Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Contemporary Mormonism : Latter-day Saints in modern America

Identity, Beliefs, And Organization
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

Another objection is to the Church's expansion of Scripture. Mormons are people of the book, like Christians, Muslims, and Jews, but instead of one book they are people of four books. The Mormon canon is the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. The Church uses the King James Version of the Bible with its own extensive notes, cross references, and definitions. Joseph Smith's revisions of the Bible, which supplement and provide variations of some verses, appear in footnotes and an appendix. The other three official books claim to be products of revelation, either translations of ancient documents or a collection of contemporary revelations. Mormons are urged to read scriptures for inspiration and strength, and they piously search the books for personal guidance. These scriptures are available via modern technology on CD-ROM as well as Palm Pilots, allowing readers to search, print, or copy them.

The Book of Mormon, 584 long pages of text published in 1830, is written in biblical style as translated by Joseph Smith from the gold plates he found in the Hill Cumorah. The book purports to be the history of immigrants from Jerusalem who sailed to the Western Hemisphere before the Babylonian captivity in 600 B.C.E. Those who dismiss claims that Joseph Smith translated the book "by the gift and power of God" must still be impressed that he dictated this long manuscript steadily, without correction, in fewer than ninety days.

The Book of Mormon is a complicated religious history with more than 200 characters covering more than a thousand years. Nephi, one of the immigrants, is the first narrator. Moroni, the last record-keeper, finishes up about 420 C.E. The book is primarily the work of Mormon, Moroni's father, a military figure from about 327-385 C.E. who wrote the central narrative, condensing and excerpting the records of previous chroniclers. Like the Bible, the book has some high flights of rhetoric and many interesting passages, but because it is so far removed from common experience, it remains bewildering to many readers. Mark Twain called the book "chloroform in print." Because of its claims, its length and complication, and because it is an anomaly in American culture, the Book of Mormon is seldom taken seriously. Still, it was included on a list in 2003 among twenty significant books that had "changed America."

The dynamic of most of the Book pits descendants of Nephi, the good brother, against those of his wicked brothers Laman and Lemuel. The tribes that spring from these brothers remain at odds for generations. The basic operating assumption is that obedience to the Lord brings happiness and prosperity whereas pride and disobedience bring destruction. This morality frames chronicles of migration and war. Jesus Christ is a notable presence in the book, and the words of a Book of Mormon prophet estab lish His importance in the lives of Church members today: "We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." 2 Nephi 25:26, The Book of Mormon 1981. His birth is foretold, and after the crucifixion, He appears as the resurrected Christ and teaches biblical doctrine. This visit results in 200 years of peace before society deteriorates again, rushing toward its conclusion when the record-keeping peoples are destroyed, and Moroni buries the gold records in a hill. The survivors live to become, presumably, the ancestors of some Native Americans.

Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon puzzled his contemporaries. Many believed he had plagiarized the text, which seems a reasonable conclusion under the circumstances. But no original source has ever been found. Other readers, noting republican passages, information on the origin of Native Americans, and similarities to anti-masonic furor, assumed the book was the fruit of his nineteenth-century imagination. But no outsiders have accounted for the book's complexity. Some consider the book to be fiction, but the rustic and unlearned Joseph Smith seems unlikely to have created such a complex narrative.

As a starting point for conversion, missionaries direct readers to Moroni 10:4:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

When members say the Book of Mormon is the true word of God, they mean that Joseph Smith translated an historical record from golden plates with divine help and that they feel the inspiration of God when reading it. In 1986, the Book of Mormon received renewed emphasis when Church president Ezra Taft Benson encouraged members to "flood the earth" with the book and read it with new devotion. He said to study the book constantly, that it would, quoting Joseph Smith, get people "nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."

The Doctrine and Covenants, very different from the Book of Mormon, is mainly a collection of 138 revelations, meeting minutes, and letters called sections, on Church governance and doctrine; the book is, in theory, an open canon. The revelations generally speak in the voice of the Lord. "Hearken, O ye people of my church," the first verse of Section 46, is a common opening. The first section, dated 1831, is an introduction to the others, but some date back to 1823. Joseph Smith is responsible for more than 130 sections of the compilation. Brigham Young is credited with only one. The most recent addition, the official declaration extending the priesthood to all worthy males, is dated 1978. Most Church doctrines are found here somewhere.

The Pearl of Great Price is an anthology of short works accepted as Scripture. It includes "Selections from the Book of Moses," revelation given to Joseph Smith as he was reworking the Bible; "The Book of Abraham," a narrative influenced by an ancient Egyptian document that fell into Smith's hands in 1835; "Joseph Smith-Matthew," an expanded version of Matthew 24, as rewritten by Smith in 1831; "Joseph Smith-History," a relation of his early visions and translations; and "The Articles of Faith," Smith's own doctrinal summary. The book was first published in England in 1851, in the United States in 1878, and accepted as Scripture in 1880.