Mormon's Book


An obviously-fabricated story that I used to believe


Posted 06 Feb 2017    Edited 22 Jan 2019


Note: The stuff here doesn't reflect the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just mine.

When you're a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, people say you're a Mormon. Which you are. The name "Mormon" comes from the most important book in the Latter-day Saint canon.


You can read the full text of the Book of Mormon here, or, you can request a free copy here.

The Book of Mormon is, I think, one of the most interesting books ever written. Approaching the book with even the mildest scientific outlook makes it basically impossible to accept. The thought that it's genuine is unbelievable. Yet millions of people [including me] actually think that it's a real record written by real people before and after the birth of Jesus Christ.



Why It's Unbelievable


Joseph Smith was the first prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter days [meaning since the Dark Ages, basically]. That's what we Mormons claim and believe.

He was born in 1805 in Vermont. His family was super religious and his folks said they had visions and stuff like that. Plus, he moved with his family to Palmyra, New York when he was really little to farm. The era he lived through there is known in American history as the Second Great Awakening. So he grew up with tons of religious stimulus.

The nickname of the place the Smiths lived was "the burned-over district" because there were so many churches and traveling ministers and everything that it was basically a front for religious/ideological warfare. Speaking about this period of his life and the contest among religions, Smith wrote:

During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit ... But so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.

Smith said that at the height of this personal religious crisis [he was like fourteen years old] he was reading in the Bible and happened to cross James 1:5, which basically says that if you ask God a question about something you don't know, He'll answer.

Smith decided to ask God about which church he should join.

He claims that as he went alone into the woods to ask God what to do, he started to ask what church was right; but, all the sudden, he was completely covered in darkness and he felt like he was gonna die. Then, he says, he called on God to save him, and, not only was he taken out of the overwhelming darkness, but he also saw God and Jesus Christ as two distinct, shining men standing in the air above him. He said that they called him by his name, introduced who they were and answered his question: telling him that he shouldn't join any of the churches, but that he [Smith] would be responsible to "bring back" the church that Jesus established when He lived as a man in Palestine.

Already, at this point, a rational person doesn't need to know more about the Book of Mormon because they know too much about the guy who published it. Considering the religious climate around him + the fact that his parents reported having visions + that there were no witnesses to back up what Joseph Smith said he saw + that Smith's own accounts of what he saw and experienced in the vision changed significantly through time (you can read the different versions of Smith's vision here) = this sounds way made-up.

So that's the guy who wrote the Book of Mormon... Actually, Smith doesn't claim that he wrote the book, but that he translated it from ancient metal plates that he got from an angel.

Yeah, I know.

Smith says when he was seventeen that as he was praying one night for forgiveness of his sins, he witnessed another vision: this time, at night and in the walls of his family home. He said that a glowing angel appeared in his room in answer to his prayer and said his name was Moroni [muh-roh-nye]. He told Joseph about an ancient record that was buried in the ground and inscribed on gold plates that Smith was to find and translate by the power of God. The angel left and came back two more times that night, each time repeating all the stuff he said about the record, and adding more prophecies and warnings with each visit.

The next day, being worn out from all the visioning he had to do the night before, Joseph was sleepy. His dad saw that he wasn't well and told him to quit the farm work and go inside. As he was climbing over a fence to go home, he passed out and saw angel Moroni again. This time, Moroni was like, "Go tell your dad about everything I told you."

So he went back and did that, and the dad was like, "Yeah, sounds like God to me."

Smith says that he went to the place where the angel told him to go and he found a cemented rock box that contained the "gold plates" - a record of ancient prophets covering 1000 years of lost American history, plus a mystic device to interpret the dead language written on the plates. This device was called the Urim and Thummim and was described by Smith as being a pair of stones that worked like glasses, allowing the user to basically do Google Translate on unknown languages.


Image courtesy of Huffington Post

I don't know if I can say "it gets weirder," but there's more.

Joseph Smith went back to the place where the plates were buried (which was only like four or five miles from Palmyra) every year for a scheduled appointment with Moroni until he was twenty-one, at which point he was allowed by the angel to extract the plates and take them home to start translating the record to English.

Once he got them home, he started translating. He wasn't a very good writer, so he would dictate his translation off the plates, and he'd get someone else to write the words. Sometimes, and especially at the beginning, his wife Emma would do it. Later, Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery assisted as scribes in the process.

The translation of the Book of Mormon is, in my opinion, the weirdest event in LDS church history. Smith began translating with Emma and Martin Harris. Initially, Smith told everyone that no one was allowed to see the plates except for him. During translation, the plates would be covered.

How do you translate something if it's covered up with a blanket? Good question.

Note: a few people were allowed to see the plates eventually. Their testimonies are recorded here and here and are always included by the church in copies of the Book of Mormon.

The church has always published images of the translation process like this:


Image courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

But this, according to the accounts of everyone around him who assisted as a scribe, is not how it went down. Although the book is pretty flowing and chronological, the methods of translation were anything but consistent. Sometimes, Joseph would wear the Urim and Thummim like glasses as he read off the plates [when this happened, I think there had to be a blanket supported vertically between him and the scribe so the scribe couldn't see the plates]. Mostly, though, he would place a "seer stone" in the bottom of a stovepipe hat, then bury his face in the hat. He said that the text of the Book of Mormon would appear on the stone and he'd read it off to the scribe.

This stone was found by Smith years earlier. He previously attempted to use the stone as a tool for finding buried treasure. Apparently, this was a practice of the day - like divining water or something. He repurposed it as a convenient alternative to the Urim and Thummim and that's how a lot of the Book of Mormon was "translated" - sometimes the metal plates were not even present in the room when Smith did this.

Sidebar: if you're Mormon, and you're reading this, and you haven't heard this before, you might not feel like this is accurate. I know this definitely isn't the narrative that I always heard growing up in the church. It is, however, historically accurate as recorded by Joseph Smith himself and the people who witnessed this process. Although the church did not freely discuss these details for a lot of its history, it is much more forthcoming now. Read here for the church's newish official explanation of the translation process.

Additional sidebar: really, though, if you're Mormon, you already believe that God and Jesus appeared personally to a fourteen-year-old and made him a prophet; and that's a pretty big stretch already. If you're a mainstream Christian and you're laughing about this far-fetched story, remember that you like the Bible [with its talking donkeys, pillars of fire, and long chapters about how to kill cows and pigeons]. If you're not religious and you're laughing at all this, you're probably just laughing nice and smug-like. Or maybe you're horrified that people could actually believe it. From wherever you approach it, it's a very interesting story.

In regards to the Book of Mormon's translation, the hardest pill for me to swallow is the Book of Lehi incident.

As Joseph translated with Martin Harris as scribe, they soon completed the first "book" of the Book of Mormon. These were, apparently, the writings of the prophet Lehi who preached in Jerusalem for most of his life, then sailed with his family to Central America on a boat his son Nephi built. We'll get into that story later.

There were one hundred sixteen pages of manuscript hand-written by Harris over three months of translation covering the first part of the Book of Mormon. Harris had traveled from Palmyra to Pennsylvania [where Joseph and Emma had moved], and Harris's wife Lucy was not havin' it.

She was like, "Why is my husband going to Pennsylvania without me? This is fishy." To respond to his wife's skepticism, Harris asked Joseph if he could take the manuscript home to show her. Smith said he went and prayed and asked God if that would be okay and God was like, "Nope."

Harris kept bugging him, though, and Joseph was like, "Please, God, can I let him take the pages?" and God was like, "Nooo-uh."

Finally, after another time or two asking, God was like, "Oh my gosh. What did I just tell you?" so Joseph was like, "Okay, martin, you can take these, but you gotta super promise that you'll only show them to these five of your family members," and Harris was all, "Okay. Deal."

Martin did take the pages back to Palmyra and showed his wife and family. Then, he started showing all his neighbors and friends, too. A few days after being home the records went missing. Martin was like, "Oh, crap." He searched all over for them, but they were gone gone. Meanwhile, back in harmony, Pennsylvania, Emma had just given birth to Joseph's and her first baby. It was born with defects and only survived a few hours. Emma got hurt bad in the delivery and almost died.

Joseph stayed nursing Emma for two weeks then headed up to Palmyra to get the transcript back cause he hadn't heard from Martin in a long time. Joseph arrived and found out what happened and said, "Oh, my God! ... All is lost! All is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned—it is I who tempted the wrath of God." He wrote a letter to Emma that has been canonized in church history as his first recorded revelation. It basically is a rebuke from God to Smith and Harris condemning them for their disobedience to His direction. After this, Smith claims that Moroni the angel came to take the plates and translator back. Smith didn't attempt translation again until the following year when the plates were again entrusted to him.

Joseph decided not to retranslate the Book of Lehi. Growing up in the church, I always heard that the reason for not retranslating the lost portion was that whoever had got a hold of the manuscript would have made changes to it. They could have compared the original to the retranslation and been like, "Look, he couldn't duplicate it. He can't really translate it."

Skeptics are rightly skeptical. It really, really seems like Joseph was not confident in his ability to translate - that a comparison of a new translation with the original would have resulted in discrepancies. This is the part of the story that makes me feel the most uneasy about the Book of Mormon.

There are plenty of other "problems" to be found in the Book of Mormon, itself. It seems that most of its opponents don't appeal to the crazy history described above. Instead, they point out issues/contradictions in the text itself. Like, that the writers of the Book of Mormon mention the presence of horses and elephants and steel manufacture in America [for which there is no archaeological evidence]. Or, that the style of speech in many passages in the Book of Mormon is almost identical to that of American circuit preachers to whom Joseph would have been exposed.

In my opinion, those little details don't hold a candle to the pile of doubt-inducing facts to be found in the confirmed history of Joseph Smith himself. If you don't believe in the Book of Mormon, that should be why.

Overview


Taken from the introduction page of the Book of Mormon itself [LDS version]:

The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains the fulness of the everlasting gospel.

The book was written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Their words, written on gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon. The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 BC And afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.

The book can be read like a novel, basically. The whole book follows an almost linear narrative, starting with the story of Lehi and his family, written [on golden plates] by Lehi's son Nephi. I guess it really started with the Book of Lehi, but Smith and Harris screwed all that up. Nephi passes the plates to his brother Jacob. Jacob passes it to his son Enos; each of them taking a turn to write.



The biggest thing that happens in this first part is recorded in the Second Book of Nephi: things get dicey in Lehi's family -> Nephi splits from his older brothers [Laman and Lemuel] and takes half the family with him. The other half stays with the two brothers. This split results in the initialization of two civilizations that fill the rest of the history of the Book of Mormon: the Nephites and the Lamanites.

The plates continue to get passed down and written over the course of a few generations. Finally, we get to a point where Mormon [after whom the Book of Mormon is titled], inserts this part into the record and says, "Everything you've read so far was actually written by the original authors. What comes next is this giant summary I've done from volumes and volumes of written history that covers like seven hundred years. PS - pretty much the entire race of people [the Nephites] I come from is dead except for me and a few dozen other people. Enjoy."

After this point the story kinda becomes more epic because individual writers aren't just covering their own experience. Mormon takes a bird's eye view of everything and gives a couple insights along the way. The narratives range from stories of civil and political events to ministries of prophets and long expositions on philosophical matters.

He details a lot of history and events [the most important being the post-death, post-resurrection ministry of Jesus Christ Himself to people in Central/South America] and concludes with his own words. At that point, war had decimated the entire Nephite civilization. Mormon and his son Moroni [the same guy who appeared as an angel to Joseph Smith for the yearly appointments] are among the few survivors. Mormon's voice abruptly disappears and Moroni writes, "My dad's been killed. I'm the only Nephite left that I know of and I'm just gonna try to preserve these records now, I guess."

Moroni then writes a summary of some other records he had access to that were mentioned briefly by his father earlier in the Book of Mormon, but never fully explained. This portion is called the Book of Ether and it tells the story of a small group of folks who also traveled from Eurasia to the Americas way, way before Lehi's family. The Nephites found the record of these people [called Jaredites], but the civilization was extinct when they were discovered so the two nations never had any exchange.

Moroni then writes some of his own words to conclude the Book of Mormon. He's like, "I thought I'd be dead by now, but since I'm still alive and since there are a few unscratched metal plates left, I'll just fill them up." He includes a couple sorta random things he felt like his dad missed in the record, then he transcribes a couple letters he got from his dad in the final stages of the Nephite war.

He finishes with a very "meta" chapter about the Book of Mormon itself. This is arguably the most important chapter in the entire book. This chapter is the reason so many people believe the book is true, despite its bizarre origin and the total lack of material evidence to support it.

The subtitle of the Book of Mormon is, "Another Testament of Jesus Christ."

Despite the controversy regarding the Book of Mormon in terms of its validity, I don't think there is any question as to whether the subtitle is appropriate. The Book of Mormon is a story about people who were directed by God to inhabit the new world. There are a lot of details regarding their culture, their history, the geography of their territories, the rise and fall of systems of power in their society, and miracles and prophets and revelations. But, what's the best answer to the question "What is the Book of Mormon about?"?

Jesus Christ

Freaking everybody in the book talks about Him. Even the ones who lived way before Him - especially the ones who came before Him.

Spoiler - Moroni's concluding words are:

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen.

First Nephi


The first writer in the published Book of Mormon is Nephi. He explains that he was born and mostly raised in Jerusalem around 600 BCE. His dad's name was Lehi, his mom was Sariah, and he had three older brothers: Laman, Lemuel, and Sam. Since he was raised in a patriarchal Jewish society, Nephi mentions that he has sisters, but doesn't bother to tell us much about them.

Lehi has a vision in which he is told, among other things, that Jerusalem is about to get destroyed. He goes out and starts telling the people, "Hey, God told me this place is going to get destroyed and He also told me that He's gonna let it happen because most of you are doing things that He doesn't like. So... Probably you should repent."

Naturally, the people weren't really into listening to someone preach to them about what they were doing wrong, so Lehi gets mega rejected. After a short while, God tells lehi, "Take your family and get out of here." Lehi rounds everyone up with some tents and stuff and they leave for the desert. Apparently, even though they lived in 600-BCE-land, most of the people in Lehi's family weren't really outdoorsy types. His two sons Laman and Lemuel start crying right away about how unfair it is that they had to leave their nice house in Jerusalem to come camping.

Nephi writes that the first thing his dad does is create an alter and offer thanks to God. After just a little while camping, Lehi tells Nephi, "I need you kids to go back to Jerusalem and get a set of records from this relative of ours: Laban. He's got these plates of brass [that are basically the first five books of the Old Testament, plus some other religious history and stuff] and we're gonna need them if we wanna preserve this important knowledge about God for our family." He talks about how he knows it's not going to be easy, but it's something God has commanded him to do.

Nephi famously [for Mormons] responds:

I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save He shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which He commandeth them.

Lehi is way stoked that Nephi "gets it" and all four brothers head back to Jerusalem to get the plates.

The first attempt for these brass plates goes bad. One of the older brothers goes to Laban's house and just asks for them. Laban's like, "Screw you + I'm gonna kill ya." He runs away crying and tells the other brothers, "This isn't gonna work. I'm done."

Nephi persuades them to try again. They go back to their abandoned house, find some money and then go again to Laban's. They're like, "Hey, can we buy the records you have?" and Laban freaks out again. They drop the money and run from Laban's guys.

the older brothers start packing it up for real, and Nephi's like, "i know God wants us to do this, so I'm not leaving Jerusalem until we've got the plates"

Nephi, being the only one who's really on board with this whole endeavour, is totally babysitting the two oldest brothers the whole time. He has to keep convincing them to not turn around and he has to tell them every little thing to do. So they beat the shit out of him and the other brother for being annoying. A shiny, flying angel comes and is like, "Laman and Lemuel! Stop! Nephi is way better than both of you. And you're going to go back and get the plates. Now."

Immediately after the angel leaves, Laman and Lemuel [in whiny eighth-grader voices] are like, "Oh my gosh! This is so gay! Why do we have to do this?"

Nephi goes by himself back to Laban's with no plan [but, with a promise from the angel that "the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands"]. When he arrives, he finds Laban like this:

Image courtesy of college humor

He says he gets this feeling like he should kill Laban. There's this inner monologue where Nephi's like, "I've never killed anyone before and that doesn't seem like a good thing at all to do." He keeps getting this persistent voice in his head that tells him to do it, though. He says:

I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause — that I might obtain the records according to His commandments.

Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.

Nephi proceeds to take the clothes off the decapitated body, put them on himself, and walk around Laban's house pretending to be him.

While doing the second [or maybe third] most sociopathic thing mentioned in the Book of Mormon, Nephi gets really lucky. He finds one of Laban's servants named Zoram. Of all the people he could have run into, he finds the one guy who has prosopagnosia. He also manages to navigate the house without anyone raising a fuss about the dead naked body that definitely is somewhere.

Nephi's like, "Hey, take me to where the plates of brass are," and the guy's like, "Okay."

Nephi wanted to just grab the plates and dip, but Zoram follows him. Nephi, forgetting he's in character, I guess, is like, "Yeah, I'm just gonna take these out to my brothers who are waiting outside the city wall" then he's like, "Uhhh.... I mean... uh..." but Zoram is just like, "Oh yeah? Cool, I'll come with ya" - taking Nephi to have meant "brothers" the way black people use it or something.

Once they get out there, there's an obvious conflict. The brothers [seeing Nephi from a distance] think it's Laban and start running away. Nephi's like, "Wait guys! It's me Nephi!" then Zoram is like, "What?!" and he starts running away. But, Nephi grabs him and is like, "Okay, we can't let you go back to Jerusalem. You'll tell everyone that is was us who killed Laban and that's not gonna work. We'll either kill you, or you can come live with our family out in the desert."

After weighing out the pros and cons of each option, Zoram decides to take Nephi up. They all go back to the desert. With the brass plates. When they get back to camp, everyone welcomes Zoram and he develops Stockholm syndrome really quickly, so that just kinda works out nice for everyone.

After not too long, the brothers make a final trip back to Jerusalem. The mission this time is to convince another family to come with them to who-knows-where. Somehow, this guy Ishmael is like, "Yeah, I'll go" and he gathers up his family, which happens to mesh with Lehi's family like a sexual jigsaw puzzle piece - Nephi and his brother [and even Zoram] all hook up with Ishmael's daughters with no one left out or having to share. And the daughters of Lehi get guys, too, I think.

Laman and Lemuel start really hating Nephi. At one point, they tie him down and start gathering rocks or something to kill him. Nephi prays for strength and the ropes he was tied up with come loose. Then, one of Ishmael's daughters convinces the brothers to not kill him. They say sorry and are cool for a bit, but they still really, really hate him.

Also around this time, Lehi is falling asleep each night reading from the brass plates and one night he has this dream:

Image courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

There's a tree with fruit that makes you happy when you eat it. There's an iron handrail that leads to the tree through a thick fog in a big field. And, across a deep river, there's a giant floating building full of people making fun of everyone on the tree-side of the river.

There are a lot of layers of meaning to the dream, and Lehi doesn't really explain any of them. So Nephi's like, "I wish I understood what my dad is talking about," and, after he prays to understand, he gets to have the same dream, but his has a tour guide angel guy who explains what each thing means. There are a few different aspects to the symbolism, but it's mostly about Jesus Christ. Lehi and Nephi, throughout their part of the Book of Mormon, get all this information from God about Jesus Christ. At one point, Lehi is like, "He's gonna come six hundred years from right now."

More cool things happen. Nephi gets brain-blasted with blueprints for a boat which he then constructs from scratch. His brothers are like, "You're so gay. You can't build a boat," and Nephi's like, "Yeah I can and you better help me or else," and they're like, "Or else what?" and Nephi electrically zaps them with mind powers and they're so scared they start worshipping him like a god.

Once the boat is done, they load everybody up and sail to wherever the wind is blowing. Which happens to be America. On the boat ride, Laman and Lemuel plot to kill Nephi again and act like assholes to literally everybody in the family. After a painfully awkward journey, they arrive on American soil. It's gotta be somewhere in Central or South America because no one ever talks about snow. It's like 570-ish BCE and they're the only humans in sight.

Nephi quotes a couple chapters from Isaiah in the Old Testament [which he says is written in the brass plates] and talks about Jesus Christ and Israel and, with that, he concludes the first book in the Book of Mormon.

Second Nephi


"Second Nephi" doesn't mean we have a new Nephi writing. Like Nephi Junior or something. No, Second Nephi just means that the old Nephi we already know has written enough to start a new book heading. One thing that you should know if you decide to actually read the Book of Mormon is that it is divided by "books."

Like, "First Nephi" is actually "the First Book of Nephi" and after "the Book of Second Nephi" there's "the Book of Jacob" and so on. So when we say the Book of Mormon, we're usually talking about the whole collection of "books" that make it up. Each "book" is subdivided into chapters in most editions of the Book of Mormon [the original printing didn't have chapters indicated].

So anyway.

Second Nephi has some of the best stuff in the Book of Mormon, in my opinion. Right at the beginning, in Chapter Two, there's a talk recorded that Lehi had with Nephi's little brother Jacob [who was born after the family left Jerusalem but before they sailed to the new world]. In it, Lehi discusses a lot of philosophical points that are way important to Mormon thought.

First, there will be a Messiah coming in the future [the future as viewed from Lehi's perspective in 570 BCE] to atone for mankind. The details of what "atonement" means are spelled out pretty well in this chapter. There are a few different views in mainstream Christianity about how Jesus "saves" people and what that even means. Lehi explains a lot of that here.

Among other things, Lehi says:

wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the holy Messiah.

Lehi also goes about discussing the concept of agency - or free will. This is another hotly debated topic in Christian history and philosophy in general: can a person really choose anything? Lehi says because people have knowledge, they are free to act according to what they know. He proposes a model of thought where humans are very free and very responsible for what they do, but who also inevitably make mistakes because of human nature.

In a moment of solidarity to Buddhism, Lehi says:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad...

Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

It's not a complicated teaching, but I think it offers a lot of perspective to a world where expectations are often very high. Lehi reminds us that it's wrong to crave a life without struggle because it goes against the nature of human existence and of God Himself.

I really recommend reading the chapter.

Lehi lives for just a couple more chapters. Once he dies, Nephi tries to take over the family and the older brothers are like, "No way. We'll kill you before we let you take charge." So Nephi is like, "Okay. In case anyone wants to come with me, I'm gonna leave and start my own thing." We don't get an exact headcount, but it sounds like more than half of everybody chooses to go with Nephi.

Nephi takes the plates of brass, the sword of Laban [which he kept from that one time he murdered a guy], and the Liahona

Holy crap.

I totally forgot to mention the Liahona.

One day, back when Lehi and everybody was camping outside of Jerusalem, he woke up to find this metal ball outside the tent. They called it the Liahona, and it was like a Fabergé egg mixed with a compass mixed with a magic eight ball mixed with God.


Image courtesy of Virginia Museum of Fine Art

When they were being nice to each other it would point them in the direction they needed to go in the desert to find animals to eat. When they were fighting or when they forgot to pray or something it would stop working. They would also find little messages written on it from God. So, yeah. Liahona.

Anyway, Nephi took all that stuff and all those folks and moved north. Once they set up shop, the "Nephites" started flourishing. According to Nephi, he taught his people how to build and how to do blacksmith stuff. He also, not very convincingly, tries to say that he didn't love being in charge.

And it came to pass that they would that I should be their king. But I, Nephi, was desirous that they should have no king; nevertheless, I did for them according to that which was in my power.

And behold, the words of the Lord had been fulfilled unto my brethren, which he spake concerning them, that I should be their ruler and their teacher. Wherefore, I had been their ruler and their teacher, according to the commandments of the Lord, until the time they sought to take away my life.

This is not a popularly held opinion in Mormonism, but I think it's pretty clear Nephi had issues. He did some cool stuff, but he was also really anxious to assume power and exert that on everyone around him. One of the first things he did when he got settled was make a ton of weapons to use against his brothers the "Lamanites."

Note: from here on, the Book of Mormon generally refers to people who are nice to Nephi and his descendants as Nephites and people who aren't as Lamanites. Different authors mention that they themselves had a culture that made distinctions among "Zoramites," "Jacobites," and "Josephites" and stuff, but basically you were with Nephi or you were against him.

At one point in Second Nephi, Nephi's little brother Jacob starts talking. He ends up transcribing sixteen chapters of Isaiah's writings from the brass plates they took from Jerusalem onto the gold plates that Nephi made. So half of Second Nephi is a copy from Old Testament text.

Isaiah was a prophet who lived in Jerusalem in the eighth century BCE. While he is venerated by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, his writings are particularly important to Christians because he recorded many prophecies about the Hebrew "Messiah" which seemed to be fulfilled by the life of Jesus Christ.


"Isaiah" by eighteenth century icon painter - Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia. Licensed under public domain via Commons

And, since everyone who wrote in the Book of Mormon knew about Jesus Christ and was way stoked about Him coming, they naturally loved Isaiah. These chapters do introduce a major issue, though.

The quotes from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon match up much, much too closely with the corresponding verses in the King James version of the Bible. Granted, there are some differences between the Book of Mormon version and the Old Testament version, such as:

I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.

The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season unto thee, O House of Israel. When ye are weary he waketh morning by morning. He waketh mine ear to hear as the learned.

~ Book of Mormon, Second Nephi 7 : 3 - 4
vs   I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.

The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.

~ King James version of Old Testament, Isaiah 50 : 3 - 4

But the corresponding passages should be much more different considering the King James version of the Bible is the product of hundreds [if not thousands] of translations, and the Book of Mormon is, allegedly, the result of one compilation and one translation.

Nephi concludes his writings saying:

And if [these] are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before His bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of Him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness.


Jacob


Nephi dies. His brother Jacob takes over the records, and some other guy [who must have been Nephi's nephew or something] takes over as king. The people loved Nephi so much, that the new king switched his name to Nephi [like the Pope, kinda, I guess].

Jacob and Nephi's other little brother Joseph kinda take responsibility for the religious welfare of the people. They go around and preach and stuff and are like traveling ministers. One thing they talk about is how the love of money is really damaging. Jacob says:

And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.

...

Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.

This socialist model of earning and giving is a very common theme preached by Book of Mormon prophets. Interestingly, the majority of Mormons in Idaho, Utah, and Arizona [where church membership is really high] are very right-wing, politically. Most members that I know are harshly critical of welfare and social programs and socialist trends. But such models are always presented as ideal in the Book of Mormon.

Jacob also calls out the men in his society for their sexual misconduct. He outlines all the ways people are justifying marital infidelity, then he's like:

Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you.

Even though it was published in English using old English style writing, I don't think the Book of Mormon pulls punches on discussing sexual topics. Sexual activity is referenced a few more times in the Book of Mormon, most graphically at the end of Moroni's record. We'll get to that.

And Mormon history is way weird when it comes to marriage and sexuality. For instance, polygamy is specifically called out as an "abomination" in this chapter, yet Mormons [sometime secretly and sometimes publicly] practiced polygamy for like seventy years.

The longest chapter in the Book of Jacob [and the whole Book of Mormon, for that matter] is Zenos's allegory of the olive trees. Zenos was an Old-Testament-era prophet who was probably recorded in the plates of brass but whose writings didn't make it into mainstream Christian or Hebrew scriptures. His allegory, recorded by Jacob in chapter five, describes a guy who owned a ton of olive trees on a vineyard.


Me [not] working in an olive vineyard while I served as a Mormon missionary in Italy. This farm was outside a town called Brindisi in southern Italy

The guy has this one tree that is really good, but half of the tree starts dying. He wants to preserve the good olives from the good tree, so he tells his servants to go cut branches from the tree he likes and graft them into these other wild trees he doesn't really care about. The story goes through cycles where the vineyard master does stuff in the vineyard, waits for a while, then sends people out to go see where stuff is growing and where it's dying.

There are parts where the wild trees look like they're gonna overtake the grafts and make bad fruit. There are parts when the original tree looks like it's gonna die forever. At the end, they take the grafted branches back to the original tree and the dead part gets better.

There's a kinda tense part where everything is going to crap in the vineyard. The master is like, "This is dumb. I'm gonna just burn it all down cause all the good fruit I want isn't gonna grow."

One of his servants is like, "Wait. Let's try a couple more things and give it a little more time." The master is like, "Okay, we can wait a little bit," and the fruit gets better.


That's my friend Carloroberto and the sacks are all half-full of nasty raw olives

You kinda get this impression from the narrative that the master of the vineyard knows how all this stuff is gonna go down. He just acts like he's worried that it's gonna fail. Like, he just acts freaked out so the servant can have the opportunity to stand up for the vineyard, and so the story can be happy in the end as everyone overcomes the anxiety of losing everything.

Jacob says that the allegory is about the scattering and gathering of Israel: that the "Lord's people" - the Jews - would follow His direction for a while, then they'd stop doing what He wanted, and He, in turn, would not protect them from their enemies. They would be taken over by other nations and made slaves and scattered all over the world. But, eventually, the Lord would send people to find them and bring them back and establish them again as a group of people.

Scattering/gathering is a pretty deep concept in Mormonism and it's not necessarily about Jews and the actual nation of Israel, but it is probably the most important part of the book of Jacob. And it's long and pretty boring to read. So you're welcome for the seven-paragraph synopsis.

Also, here's a pretty good reference if you want to understand why this gathering thing is so important to Mormons.

The last thing recorded in the Book of Jacob is the tragic tale of Sherem. Sherem is this guy who challenges the ideology preached by Jacob and Joseph. He claims that the "prophecies" about the coming Messiah - Jesus Christ - are totally bogus. He's like, "How can you know about anything that's going to happen in the future?"

Sherem gains a significant following. He gets confident enough to take on Jacob. Jacob hears that Sherem wants to debate him, and he goes:

He had hope to shake me from the faith, notwithstanding the many revelations and the many things which I had seen concerning these things; for I truly had seen angels, and they had ministered unto me. And also, I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, from time to time; wherefore, I could not be shaken.

Jacob asks sherem if he believes the scriptures recorded in the brass plates and he's like, "Yeah."

Jacob's like, "Well, you must not understand anything that's written in them. Because every prophet has predicted Christ." Sherem is like, "If you want me to believe in Christ, show me a sign."

Jacob's like, "That's called tempting God. And I'm not going to ask God to do something just to satisfy your faithless request. But... If He wants to show His power by 'smiting' you as a sign that you're wrong and that there will be a Christ, that's up to Him."

And Sherem gets knocked off his feet and is sick for three days.

Then he's like, "I was wrong."

Then he dies.

The end.

Enos


This is a book comprised of just one chapter, but it's pretty freaking good in terms of content. At the beginning, Jacob's son Enos is like, "My dad taught me all about his religion, and one day I finally cared and I really prayed for the first time."

He talks about how he goes out by himself and prays for a whole day and part of a night


Image courtesy of Paperflies

Eventually, he hears God's voice who tells him his sins are forgiven. Enos writes:

And I said: Lord, how is it done?

And He said unto me: because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before He shall manifest Himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.

Enos says that after he gets this assurance that God is cool with him, he feels instantly concerned about his people the Nephites and he prays for their well being. God replies and says, "If they keep my commandments, I for sure will help them, but if they don't I'm going to curse them."

After hearing this, I think Enos kinda understood what God was saying: that the Nephites were not going to make it. So, Enos prays and asks God that if they're all destroyed that at least the records his dad was taking care of would be preserved. God says, "Yeah, I promise I'll do that."

Then, one of the most interesting concepts in the Book of Mormon [in my opinion] is presented. Enos writes:

And i, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest.

And the Lord said unto me: thy fathers have also required of me this thing; and it shall be done unto them according to their faith; for their faith was like unto thine.

It is revealed here to Enos [who then graciously shares it with all of us] that getting answers from God isn't about us wanting something and then getting it. It's not like God made plans based on some great idea Enos gave Him. Even though Enos felt a desire for something good and requested it, and even though God said, "Yeah, I'll do what you asked," the will to be changed was not God's - it was the will of Enos.

I think that as he prayed all day and part of the night, he [Enos] was changed. He began to think less like a man and more like a god. And that's why God said he'd do what he asked; not because He was waiting to hear some great idea from a human and work with it. More like He was waiting for people to be ready to understand His plan and get in line with it. At that point, what they ask in prayer is granted to them because it is in harmony with the divine bigger picture.

Enos's faith was "like unto" his fathers' because they were all inspired similarly by a consistent God.

Enos talks about how he spent the rest of his life trying to help people using the knowledge he gained that day in prayer. He says that groups of Nephites tried to reestablish connection with the Lamanites, but it resulted in violence. Enos reports that he witnessed war through his whole life [and this is only one generation from the original Nephi].

I like Enos.

Jarom


Another one-chapter book. Jarom says, "I don't have anything to add to the prophecies or anything that has been said." He ends up giving a super fast overview of pretty boring historical things he witnessed. And he sets an example of uber-concise record keeping, as shall be seen.

Omni


This succession of guys all write stuff like, "My name is _____. I saw this war and then a king took over. The end. Now I'm giving the records to my son. His name is _____."

There's a guy who writes literally three sentences. It's like he's signing his name in a wedding reception registry.

Omni: one book; one chapter; five writers.

Pretty boring.

Words of Mormon


This is Mormon's insert to connect the original-author-written plates to his abridgement of tons of records into the plates. First thing he writes is:

And now I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni, behold I have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people, the Nephites.

Sad. We get a much more bleak and in-depth picture of that destruction at the end of the Book of Mormon when both Mormon and Moroni share their eyewitness accounts of the fall of the people of Nephi. It's bad.

Mormon talks about how he tacked the plates of Nephi [actually scratched onto metal personally by all the guys we've been talking about previously] to the front of the giant abridgement he had written because it had so many good prophecies about Jesus. He talks about how the records passed from the last guy in the Book of Omni to a king named Benjamin. He says that the record was kept by the kings [and chief judges] of the people until it was given to him [Mormon].

Image courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Artist: Tom Lovell, who was not Mormon and has an awesome body of work

Then he gives us a little introduction about King Benjamin to get us rolling into the rest of everything. He basically says that Benjamin's a way good guy - a way good king.

Mosiah


The King's Speech

The Book of Mosiah starts off with a transcript of a speech that this King Benjamin guy gave. Toward the beginning of the speech he says:

And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne—and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day.

Yet, my brethren, I have not done these things that I might boast, neither do I tell these things that thereby I might accuse you; but I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day.

He sounds like a really good guy.

He goes on to give a super important talk where he brings up a lot of points that are pretty fundamental to Mormon philosophy. Among them is the concept of love-based human selflessness:

And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

Another really important scripture regards the seemingly innate capacity that humans have for evil. Benjamin calls this aspect of humanity the "natural man" and gives guidelines for overcoming it:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Tangential Account

After King Benjamin's speech, there's the story of Limhi and his people

so, this group of Nephites had left Zarahemla [the place where most of the Nephites lived at king Benjamin's time] to go get some land back from the Lamanites using negotiation. A big group of people followed this Zeniff guy down there. After they left, no one heard from them for a long time. So king Mosiah [Benjamin's son and successor] lets a group of guys go down to look for them.

The leader of the group is a guy named Ammon. He seems like a really good guy from what we read about him, but he also has some self-esteem issues. When Ammon and the boys get down into Lamanite land, there are some people who capture them and tie them up and take them to a king. The king's name is Limhi and he's like, "My name's Limhi and Noah was my dad and Zeniff was my grandpa."

Ammon goes, "Well, you're in luck cause we came here to find you and we're from Zarahemla."

Limhi is stoked.

He puts on a party for Ammon and his guys and he's like, "Okay, everything sucks for us right now. My grandpa came down here and made a deal with the Lamanite king so we could stay here. Then, that king died and the next guy didn't really honor the agreement, so Lamanites started smacking us around. When my grandpa died and my dad became king, we were in, like, wars and stuff all the time. Then, my dad killed a prophet and we've all been basically cursed since then. And we're slaves now. So please help us get back to Zarahemla and we'll be slaves to the Nephites or whatever. We don't really care, we just gotta get outta here."

Ammon's like, "Whoa."

Limhi also tells Ammon that he sent some guys up north to find Zarahemla [they didn't - they got lost], but they found the ruins of an ancient civilization and they also found these plates with an unknown language on them. Ammon's like, "Yeah, I know a guy back in Zarahemla who can do stuff like translate this. He has a gift from God to do stuff with languages and he's called a seer [the title taken on by Joseph Smith as he translated the plates]."

Then, Mormon takes a break from the Ammon narrative and gives us a summary of the whole Zeniff-Noah-Limhi history. It's mostly like Limhi said to Ammon, but Mormon goes way into detail on the prophet they killed: Abinadi.

Abinadi

When Limhi's dad Noah was in power, things were bad, from a religious perspective. Noah taxed the people so he and his friends [who he ordained as "priests"] could live in way extravagant conditions surrounded by tons of hookers. Mormon says that, on a daily basis, Noah and his priests were creating large-scale problems for the Zeniffites.

It's in this state that we are introduced to Abinadi.

I would say that Abinadi is the Book of Mormon prophet. He comes out of nowhere and just starts throwing down. He's like:

Behold, thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me, saying, go forth, and say unto this people, thus saith the Lord — Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger.

And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God, behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies.

Noah hears that Abinadi is saying this and he goes, "Well, we gotta kill this guy for sure," and Abinadi dips. He comes back a couple years later dressed in a disguise. He immediately nullifies the disguise by saying, "Hey, guys. It's me: Abinadi. You still gotta repent and God's gonna kill Noah."

He gets captured and taken to Noah and the horny priests. He doesn't pull any punches. He basically tells them, "You guys are the worst sinners ever, and you are going to get crushed by God if you don't repent." He also explains the ten commandments and he talks about Jesus Christ [just like everybody else in the Book of Mormon does]. The stuff he predicts about Jesus is super specific and detailed.

At a certain point, Noah's like, "This guy has talked enough. Seriously, kill him now." But then Abinadi starts glowing like he's on fire and no one in the court dares to even get close to him. He's like, "I'm full of God's power and He sent me here to give this repentance message, and I'm gonna give it, dammit," and he just goes on for a little bit more and then he's like, "Okay, I'm done. Do what you want."

Everyone [except for one guy] is pissed. They're like, "Sweet, let's kill him." But Noah is scared. He just saw this guy glow and he's worried that all the stuff he said about God smiting him is really gonna happen. He caves to the demands of his advisors, though, and decides to burn Abinadi.

Anneken Hendriks getting killed by the Spanish Inquisition for being an Anabaptist. Image cred: Wikimedia
I can't believe how they're wasting a perfectly good ladder like it's no big deal.


One of the priests [Alma] totally knows that Abinadi is a prophet and knows that everything he said is true. He's like, "We can't do this," and Noah goes, "You know what? We're gonna kill you, too, Alma."

Alma runs away and gets away.

As Abinadi is being burned, he's like, "Whatever you guys do to me, the same thing is gonna happen to you." This is fulfilled in just a few years when an uprising against the priests and Noah results in their execution by fire.

And now, when Abinadi had said these words, he fell, having suffered death by fire; yea, having been put to death because he would not deny the commandments of God, having sealed the truth of his words by his death.

Alma

Alma hides at a place called "the waters of Mormon" and starts preaching. Unlike Abinadi, he is not so quickly discovered by people who hate preaching. He teaches Abinadi's words and gathers a congregation and baptizes them. So they're doing their own thing in the wilderness.

Back with the Zeniffites, Noah is dead and his priests are chased away and some of them are eventually executed, too. Noah's son Limhi takes over and is struggling as the leader of a slave nation, and that's when Ammon shows up with the search party. With the help of Limhi's braintrust, Ammon successfully carries out an escape plan and leads the Zeniffites back to Zarahemla.

One of the surviving priests of Noah named Amulon goes to the Lamanite king and charismatically earns his favor. He is made a Lamanite officer, basically. One day, when Amulon's out with a group of Lamanite soldiers, he discovers Alma and the people who got baptized by him. He's like, "Oh. Hey, Alma. Remember when you wanted to save Abinadi and I didn't? Yeah, well you can't run away now, and I'm [for some reason] still mad that we disagreed about that. So now you're our slaves."

Amulon treats Alma and his people with severity and subjects them to forced labor and daily abuse. Alma and his people have faith in God despite their condition, and God blesses them that even in the act of being oppressed, they don't feel the effects. It says that "their burdens were made light" so they couldn't even feel it when carrying giant loads on their backs.

Anyone caught praying was put to death, so Alma tells everyone to keep praying silently in their minds and to trust God. Alma hears the voice of God and He tells him that he needs to get ready to leave. That night, God puts the Lamanite guards to sleep and everyone escapes and gets back safely to Zarahemla to meet king Mosiah, Ammon, and the other Zeniffites.

When Mosiah meets Alma he's like, "Hey. God likes you. You're the prophet for everybody here in Zarahemla now. Okay?" and Alma's like, "Okay."

Alma


Okay, the Book of Alma is the longest book in the Book of Mormon. It's sixty-three chapters. I want this to be a useful synopsis, so I'm not gonna go into as much detail as I have with the other book summaries. The last twenty-five to thirty percent of the Book of Alma is war history. It is clear that Mormon [who was in charge of the records] is a war history enthusiast. He named his son Moroni after the main Nephite general described in the war chapters. So we can skip over that because it's repetitive and not fun to read [unless you're a war history enthusiast. In which case, go read it yourself].

The big thing that happens in this book is that Alma has a son who he names Alma. During the few chapters where they're both alive, one is referred to as "Alma the elder" and the other as [unsurprisingly] "Alma the younger."

Note: a lot of this actually happens at the end of the Book of Mosiah, but I think it makes more sense in setting the stage for the Book of Alma, so I included it here.

Alma the younger + King Mosiah's sons hate the church. As their dads go around trying to get people to follow God's commandments, Alma JR and Mosiah's kids are telling everyone that it's horseshit. And they're not just telling people casually; they're on, like, a mission to destroy the church.

One night an angel appears to them and commands them to repent and Alma the younger is lost in a coma for three days. When Alma the elder finds out about it he's like, "Oh sweet. I've been praying that something like this would happen."

When he wakes up, Alma the younger is like, "Whoa. Sorry, dad. You were right. Jesus Christ just saved me from hell. I'll be better."

And he does do better.

He eventually succeeds his father as prophet. The rest of the Book of Alma [before the arduous war chapters] is all about Alma, the sons of Mosiah, and others doing tons of work to preach about the church to everyone, including [for the first time in history] the Lamanites. These evangelical efforts are extremely successful in some cases and thousands of Lamanites join the church.

Probably my favorite account in the Book of Alma is when Alma the younger meets Amulek. Alma, at this point, has taken over his dad's role as the leader of the church. He was also asked to be the "chief judge," which is like basically the prime minister of the whole Nephite nation. After trying both jobs, he's like, "I can't do both things well. I'm quitting the judging to be full-time prophet" and he appoints this other guy to run the government.


Image courtesy of Cordozo University

One of the first places Alma goes is a city called Ammonihah. He starts to preach to some people and they're like, "Hey, we don't care about your religion, plus we know that you aren't the chief judge anymore, so we're not gonna listen to anything you say."

He leaves the city all dejected; then this happens:

It came to pass while Alma was thus weighed down with sorrow, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto him, saying:

Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him. Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you.

And behold, I am sent to command thee that thou return to the city of Ammonihah, and preach again unto the people of the city; yea, preach unto them. Yea, say unto them, except they repent the Lord God will destroy them.

...

Now it came to pass that after Alma had received his message from the angel of the Lord he returned speedily to the land of Ammonihah.

When he gets there, he is way tired and mega hungry. He goes up to a guy and is like, "I'm starving. Will you please give me something to eat?" and the guy is like, "Yeah. This angel appeared to me a couple days ago and told me that I should receive you and let you in my house and stuff," and Alma is like, "Awesome," and the guy's like, "Oh, I'm Amulek, by the way."

Alma stays with Amulek a couple days, and then asks him to accompany him as a missionary and Amulek agrees. They call down miracles and teach a ton of people and are probably in the top five best missionaries in the Book of Mormon.

Another cool account of missionary work is the story of Ammon. This is a different guy than the Ammon we talked about before. This Ammon is one of Mosiah's sons who was with Alma when the angel knocked him out.

The sons of Mosiah were down in Lamanite land to teach people about the church. When they got down there, Ammon's like, "Peace" and he gets taken prisoner [kinda like happened with the other Ammon and the Zeniffites].

He gets taken to this chief guy named Lamoni. Lamoni's like, "Who are you and what do you want?" Ammon goes, "I'm Ammon. I'm a Nephite, and I came to live down here - maybe for the rest of my life."

King Lamoni instantly loves Ammon and is like, "Will you marry one of my daughters?" and Ammon's like, "Uh... No... But I'll be your servant."

So he joins the other subjects of the chief in taking care of the animals and stuff. One day, these thieves come to steal some sheep and all the servants freak out. They're like, "Ah crap. This happened before. These guys came and stole the sheep and the king was so mad about it that he killed all the servants that let the sheep fall into the hands of these jerks."

Image courtesy of Redeeming God

Ammon's like, "Don't worry guys" and he kills a bunch of the thieves and cuts off, like, twenty of their arms. The servants are like, "No way..." and they gather up the sliced-off arms and take them to Lamoni and tell him the whole story. Lamoni is like, "Where's Ammon now?" and they're like, "He's out feeding the horses or whatever," and Lamoni is like, "Holy cow. I think Ammon might be a god or something."

So Lamoni brings Ammon in and he's like, "Ammon, why are you so cool?" and Ammon's like, "Well, I don't think I'm that great, but I believe in this religion and maybe that's what you're noticing."

Ammon gives Lamoni a rundown of religion. He's like, "First there was Adam and Eve; then there were prophets; and, in the future, Jesus Christ is going to come."

Then, Lamoni goes into an Alma-the-younger coma for three days. Then Lamoni's wife goes into a coma. Then a bunch of people in the house pass out, too. They all wake up and are like, "We know about Jesus Christ now and we know that Ammon works for Him."

And everybody sees this happen and most of them join Ammon's church.

Some really good chapters in the Book of Alma are written as words of parental guidance from Alma to his sons. In one part where Alma talks to his son Shiblon he's like:

See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength.

Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain from idleness.

This is actually a good blurb on the Mormon position toward sexuality: we don't seek to get rid of human passion, but to keep it in certain limits. Good Mormons [both married and unmarried] are able to experience sexuality without suffering the shame that often accompanies it. A good summary of "the Law of Chastity" can be found here.

The rest of the Book of Alma is about war. A lot of Mormons like it. I'm not that into it.

I know I'm skipping a lot. The Book of Alma is like the meat and potatoes of the Book of Mormon. It has some of the best stories and some of the best philosophy of the whole book. But this is a summary; so, just read it if you want.

Helaman


The span of time recorded in the Book of Helaman is really unique. We see a period where the cultural barrier between the Nephites and Lamanites is practically dissolved: they have economic exchange and Lamanites who are members of the church start preaching to "apostate" Nephites.

One of the Lamanite missionaries is named Samuel. He tells the people, "Hey, Jesus Christ is going to come to the earth in five years. When He's born in Palestine, we're gonna to know about it because the sun will go down, but it won't get dark: essentially two days and a night with no darkness."

And that happens just like he says.

The Book of Helaman is also important because we see the nascent "Gadianton" robbers.

Gilbert Burleigh, left, and Joseph Delaney, right, who ran a hotel robbing scheme in the twenties

It starts with these two guys named Kishkumen and Gadianton who form a secret society. The society engages in assassination, robbery, and other things like that to achieve political influence in Nephi-Lamanite culture. From this point, the society's strength goes up and down, but ultimately overtakes Book of Mormon civilization.

Third Nephi


Third Nephi is huge. Everything that the Book of Mormon is culminates in Third Nephi. It's called Third Nephi because another guy named Nephi is the prophet at the time this is all going down.

When Samuel the prophet was talking about - you know - Jesus coming, he was like, "When He comes to earth [as a little baby] there will be like thirty-six continuous hours of 'daylight'" - we already heard that.

But, he also said that when Christ died in Jerusalem there would be three whole days of darkness. That happens in Third Nephi. Jesus is crucified, dies, and is resurrected back in Palestine. The new world experiences not only three days of darkness, but also earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and other stuff like that as a sign of His death.

After the three days of horrific death, the light comes back and the natural disasters subside.

Then Jesus Christ Himself shows up.

The light is coming from Him and He goes:

Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.

And behold, I am the Light and the Life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.




And everyone's like, "Oh yeeahhhhh... Like how every prophet ever was talking about..."

There is major overlap between what we read about Jesus in the New Testament and what is recorded about Him in the Book of Mormon. But there are also huge differences.

For example, the people in the Book of Mormon experience Jesus as a glorified, resurrected, angel-like man only. They're not witness at all to His mortal state. And He's not with them for very long. He visits them over [what appears from the text to be] just a few weeks. He gives super-concise instructions, does a bunch of mass healings and miracles, sets people apart as officials in His church [including three guys who he blesses with immortality], and leaves.

If you're a Christian, you gotta read it. The Book of Mormon's subtitle is Another Testament of Jesus Christ and that is very fitting, in my opinion. The things revealed about Christ in the Book of Mormon paint a picture about who He was/is just as well as the New Testament does.

As fun as it's been to give my irreverent retelling of the Book of Mormon, I don't really feel comfortable doing that with these chapters. If you want more detail, you'll have to go into the book yourself.

Fourth Nephi


Fourth Nephi is a one-chapter book that describes the conditions of the people after Christ's visitation. Mormon writes:

And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.

And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.

Another great plug for socialism. I know most Mormons would try to find a way to say that Christianity is permissive of capitalism, but I disagree. I think that Christ's words were very clear in regard to wealth - that it is to be shared: from those who have to those who have not.

Karl Marx by John Jabez Edwin Mayall - International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, Netherlands

In Fourth Nephi, we get a fast-forwarded version of Nephi-Lamanite history following Christ. Basically, people are nice for about two hundred years after Christ, then everyone from the generations that had actually seen Him in person dies. The people turn back to pre-Christian habits and get, as Mormon describes them, "wicked."

They reinstate racial division between Nephites and Lamanites. They introduce economic classism. They bring back the Gadianton robber secret society. They don't do anything the prophets taught them to do.

Mormon concludes by saying that a guy name Ammaron inherits all the historical records of the Nephites.

Mormon


So, this is the Book of Mormon of the Book of Mormon... So meta...

This is the stuff that Mormon, who has just compiled records up to this point, actually writes from his own perspective [about 320 CE].

Mormon says that Ammaron, who had all the records, came to him when he was a kid and was like, "Mormon, I know you're a good kid. I hid all the records of the Nephites in this one hill. When you're twenty-four years old, go grab 'em and take care of 'em. And write down the stuff you see happen."

Mormon is all, "Okay."

Mormon describes that he - from childhood until old age - is caught up in war. There is total war going on between the Nephites and Lamanites. You almost start to be like, "Oh my gosh. This war crap again..." but Mormon's first-hand accounts of battle are different than his summaries; like, the way listening to your high school history teacher talk about World War Two is different than watching Saving Private Ryan.

Mormon not only preserves, compiles, and writes the meat of the Book of Mormon + other records that were not preserved, but he also is the main general of the Nephite army. Yeah. Now we get why he was so into war. He didn't even know what not-war was.

Mormon's account is super, heavily depressing. At one point, after trying way hard to get the people to stop doing everything God told them not to do, he's like

Behold, I had led them, notwithstanding their wickedness I had led them many times to battle, and had loved them, according to the love of God which was in me, with all my heart; and my soul had been poured out in prayer unto my God all the day long for them; nevertheless, it was without faith, because of the hardness of their hearts.

He quits being the general for a while. Then he's like, "You know what? Even though I can't save them from sin, I guess it doesn't hurt anything if I help them with the war." So he starts fighting with them and leading them again. At this point, the practice of human sacrifice becomes widespread among the Lamanites, so that adds another disturbing element to the death already happening on the daily from the war.

Eventually, the Lamanites get the upper hand in the war and kill everybody. Mormon and his son Moroni are among a handful of Nephite survivors. Mormon goes:

And my soul was rent in anguish, because of the slain of my people, and I cried:

O ye fair ones, how could ye have deserted from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected the Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!

Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss.

O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen!

But behold, ye are gone, and my sorrows cannot bring your return.

Pretty sad.

But it gets worse.

Mormon tell everybody they should believe in Christ, then he's gone. His son Moroni has taken over in the next chapter. Moroni says that Mormon was killed with the other survivors and he - Moroni - is the ultimo hombre.

He talks about how he and his dad had met the three immortal Nephite disciples of Christ. He also talks about how he had seen a vision which was basically a movie of everything [this is actually a common thing among prophets recognized in Mormonism: the everything and everyone experience. Moses, Nephi, the brother of Jared - who we will get to next chapter - and a couple others all had visions where they were shown everything. Like, all human history].

Moroni says:

Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.

And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envyings, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.

For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.

Moroni writes another chapter worth of stuff at the end of his dad's account, then, he undertakes a record abridgement of his own: the Book of Ether.

Ether


Okay, this stuff is from the record that Limhi's search party found way back in 120-ish BCE when they sent guys to find Zarahemla. They actually found this record of the Jaredite civilization that lived and died before ever running into the Nephites [as far as we know]. Moroni translates and abridges it.

The story starts back in the old world with this guy named Jared, his brother, their family, and some of their friends. We never get the name of the brother of Jared. He's just called "the brother of Jared" over and over again. Which is kinda funny, cause he's a way more important character in the record than Jared is.

Anyway, the Tower of Babel [from the Bible story] has been constructed and God is mad about that for some reason, so he curses everyone with different languages so they can't understand each other. Jared goes to his brother and is like, "Ask God to have mercy on us and not make us speak a different language. Plus pray that our friends won't get cursed either, please."

So the bro of Jared does that and God is like, "Sure, I won't curse you."

The bra of Jared goes back to Jared and everyone and is like, "Hey, it worked! He's not gonna curse us," and Jared is like, "Okay, cool. So, should we like, stay here with all these people around us who are cursed, or... Should we, like, leave...? Or, what?" and the bruh of Jared is like, "Uh, okay... Let me ask."

The Lord responds to the bree of Jared, and is like, "I'm gonna basically do a mini Noah's ark kind of a deal with you guys. So, go gather animals and plants and stuff and put them in boats and I'll show you this awesome place [Central America] where you can do your own thing."

When they get all their stuff gathered [including an aquarium full of fish and some beehives], they go into the desert and when they get to the ocean, they camp out there for four years. The brih of Jared forgets to pray in all this time, so the Lord comes to him and is like, "Hey, why has it been so long since you talked to me?" and is way mad.

The breh of Jared is like, "Sorry, man. Won't happen again. Promise."

Then God's like, "Go build boats," and so they all build the boats, then the bru of Jared asks a few structural design questions about the boats, which the Lord answers. Then he's like, "Well, the way we've built them is like totally sealed; so, how are we gonna get light in the boats?" and God does the school-teacher, question-turn-around thing and is like, "I don't know. What do you think we should do to get light in the boats?"

And the brow of Jared is like, "Uh, idk. Let me think about it."

He goes and makes sixteen glass rocks [two for each boat] and goes into the mountain. He starts talking to God and is like, "Hey, this might be a really dumb idea, and please don't get mad if it is, but I made these sixteen glass stones, and I was thinking maybe you could touch them with your finger and make them shine or glow or something so they can be like little fireless candles while we go across the ocean to America. Will that work, or...?"

Pierrelune by Didier Descouens (own work) by Wikimedia Commons

What happens next is one of the most amazing testaments of Jesus Christ I've ever heard of. I'm just gonna copy and paste it in here. It's kinda long:

And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth His hand and touched the stones one by one with His finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.

And the Lord saw that the brother of Jared had fallen to the earth; and the Lord said unto him: Arise, why hast thou fallen?

And he saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest He should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.

And the Lord said unto him: because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?

And he answered: nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.

And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?

And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.

And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.

Behold, I am He who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.

And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast.

...

Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.

And now, as I, Moroni, said I could not make a full account of these things which are written, therefore it sufficeth me to say that Jesus showed himself unto this man in the spirit, even after the manner and in the likeness of the same body even as He showed Himself unto the Nephites.

And He ministered unto him even as He ministered unto the Nephites; and all this, that this man might know that He was God, because of the many great works which the Lord had showed unto him.

And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.

Brother of Jared: so cool.

The rest of the Book of Ether is about the rise and fall of the Jaredite civilization. It's a lot like the story of Oedipus, in that a few really proud, wicked leaders bring about a ton of curses and war and stuff like that on a whole civilization.

There's literally two guys left in a huge battle that has killed everyone else, and they're on opposite sides. They kill each other. Just like a Greek tragedy. This prophet Ether is actually the one guy that survives and sees it and records all of it.

And that's that.

Moroni


Moroni: the last and most tangible book in the Book of Mormon. The Moroni that writes this chapter and seals the Book of Mormon is supposedly the same resurrected angel that appeared to Joseph Smith to consign him the plates.

He writes:

Now i, Moroni ... Had supposed not to have written more, but I have not as yet perished.

...

Wherefore, I write a few more things, contrary to that which I had supposed ... That perhaps they may be of worth unto my brethren, the Lamanites, in some future day, according to the will of the Lord.

He writes a few little things that he feels were important details missing from the record. These include a few of the privileges and prayers that Christ gave his disciples when he visited the Nephites and Lamanites. He writes down the words of the sacramental prayers. He writes a chapter's worth of information about how the church in his day was conducted.

He transcribes two letters from his dad. One is a letter of spiritual encouragement from Mormon, congratulating Moroni on his calling to the priesthood [probably written before the most severe days of the last war]. In it, he also tells Moroni that little kids shouldn't be baptized, cause it doesn't mean anything for them.

The second letter was obviously written closer to the end of the war. Mormon's first line says something like, "I'm writing so you can know I'm still alive," and he talks about how he's pretty sure the Lamanites are going to kill everyone.

He talks about the brutality he's witnessed in the war. He talks about how the Lamanites take entire families as prisoners and feed the women and children with the flesh of the dead bodies of the men. He talks about how the Nephites are even worse: that their war tradition frequently includes raping, torturing, killing, and cannibalizing their prisoners.

Mormon laments:

O my beloved son, how can a people like this, that are without civilization—

(and only a few years have passed away, and they were a civil and a delightsome people).

But o my son, how can a people like this, whose delight is in so much abomination—

How can we expect that God will stay his hand in judgment against us?

His last words are hopeful, though:

My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may His sufferings and death, and the showing His body unto our fathers, and His mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of His glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.

And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of His power, until all things shall become subject unto Him, be, and abide with you forever. Amen.

Moroni's last words follow. He talks about the "gifts of the Spirit" which are basically the ways you can see God's hand in your life. He gives his testimony of Jesus and invites everybody to "come unto Christ."

The most important part of the Book of Mormon is written in this chapter. It is the promise of the Book of Mormon. Moroni says:

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.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

The end [of the Book of Moroni]

The end [of the Book of Mormon]

Afterword


I know the Book of Mormon isn't perfect. I know that there are a lot of sketchy things about its publication history and its "translator" and in the text itself. But maybe more strongly than my rational mind is bewildered by it, I trust it.

I really believe that Moroni's invitation to read the book and ask if it is true is a promise. I believe that, like he says, if you read it and ask God if it's true with a real desire to know, "He will manifest the truth of it unto you."

If you're not given to religious mumbo jumbo, you probably would never try something like that anyway, so you don't need to worry about it. I like to think of myself as a rational, scientific person, but I have experimented on the promise of the Book of Mormon, and now I believe it's true.

Which sucks, because I live in this state of constant contradiction where I believe something irrational, but I really, really want to approach life rationally.

But I can't deny the reality of God's manifestations to me [which are not limited to the Book of Mormon or Mormonism], any more than I can deny what I see right in front of my eyes every day [which, if you've read my Cogito Ergo Nihil entry, you know I can deny what's right in front of my eyes].

I'm just saying, if you try the invitation to read the Book of Mormon and pray and ask God if it's true, I think it might work. And then you'll have to believe it forever, too.