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|Book of Mormon|
The Book of Mormon is a sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement, which adherents believe contains writings of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent from approximately 2200 BC to AD 421. It was first published in March 1830 by Joseph Smith as The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi, who claimed that it had been written in otherwise unknown characters referred to as "reformed Egyptian" engraved on golden plates. Contemporary followers of the Latter Day Saint movement typically regard the text primarily as scripture, but also as a historical record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas.
The accuracy of Smith's story has been questioned. Scholars reject Smith's claims of ancient origin and consider the book a fabrication by Smith, drawing on material and ideas from contemporary 19th-century works rather than translating an ancient record. No evidence of a Reformed Egyptian language has ever been discovered. The content found within the book has also been questioned. Scholars have pointed out a number of anachronisms within the text, and no archaeological or genetic evidence has supported the book's claims about the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The text has also undergone many significant revisions, which critics see as a rebuttal of its divine origins.
Adherents have defended the book against these scholarly claims. The oldest, and most significant, defense of the Smith's story comes from the testimonies of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses, which are published in every copy of the book. More contemporary adherents have also sought to rebut scholarly claims. For instance, an identification of reformed Egyptian with a known ancient Egyptian dialect has been proposed. Some adherents have also claimed that various archaeological findings give credence to the book's claims, despite the lack of actual evidence.
Scholars reject Smith's explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was originally an ancient native-American record written on golden plates, and that God gave him the power to translate it into English. Critics note that there is no physical proof of the existence of golden plates; Smith said that the angel Moroni reclaimed the plates once he had completed the translation. To provide support towards the existence of the plates, Smith included two statements in the Book of Mormon saying that the Book of Mormon witnesses had been shown the plates, and their testimony is typically published at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. While none of these men ever retracted their statement, critics nevertheless discount these testimonies for varying reasons, one of which is because most of these men were closely interrelated. In later years Martin Harris, one of the witnesses, is recorded to have confessed that none of the witnesses saw the plates with their natural eyes but only through a vision.
Most linguists, archeologists, and historians do not regard the Book of Mormon to be of ancient origin. In 1834 a publication by Eber D. Howe claimed that Smith had plagiarized an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spalding. Scholars today have varying theories about the true authorship of the Book of Mormon, but most conclude that Smith composed the book himself, possibly with the help of Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon, drawing from information and publications available in his time, including the King James Bible, The Wonders of Nature, and View of the Hebrews.
Two separate sets of witnesses, a set of three and a set of eight, testified as having seen the golden plates, the record from which the Book of Mormon was translated. Additionally, each of the Three Witnesses (Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer) left the church during Joseph Smith's lifetime and considered Smith to have been a fallen prophet. Harris and Cowdery later returned to the church. However, the Institute for Religious Research disputes the sincerity of their conversion and return.
Apologists note that the witnesses in most cases affirmed their witness until their death, and claim that the aforementioned affidavits and letters are either fraudulent, or otherwise not reliable. In 1881 Whitmer, the one witness who never returned to the church, issued an affidavit reaffirming his testimony of the experience.
Historians view the language patterns, phrases, and names in the Book of Mormon as evidence that it is not authentic.
Joseph Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon from a language called Reformed Egyptian. Archaeologists and Egyptologists have found no evidence that this language ever existed. However, Hugh Nibley, a Mormon apologist, argues that Reformed Egyptian is actually Meroitic Egyptian.
Furthermore, official LDS church commentary on the Book of Mormon says that at least some ancestors of Native Americans came from the Jerusalem area; however, Native American linguistic specialists have not found any Native American language that appears to be related to languages of the ancient Near East.
Supporters point out the interesting elements of the creation drama that turn up in temple, tomb, or coffin texts from ancient Egypt that is described in detail in the Book of Mormon as the coronation of King Mosiah long before these ancient texts were understood by Egyptologists.
Supporters of the Book of Mormon claim it uses chiasmus—a figure of speech utilizing inverted parallelism—and claim it is evidence to support the book's ancient origin. Critics such as Jerald and Sandra Tanner argue that chiasmus in the Book of Mormon are a characteristic of Joseph Smith's speech pattern and not evidence of antiquity. They cite chiasmus in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Moses which were not translated from an ancient text as evidence. However, there are some instances where it would appear chiasmatic writing takes place over entire chapters (Mosiah 2-4, Alma 36).
Some critics theorize that Smith derived the account of the golden plates from treasure-hunting stories of William Kidd. Critics base this theory on the similarity of the names from Smith's account—Moroni and Cumorah—to the location Moroni, Comoros, related to Kidd's hunt for treasure. Apologists argue that it was unlikely that Smith had access to this material since at the time of the writing and publishing of the Book of Mormon his family were living in backwoods America, were very poor and there was no public library available to read such a book.[failed verification]
The only thing Joseph Smith ever said about the translation process was "through the medium of the urim and thummim I translated the record, by the gift and power of God." Martin Harris, Joseph's second scribe, and David Whitmer, a witness of Joseph translating the plates to Oliver Cowdery, both describe the process as an exact word-for-word translation.
Modern LDS scholars tend to fall into two schools: tight control and loose control. Those who believe in tight control interpretation believe Joseph had very little leeway in the words used in dictating the Book of Mormon (but without being restricted to exact word-for-word). Those who believed in loose control interpretation believe that "'ideas were revealed to Joseph Smith' and he put them 'into his own language.'"
The Book of Mormon claims to be the original writings of Nephite leaders in ancient America, but it contains extensive quotation of the 17th century edition of the King James Bible (KJV) and the deuterocanonical books, which Joseph Smith's bible had as well. Furthermore, the language of the Book of Mormon mimics the Elizabethan English used in the KJV with 19th century English mixed into it.
The Book of Mormon quotes 25,000 words from the KJV Old Testament and over 2,000 words from the KJV New Testament.
There are numerous cases where the Nephite writers mimic wording from the New Testament—a document to which they had no access. Below are five examples out of a list of 400 examples created by Jerald and Sandra Tanner:
|Book of Mormon Text||KJV Text|
|"the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world (2 Nephi 9:18)||"the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34)|
|"he judgeth, and his judgment is just" (Mosiah 3:18)||"I judge: and my judgment is just" (John 5:30)|
|"he who is filthy shall remain in his filthiness" (Alma 7:21)||"he which is filthy, let him be filthy still" (Revelation 22:11)|
|"that one man should perish than that a nation should ... perish in unbelief (1 Nephi 4:13)||"that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not" (John 11:50)|
|"the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire" (3 Nephi 7:8)||"the dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:22)|
|Deuterocanonical||Book of Mormon (1830)|
|"We will assay to abridge in one volume ... labouring to follow the rules of an abridgment ... But to use brevity ... is to be granted to him that will make an abridgement." (2 Maccabees 2:25-31)||"I make an abridgement of the record ... after I have abridged the record ... I had made an abridgement from the plates of Nephi ... I write a small abridgement." (1 Nephi 1:17, Words of Mormon 3, 5:9)|
|"They commanded that this writing should be put in tables of brass, and that they should be set ... in a conspicuous place; Also that the copies thereof should be laid up in the treasury" (1 Maccabees 14:48-49)||"And I commanded him ... that he should go with me into the treasury ... I also spake unto him that I should carry the engravings, which were upon the plates of brass" (1 Nephi 4:20,24)|
|"Then the king, in closing the place, made it holy ... many men call it Nephi". (2 Maccabees 1:34,36)||"And my people would that we should call the name of the place Nephi; wherefore we did call it Nephi". (2 Nephi 5:8)|
|"And it came to pass ... I dreamed a dream by night" (2 Esdras 13:1)||"And it came to pass ... Behold, I have dreamed a dream" (1 Nephi 8:2)|
Critics believe Joseph Smith came up with all the names in the Book of Mormon, noting that Joseph owned a King James Bible with a table listing all the names used in the Bible. Many Book of Mormon names are either biblical, formed from a rhyming pattern, changed by a prefix or suffix, or Greek in etymology. Furthermore, Jaredites and Nephites shared names despite the Jaradites being of a different time, place, and language than the Nephites. Lastly, some people would occasionally name their sons after their fathers, something not practiced in antiquity.
Most, but not all, Mormons hold the book's connection to ancient American history as an article of their faith. However, this view finds little acceptance outside of Mormonism because "scholars realize that accepting the Book of Mormon’s antiquity also means coming to terms with LDS claims about Joseph Smith’s access to supernatural powers." The theory that the Book of Mormon is an ancient American history is thus considered to fall outside academic credibility. Mormon apologetics have proposed multiple theories tying Book of Mormon places to modern locations.
There are a number of words and phrases in the Book of Mormon that are anachronistic—their existence in the text of the Book of Mormon is at odds with known linguistic patterns, archaeological findings, or known historical events.
Each of the anachronisms is a word, phrase, artifact, or other concept that critics, historians, archaeologists, or linguists believe did not exist in the Americas during the time period in which the Book of Mormon claims to have been written.
Apologists offer varying views on these anachronisms, typically countering them in one of two ways. One claim is that archaeological evidence may exist that has not yet been found. Another is that Joseph Smith used English words in a generic way, sometimes referring to an item other than that which the direct English word would imply.
|Cimeter (interpreted as Scimitar)||Mosiah 9:16||And it came to pass that I did arm them with bows, and with arrows, with swords, and with cimeters, and with clubs, and with slings, and with all manner of weapons which we could invent, and I and my people did go forth against the Lamanites to battle. (See also Enos 1:20; Mosiah 10:8; Alma 2:12; 27:29; 43:18, 20, 37; 44:8; 60:2; Heaman 1:14)||Scimitars (curved swords) did not exist until the 500s.||200-187 B.C.|
|Elephants||Ether 9:19||And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.||Elephants did not exist in America at the time of Ether.||About 2200-600 B.C.|
|Horses||1 Nephi 18:25||And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men. And we did find all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper. (Horses see 2 Nephi 12:7; 2 Nephi 15:28; Enos 1:21; Alma 18:9, 10,12; 20:6; 3 Nephi 3:22; 4:4; 6:1; 21:14; Ether 9:19; )||Horses on the American continent died out in the Pleistocene and were not reintroduced until the 16th century.||590-589 B.C|
|Steel||1 Nephi 4:9||And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel. (See also 1 Neph 16:18; 2 Nephi 5:15; Jarom 1:8; Ether 7:9)||The Jews did not have steel at the time of this event and there is no archaeological evidence of steel production in pre-Columbian America.||600-592 B.C.|
|Silk||Alma 4:6||And it came to pass in the eighth year of the reign of the judges, that the people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twined linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.||There is little archaeological evidence of silk in pre-Columbian America.||86-83 B.C.|
|Wheat & Barley||Mosiah 9:9||And we began to till the ground, yea, even with all manner of seeds: with seeds of corn and of wheat and of barley ...||Wheat and barley were brought to America by Europeans.||About 200–187 B.C.|
|Sheep||Ether 9:18||and also all manner of cattle, of oxen and cows, and of sheep and of swine and of goats ...||Europeans brought sheep to America.||About 2200-600 B.C.|
|Goats||1 Ne. 18:25||both the cow and the ox and the ass and the horse and the goat and the wild goat ...||Europeans introduced the first domesticated goats to America.|
|Cattle and Cows||Ether 9:18||and also all manner of cattle, of oxen and cows, and of sheep and of swine and of goats ...||There is no evidence that Old World cattle (members of the genus Bos) inhabited the New World prior to European contact in the 17th century AD.|
|Swine||Ether 9:18||and also all manner of cattle, of oxen and cows, and of sheep and of swine and of goats ...||Europeans brought the first swine to America.|
|Jeremiah in Prison||1 Ne. 7:14||... and Jeremiah have they cast into prison ...||Nephi says Jeremiah was imprisoned sometime before the 8th year of the reign of Zedekiah. However, the Bible does not mention Jeremiah being imprisoned before the 10th year of the reign of Zedekiah.|
|Quoting of Second Isaiah||2 Ne. 7:1||Yea, for thus saith the Lord: Have I put thee away or have I cast thee off forever ...||Modern scholars believe Isaiah chapters 40-66 were written during the Babylonian Captivity between 586 B.C. and 538 B.C. Lehi would not have had access to these chapters since he left for the New World around 600 B.C.|
|Apparent Quoting of the New Testament||1 Nephi 22:17||shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:15)||Paul did not write this epistle for another 600 years after Nephi's death.|
Since the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, both Mormon and non-Mormon archaeologists have attempted to find archaeological evidence to support or criticize it. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and other denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement generally believe that the Book of Mormon describes ancient historical events in the Americas, but historians and archaeologists do not regard it as a work of ancient American history.
Some early 20th century researchers claimed various archaeological findings such as place names, and ruins of the Inca, Maya, Olmec, and other ancient American and Old World civilizations as giving credence to the Book of Mormon record. Others disagree with these conclusions, arguing that the Book of Mormon mentions several animals, plants, and technologies that are not substantiated by the archaeological record between 3100 BC to 400 AD in America.
Since the late 1990s pioneering work of Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and others, scientists have developed techniques that attempt to use genetic markers to indicate the ethnic background and history of individual people. The data developed by these mainstream scientists tell us that the Native Americans have very distinctive DNA markers, and that some of them are most similar, among old world populations, to the DNA of people anciently associated with the Altay Mountains area of central Asia. This conclusion from a genetic perspective supports a large amount of archaeological, anthropological, and linguistic evidence that Native American peoples' ancestors migrated from Asia at the latest 16,500–13,000 years ago. (See Settlement of the Americas and Genetic history of indigenous peoples of the Americas).
The mainstream scientific consensus about the origin of the ancient Americans and peoples is apparently at odds with the claims put forth in the Book of Mormon, although Mormon apologists have made efforts to reconcile these apparent contradictions.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints released an essay on their website titled "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies". The conclusion states, "Much as critics and defenders of the Book of Mormon would like to use DNA studies to support their views, the evidence is simply inconclusive."
Critics challenge the viability of the population size and growth of the Book of Mormon people. M. T. Lamb may have been the very first critic to suggest that the Book of Mormon has an unrealistic population growth rate. Modern studies on population size and growth have been done by John Kunich and FARMS writer James Smith. Kunich's analysis agrees with Lamb's that the Book of Mormon presents an unrealistic growth rate for the population, but Smith disagrees, and says that the growth rate is realistic.
Critics point out that Joseph Smith also translated the Book of Abraham. Unlike the Book of Mormon, fragments of the documents from which Smith translated the Book of Abraham are available for inspection; Egyptologists find no resemblance between the original text and Smith's translation.
Supporters point out that the Church has never claimed that the fragments of papyri which include facsimile 1, 2, and 3 are where Joseph Smith obtained his material for the Book of Abraham. These fragments are from the Egyptian Book of the Dead which was just one of the scrolls from Egypt that Joseph Smith had in his possession. When these fragments were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum many years ago, Hugh Nibley wrote a book called The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, An Ancient Egyptian Endowment showing how the fragments that had been discovered had nothing to do with the Book of Abraham but everything to do with Egyptian funeral texts from the Book of the Dead.
The translation of the papyri by both Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists does not match the text of the Book of Abraham as purportedly translated by Joseph Smith. Indeed, the transliterated text from the recovered papyri and facsimiles published in the Book of Abraham contain no direct references, either historical or textual, to Abraham, and Abraham's name does not appear anywhere in the papyri or the facsimiles. Edward Ashment notes, "The sign that Smith identified with Abraham ... is nothing more than the hieratic version of ... a 'w' in Egyptian. It has no phonetic or semantic relationship to [Smith's] 'Ah-broam.'" University of Chicago Egyptologist Robert K. Ritner concluded in 2014 that the source of the Book of Abraham "is the 'Breathing Permit of Hôr,' misunderstood and mistranslated by Joseph Smith", and that the other papyri are common Egyptian funerary documents like the Book of the Dead.
Original manuscripts of the Book of Abraham, microfilmed in 1966 by Jerald Tanner, show portions of the Joseph Smith Papyri and their purported translations into the Book of Abraham. Ritner concludes, contrary to the LDS position, due to the microfilms being published prior to the rediscovery of the Joseph Smith Papyri, that "it is not true that 'no eyewitness account of the translation survives'", that the Book of Abraham is "confirmed as a perhaps well-meaning, but erroneous invention by Joseph Smith", and "despite its inauthenticity as a genuine historical narrative, the Book of Abraham remains a valuable witness to early American religious history and to the recourse to ancient texts as sources of modern religious faith and speculation".
Critics also challenge the divine origin of the Book of Mormon by noting the numerous revisions that have been made to the text. Though most changes are small spelling and grammar corrections, critics claim that even these are significant in light of Smith's claims of divine inspiration. Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon was "the most correct of any book on earth," and Martin Harris said that the words which appeared on the seer stone would not disappear until they were correctly written; Critics assert that some of these changes were systematic attempts to hide the book's flaws.
And at the very same time, the priests who used to be in the former royal court at Napata fled farther to Meroe. There they produced a new type of Egyptian at this time which was Meroitic (I've got a picture of it here). When you compare the Anthon transcripts with Meroitic, it's very impressive. In fact, Brother Bushman back at Brown University (which is one of the four universities in the country where Egyptian has always been a big thing), showed them the Anthon transcript, and Parker immediately recognized them as Meroitic. He said, "They're the closest thing you can get to Meroitic." ... This is the new Egyptian which was invented way up the Nile, way up in Meroe, which is even south of Napata. That's the Nubian kingdom. It's very interesting that so many Book of Mormon names come from way up there.
The evidence indicates that the Book of Mormon is in fact an amalgamation of ideas that were inspired by Joseph's own environment (new) and themes from the Bible (old).
In 1899, the Palmyra King's Daughters Free Library was begun as a reading room. Two years later (1901) the library was chartered as a lending library and has remained so until the present.
Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.