The Book of Mormon is a compilation of Scripture considered sacred, along with the Bible, by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). It contains the writings of ancient prophets who documented their revelations from God concerning the spiritual well-being of their people. Members of the LDS faith have inherited the nickname "Mormons" because of their belief that this book is additional Scripture existing alongside the Bible. It forms the foundation of Latter-Day Saint doctrine, and constitutes for Mormons, along with the Old and New Testaments, another witness to the divinity of Jesus Christ.
ORIGINS OF THE BOOK OF MORMON
In 1823 the young Joseph Smith, founder and first prophet of the Mormon faith, reported visitations by heavenly beings, who told him of the whereabouts of metal plates buried in upstate New York. Etched onto these gold plates were the writings of prophets who lived on the American continents more than a thousand years before. Smith was instructed by the heavenly beings to unearth the plates and translate them into English. Once he obtained the plates, Smith dictated the translation to one of a number of scribes. According to those who witnessed the process, when resuming translation after a hiatus of any length, he resumed where he left off from the previous session without repetitions or gaps. After the translation was finished, the angelic messenger took back the plates, although not until they had been shown to 11 men and 1 woman. Their witness can be read in the opening pages of modern editions of the Book of Mormon as "The Testimony of the Three Witnesses" and "The Testimony of the Eight Witnesses." In 1830, Grandin published the first edition of the Book of Mormon in Palmyra, New York. Since then, the book has been issued in numerous editions and has been translated from English into more than 100 languages.
CONTENT OF THE BOOK OF MORMON
The primary narrative of the Book of Mormon opens in Jerusalem ca. 600 B.C.E. A prophet named Lehi (not mentioned in the Old Testament), was instructed by God to warn the people of Jerusalem of the imminent Babylonian catastrophe, just as the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah was doing. In order to escape the destruction of Jerusalem and the enslavement of its inhabitants, Lehi was commanded by God to leave the city and take his family into the desert. After traveling through the desert for many years, they made their way to the coast of the Arabian Sea. Lehi's family built a boat and sailed for a land of promise, the then-unknown Americas.
Lehi died not long after their arrival in the promised land, and his children split into two groups, named after two of his sons, Nephi and Laman. The "Nephites" remained for the most part obedient to the commandments of God, and successions of prophets were chosen from among them to provide the people with continued revelations from God. The "Lamanites," on the other hand, were characteristically wicked and violent. The Nephites later met up with another group that had fled Israel at the same time as Lehi, called the Mulekites after their leader Mulek, a son of King Zedekiah of Jerusalem. The Nephites were also made aware of the records of another people, the Jaredites, who had fled Mesopotamia at the time of the Tower of Babel and arrived, also by ship, in roughly the same geographical area as the Nephites. The Jaredite record indicated that the entire nation was eventually destroyed by infighting resulting from their wickedness. The last prophet of the Book of Mormon, Moroni, included a condensed version of the Jaredite account on the plates obtained by Joseph Smith.
The Book of Mormon is an abridgement of the records kept on metal plates by the prophets of the Nephites, who wrote until roughly C.E. 420. Mormon, the second-to-last prophet, edited this abridgement and summarized the history and teachings contained on the records available to him. This abridgement included the history from the plates kept by Nephi, son of Lehi, and his descendants, and spanned nearly 1,000 years. The climax of the narrative is the appearance and ministry of Jesus Christ, following his crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem, to the Nephites in the Americas. In the Bible, Jesus says, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd" (John 10:16 KJV). Jesus Christ's ministry to the Nephites is thus seen as a fulfillment of that biblical prophecy, the Nephites being among the other "sheep" that were not in Jerusalem during the time of Christ's ministry there. The centuries immediately following Jesus Christ's appearance in the Americas were dominated by peace between the Nephites and Lamanites.