Friday, December 23, 2011

Introduction to the Book of Mormon


"The church stand[s] or falls with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon."  It is the keystone of our witness of Christ, the keystone of our doctrine, the keystone of our testimony.  (Ezra Taft Benson, October 1986 Conference Address)

"Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: 'I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.'" (Introduction, Book of Mormon, paragraph 6)

We can get closer to God, not by reading the Book of Mormon, but by living it; however, reading comes first.

(Challenge your class to read the Book of Mormon this year.  If this is not a challenge for them, challenge them to give a Book of Mormon to someone else this year.  For a fun Book of Mormon marathon you might consider doing with your family, youth group, or Sunday School class, see my essay blog, A Mormon Window.)

"Brothers and sisters, without reservation I promise you that if you will prayerfully read the Book of Mormon, regardless of how many times you previously have read it, there will come into your hearts an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord. There will come a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to his commandments, and there will come a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God."  (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Power of the Book of Mormon," Ensign, June 1988)


The Book of Mormon was translated very quickly after a long period of personal preparation and skill development on the part of Joseph Smith. (Please see the detailed timeline of the translation of the Book of Mormon which can be found under the heading, Spiritual Gifts Must Be Developed, in a previous post.)  In the original script dictated by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery's handwriting is sloppy and there are ink blotches all over.  In the copy he made afterwards, his penmanship is beautiful; there are no lines to the page, yet it is perfectly straight and the lettering is so consistent it looks like it might have been a computer font.  Obviously, during the translating, Oliver barely had time to dip his pen, and not enough time to blot the ink.

The entire Book of Mormon was written in one sentence; no punctuation whatever was included.  John H. Gilbert at E. B. Grandin printers punctuated it as he printed it.  That is why there have been occasional revisions to the punctuation since.  The title page to the third edition reads "carefully revised by the translator"--the only edition that says that.  (Bruce R. Woolley, BYU Education Week Lecture, August 1999, personal notes)


"The title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates."  (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1:71)

On this title page, Mormon lists two main purposes to the Book of Mormon in the second paragraph.  (Ask class members to find them.)

1) To Show the House of Israel:
     a) The Works of God, "what great things the Lord hath done
          for their fathers..."
          Why is this important?  It builds faith in God.
     b)  The Covenants of God, "that they may know the covenants of the
           Lord, that they are not cast off forever..."
          Why is this important?  It lets us know our role in the plan,
          and the promises to us in the next life.

"Once we know who we are and the royal lineage of which we are a part, our actions and directions in life will be more appropriate to our inheritance...People are gathered into the fold of God through learning the doctrine of Christ and subscribing to the principles and ordinances of his gospel.  They learn through scripture and through patriarchal and prophetic pronouncement of their kinship with or, in rare instances today, of their adoption into the house of Israel...The fulfillment, the consummation, of these blessings comes as those who have entered the waters of baptism perfect their lives to the point that they may enter the holy temple.  Receiving an endowment there seals members of the Church to the Abrahamic Covenant."  (Russell M. Nelson, BYU Devotional, 11-22-88)

2) To Convince Everyone That Jesus is the Christ
    " the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the
    CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations."
    Why is this important?  Our salvation depends upon faith in Him.

In the 531 pages of the Book of Mormon, there are 275 testimonies of Christ.

There is a duality to this purpose as well:  President Benson said the Book of Mormon teaches us of Christ (or what the gospel is), and it exposes the enemies of Christ (what the gospel is not).


As we take a very general look at the Book of Mormon, what are the main subjects? 

1) The first part is about families in crisis.  Do we have this problem today?  Even when the parents are doing their righteous best?

2) The middle part is about how to conduct oneself (or an army) righteously during wartime.  Do we have need of this counsel today?

3) The last part is about how to remain righteous in a degenerating environment.  Do we find ourselves in this situation today?


Remembering that this is a book written for the purpose of teaching, we must watch for the lessons in it.  There are some good clues the writers of the Book of Mormon use in what we could call perceptual words and phrases.  (Credit for this idea goes to Jerry Wilson, former Logan Institute teacher.)
  • FOR
  • THAT
These words are key to recognizing important concepts throughout the Book of Mormon.  In fact, it is a great idea to highlight them in a specific color--I use blue to symbolize truth-- so that they are obvious to you. 

Therefore links cause and effect:

"...having been born of goodly parents      THEREFORE    I was taught in all the language of my fathers..."
''...having had a knowledge of God      THEREFORE     I make a record..."  (1 Ne. 1:1)

Because Nephi was born of goodly parents (some scholars interpret "goodly" as "wealthy"), he was taught how to write well.  Indeed, they would have had to be wealthy for him to have received such an education.  (See Literary Themes in the Book of Mormon, by Joey Greene.)  Because Nephi had a knowledge of God in addition to that education, he made a record:  If we have faith in God, or desire to increase our faith, we might also make a record of God's dealings with us. 

Wherefore is very similar.  We can see that Lehi's great vision did not come "out of the blue," but as a result of his prayer and concern after listening to the prophets of Jerusalem:

" that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.    WHEREFORE    it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.  And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much..."  (1 Ne. 1:4-6)

Nevertheless and notwithstanding show the hidden effect, often the opposite of what might be expected by the cause:

"...having seen many afflictions      NEVERTHELESS    having been highly favored of God..."

So despite having seen many afflictions, Nephi recognized that he was highly favored of God:  We can likewise assume that experiencing sore trials in our lives does not mean God does not favor us.

Behold/I Say Unto You/Remember
Behold (often linked with I say unto you) and remember draw attention to an important concept or event:

"BEHOLD   the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes.  It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief."  (1 Ne. 4:13)


Reasons for things can often be found following the word that or because.  We can see two reasons listed for obtaining the brass plates in the following passage, marked by that:

"And behold, it is wisdom in God that we should obtain these records,   THAT   we may preserve unto our children the language of our fathers; and also   THAT   we may preserve unto them the words which have been spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets..."  (1 Ne. 3:19-20)

We can find the reason that people (including us) whine or complain in 1 Ne. 2:12:

"And thus Laman and Lemuel...did murmur against their father.  And they did murmur  BECAUSE   they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them." 

Since faith consists, in part, of a knowledge of God, we murmur because our faith is weak.  Faith also consists in a knowledge that our life is in accordance to God's will, so we may also murmur because we are unwilling to accept God's plan for us.


A particularly strong combination of perceptual words and phrases is used in the last verse of Nephi's first chapter to state his purpose in keeping his record:

"But    BEHOLD,    I, Nephi, WILL SHOW YOU THAT    the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen...  [why are they chosen?]  

"BECAUSE   of their faith,  [and here the word "to" shows the purpose of the tender mercies]  

"TO   make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance."  (1 Ne. 1:20)

Having stated his purpose in writing, now we can look for it all through Nephi's two books.  Here is an example of the tender mercies of the Lord making the faithful mighty unto deliverance, which also uses a combination of perceptual words: 

"And now, my beloved brethren, seeing that our merciful God has given us so great knowledge concerning these things, let us remember him, and lay aside our sins, and not hang down our heads,    FOR    we are not cast off..."  (the good result of having a knowledge of [or relationship with] our merciful God.)

"NEVERTHELESS,   we have been driven out of the land of our inheritance..." (the opposite result of what we might expect if we were not cast off.)

"BUT    we have been led to a better land..."  (a good result of being driven out)

"FOR  the Lord has made the sea our path..."  (we were led to a better land because the Lord showed a new path, through the sea.)  (2 Ne. 10:20)


The literary techniques of the Book of Mormon testify of its authenticity, as they are commonly used in Hebrew and would have been completely unknown to Joseph Smith at the time of translation.  In fact, some scholars believe Lehi and Nephi must have been scribes by trade, to have written such great literature.  (See Literary Themes in the Book of Mormon, by Joey Greene.)


Why are there so many ands in the Book of Mormon?  For an extreme example, Helaman 3:14 has 18 ands in it!  In Hebrew, and is attached to a noun and is used much as we use a comma in English.  (David Bokovoy, BYU Campus Education Week lecture, August 2001, my personal notes)


And it came to pass is a purposely repetitive phrase, indicating the beginning of a sentence.  It usually shows the passage of time, or the introduction of a new section of the story.  It is found in the Bible, but much more commonly in the Book of Mormon (over 1,400 times), since the Book of Mormon is "a highly condensed prose narrative."  (Hugh W. Pinnock, "Forms of Repetition," Neal A. Maxwell Institute)

Cognate Accusative

In this literary form, the verb is immediately followed by a noun of the same root.  The English form is kind of funny-sounding, but in Hebrew it would be poetic and beautiful.  This is another indication that the Book of Mormon came from Hebrew writers.  Examples:  "fear with great fear," "cursed with a sore cursing," "work all manner of fine work," judge righteous judgments," "dreamed a dream."  (Bokovoy)

Pronominal Suffix

This is a pronoun attached directly to the noun indicating ownership.  In a list, it would be attached to every word.  We can learn something very interesting about Lehi in 1 Ne. 2:4 by noticing which items in the list do not have the word his attached to them:

"And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents..."

Aha!  The provisions and the tents had not belonged to Lehi--he had to purchase them.  This tells us he was not a nomad, and just like the latter-day European pioneers who traveled across the plains of the United States to Utah in the 19th century, the family of Lehi was not at all used to camping.  (Bokovoy)

The Construct State

Two nouns are placed together, one of which describes the other, like an adjective. The best way to say the same thing in English is to use the word of between the two:  "altar of stones," "skin of blackness," "state of probation," "plates of brass."  In English we would typically put the adjective first, and say "brass plates," but you won't find "brass plates" anywhere in the Book of Mormon.

A particularly interesting one is "river of water."  What other kind of river would there be?  Well, in the mideast, dry river beds or wadis are in abundance for most of the year.  This specification lets us know the writer was used to wadis and wanted to clarify that this was a running river.  (Bokovoy)  This phrase is used 5 times but by only one writer.  Guess which one?  The only Book of Mormon writer who began his life in the middle east:  Nephi.


"Not all truths are of equal value, nor are all scriptures of the same worth...There is a power in the book [of Mormon] which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book...[power to] resist temptation...avoid deception...stay on the strait and narrow...  When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance."  (Ezra Taft Benson, A Witness and a Warning, p. 6)

"Its appeal is as timeless as truth, as universal as mankind. It is the only book that contains within its covers a promise that by divine power the reader may know with certainty of its truth.

"Its origin is miraculous; when the story of that origin is first told to one unfamiliar with it, it is almost unbelievable. But the book is here to be felt and handled and read. No one can dispute its presence.

"All efforts to account for its origin, other than the account given by Joseph Smith, have been shown to lack substance. It is a record of ancient America. It is the scripture of the New World, as certainly as the Bible is the scripture of the Old. Each speaks of the other. Each carries with it the spirit of inspiration, the power to convince and to convert. Together they become two witnesses, hand in hand, that Jesus is the Christ, the resurrected and living Son of the living God.

"Its narrative is a chronicle of nations long since gone. But in its descriptions of the problems of today’s society, it is as current as the morning newspaper and much more definitive, inspired, and inspiring concerning the solutions to those problems."  (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Power of the Book of Mormon," Ensign, June 1998)

"With other latter-day prophets, I testify of the truthfulness of this 'most correct of any book on earth,' even the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ. Its message spans the earth and brings its readers to a knowledge of the truth. It is my testimony that the Book of Mormon changes lives. May each of us read it and reread it. And may we joyfully share our testimonies of its precious promises with all of God’s children."  (President Thomas S. Monson, First Presidency Message:  Precious Promises of the Book of Mormon, Ensign, October 2011)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your Work. I teach, and Enjoy the study of each lesson. After I work through the notes of what needs to be taught, I come here to see what more incite that needs to be shared with my Class. Thanks so much... Please Keep it up! I look forward to the next year.

-Fellow Teacher

TJ said...

Thank you so much! I use your posts along with the Institute manual each week to study the gospel. I convert the posts to Kindle format so I can read them on my Kindle, too. One of the nicest things is that the links work from my Kindle :)

Thank you again for all your work and studies, and your willingness to share!

Shane Ownbey said...

The more I learn about the Book of Mormon the better I feel. Thank you for all the time and effort that you have put into your website notes. I know that the Book of Mormon is true, because of the way I feel when I use it's precepts and teaching to govern and direct my life. There are truly many precious gifts that the Book of Mormon offers to the world, non of which are more important the vital role the Jesus Christ plays in plan of happiness that was instituted before the world was. I hope to see you on the other side!
Shane Ownbey

Unknown said...

Thank you for your research about literary forms, some of which I had been taught, others which were new. It was nice to have them all together to study.