi's sons. Without wives, the new society would not have thrived for long.
Lehi kept a record of his travels, visions, and prophecies. His son, Nephi, did the same, recording a summary of events that involved Lehi and elaborating on the events that involved him directly. Nephi became the main record keeper, recording not only his own prophesies, visions and favorite scriptures, but also his tribulations, particularly with his two oldest brothers who did not want Nephi to become their spiritual leader once Lehi died.
A permanent schism was created between those who followed Laman and those who followed Nephi. The group was barely able to stay together during Lehi's life. Lehi had been told that they would only make it to the Promised Land if he and his people remained righteous. Their bickering dampened the Lord's guidance and it took them eight years to journey through the wilderness, build a ship, and then sail to the Promised Land.
When Lehi grew old and died, those who followed Laman became known as Lamanites and cultivated a hatred for those who followed Nephi (the Nephites) that became so intense as to lead to wars. The Nephites left the land of their first inheritance in the Promised Land and founded a city farther away. The Lamanites eventually found the Nephites and wars continued.
When Nephi grew old, he passed his records down to his brother, Jacob, who had been born after Lehi left Jerusalem. Jacob passed the records down to his son, Enos. Thus began a tradition that lasted for centuries of the records being passed from father to son.
At one point in the records, there was a righteous king named Mosiah who was forced to leave the city that Nephi had built. He took the people farther north, where they met another group of people. This other group had also fled Jerusalem, but at the time that Jerusalem was under attack.
These people had not brought any scriptures or records with them and although they were an essentially good group of people who had built a great city called Zarahemla, they had lost the ability to read and write and were in need of leadership. They agreed to merge with the Nephites and have Mosiah become their king. Zarahemla became the Nephite's capitol city from then on.
The records continued to be kept by righteous men who recorded accounts of the people's wars and tribulations, but also their prophecies, teachings, and hopes. The majority of the record keepers wrote of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, and of their longing for His coming. They said that they continued to live the Law of Moses, as it had been commanded that they should, but that they recognized that it was not the full means of salvation. They knew that salvation would only come through following the teaching of the promised Savior, His Atonement, and resurrection.
At the time of the Savior's birth in Bethlehem, the people in the New World had had several prophets prophesy of his birth. Some believed the prophesies, but many did not. The unbelievers even went so far as to plan to put to death anyone who claimed to believe the prophesies. But, the day before the execution, the sign of the Savior's birth appeared: the sky remained bright as day at the going down of the sun. This impressed several, but not for long. The next three decades found the Nephites sinking into eventual degradation again.
At the time the Savior was crucified in Jerusalem, terrible storms and earthquakes wreaked havoc in the New World. After His resurrection, Jesus repeatedly visited the apostles and others in and around Jerusalem over several days. He told them of being about His Father's business and admonished his apostles to teach the gospel throughout all the world.
He ensured that the apostles would be successful in the Old World. However, in between these many visits in the Old World, He also visited the people in the New World - a place where the apostles couldn't possibly visit, with a people who were also children of God - and preached His gospel to them.
The record keeper recorded the Savior's teachings among the Nephites. These teachings were very similar to what had been taught in the Old World, including such things as the Sermon on the Mount, as it was the same gospel. He also established a church among these people and taught them how to worship. Among other things, he taught them that he would one day return and that they should look forward to His Second Coming.
The records continued to be handed down from father to son, until some 400 years after the Savior's visit. The Nephites had again fallen into conflict and apostasy. A record keeper named Ammaron instructed a young boy named Mormon to pay attention to the world around him and when he was older, he should go to a hill where Ammaron had buried the records, retrieve them, and record what he had witnessed.
At the appointed age, Mormon retrieved the records. Over the centuries, there had been many records kept. Mormon began a life-long task of abridging them. He also became a great military leader among his people. This was a frustration for him because he saw how wicked the people had become. He had hoped that their losses in battles with the Lamanites would humble them and cause them to repent, but it only made them a more hardened people.
When Mormon knew that this would lead to the end of the Nephite nation, he transferred ownership of the records to his son, Moroni. Moroni was charged with keeping the abridged record safe. Moroni left his people and spent the rest of his days wandering far away from the Lamanites who eventually wiped out the Nephite nation, and trying to not be taken captive himself.
He recorded some of the letters his father had written to him. He abridged yet another record of yet another people who had managed to travel to the New World from the Old World centuries before even the Nephites had journeyed there. He also recorded several of his own prophesies. When the time was right, Moroni buried the abridged record and blessed the place so that centuries in the future the Lord would be able to direct someone else to the place where he would be able to find, translate, and share the record with the world.
More than 14 centuries later, a young man named Joseph Smith was praying for spiritual guidance. His room began to light up. An angel appeared to him and declared that his name was Moroni. He said that he was the same Moroni who had lived centuries earlier and had buried a sacred record of a people long dead. He showed Joseph the hill where the plates were buried, in a vision.
The next day, Joseph went to the hill and was again visited by Moroni. Joseph uncovered the record, but was forbidden to retrieve it. Moroni told Joseph that he was not yet ready to take the plates on which the record was written. Joseph was told that he was to return to the hill each year to be instructed by Moroni. After four years of annual visits, Joseph was finally permitted to retrieve the plates.
Over the next few months, Joseph was blessed with the ability to translate the text on the plates, into English. It wasn't an easy task. He had to be prepared and in tune to accomplish it. Meanwhile, people heard of "Joe Smith" and his "gold Bible" and began harassing him, trying to find the plates and steal the gold. While trying to complete the translation work, Joseph had to keep the records hidden and move them from hiding place to hiding place so that they would not be stolen.
At one point, his scribe, Martin Harris, was being harassed by his wife about the translation work. Martin's wife didn't believe in the work and accused Martin of participating in a fraud. She demanded proof. Martin repeatedly asked Joseph if he could show his wife the manuscript, as it had been written so far. Joseph repeatedly prayed for permission, and was repeatedly denied it. Finally, he was allowed to give the manuscript to Martin, but severely cautioned.
Martin showed his wife the manuscript. Somehow the manuscript went missing. Joseph never saw it again. For a time, Joseph lost the power to translate and was chastened by the Lord for giving into the whims of men. Eventually, Joseph was fully humbled and penitent. Oliver Cowdery became the new scribe. Rather than retranslate the portion that had been lost, Joseph continued, or rather began, where he had left off. This was with the book of Nephi. Fortunately, Nephi had included his summary of the key events recorded by his father, Lehi, so that we today would be able to understand the origins of their story.
The translation work was finally completed and the manuscript was prepared for printing in 1829. Martin Harris mortgaged his farm to pay for the printing of the book. The book was titled, "The Book of Mormon."
Upon completing the translation of the plates, Moroni appeared to Joseph and retrieved the plates. So far as is known, Moroni has kept them in his keeping to his day.
On two occasions Joseph had been permitted to show the plates to people. The first time was to Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer. The second time was to a group of eight men. All of these people wrote a testament of having seen and handled the plates. Their testimonies are included in the preface to the Book of Mormon.
Today, the Book of Mormon has been translated into dozens of languages and is known worldwide. Those who believe in the teachings found in the Book of Mormon have been nicknamed "Mormons." A common misunderstanding among those who are unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon is in believing that "Mormons" only consider the Book of Mormon as scripture, and not the Holy Bible.
In reality, the official doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormons") include several books as scriptures. This includes the King James translation of the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, and other books as well. One of the mantras of the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS is the belief in modern prophets and continuing revelation. They believe that as times change, the need for continuing revelation and divine guidance remains as critical to God's children today as to the Jews in ancient days.
©2012 by Douglas V. Nufer
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