The Miracle of the Book of Mormon

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Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith was fourteen years old when he inquired of the Lord as to which of the protestant churches he should join. It was 1820 and Joseph was a frontier farm boy who had already completed his three years of formal primary education. His future wife, Emma, said that even as he entered his twenties, he had a difficult time composing a good sentence in English.

Yet, he translated an ancient record from “reformed Egyptian” in less time than it would take today, even with scholarly translators and all the technology available to us. Joseph Smith has been accused of being a fraud, because the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was such a miraculous event, yet millions who have asked God directly in prayer have received divine confirmation that the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith are exactly what they claim to be — holy scripture brought forth and translated by the power of God, and a real prophet.

Joseph Smith experienced his “first vision” at age fourteen, in which he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ, two ineffably glorious, resurrected beings. They told him they were about to initiate a great work, the restoration of Christ’s ancient church with the restoration of lost doctrine, lost authority, lost power, and yes, lost scripture. At the age of seventeen Joseph was visited by an angel named Moroni, a prophet-warrior who had lived somewhere on the American continent around 400 A.D. He was the last prophet to record history and doctrine in a collection of scripture abridged by his father, Mormon. He told Joseph that the scriptural record of a branch of Israelites had been hidden up in the earth, to come forth in the last days for the edification of God’s children, as a support to the Bible, and as a second witness that Jesus is the Christ. The revealing of this scripture in the last days would be necessary for the restoration of Christ’s ancient church in preparation for Christ’s second coming. Mormon’s abridgement was according to the Lord’s direction for our benefit, we who live in the last days before Christ’s coming. In addition to spiritual matters, the Book of Mormon prophets also recorded a great deal about their social and political upheavals. They had many problems with organized crime and despotic government. They also enjoyed periods of true freedom and peace. We can learn from both.

How Long Does it Take to Translate Scripture?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has translated the Book of Mormon into tens of languages. In 2011, when this article was written, the translation of the Book of Mormon into Malay was under way. From the beginning of the translating effort to publication was expected to take three years, and that is with expert translators, technology, and advanced publishing techniques constantly available.

Most of Joseph Smith’s work on translating the Book of Mormon was done in Harmony, Pennsylvania. The complete span of time between the beginning of the translation effort and the publishing of the Book of Mormon was less than three years. It took a considerable portion of that to translate the first 116 pages, which were then tragically lost by Martin Harris. Joseph began again, after losing his ability and his right to translate, since the Lord withdrew everything from him for a time to chastise him. When Oliver Cowdery arrived to act as his scribe, Joseph was only to 1 Nephi 15, which now comprises 32 pages of the 531-page book. Only a few months after Oliver’s arrival, the Book of Mormon was published, meaning that five hundred pages were translated and published during that time. During the entire period Joseph was attempting to translate, most of his time and effort was expended in trying to protect the gold alloy plates from being stolen. He was greatly persecuted and driven from place to place. Most of the time he had to reside in the homes of others who could protect him.

Could Joseph Smith have Plagiarized Other Works?

Book of Mormon

In the late 1800’s Friedrich W. Blass [1] delineated several qualities a fraud needs to possess. Blass claimed that no forger can be successful forever; someone will find a way to expose him. Therefore, he must hide himself from anyone able to do that. Joseph Smith sent the Book of Mormon out to the world, and knowingly walked to his own martyrdom to uphold the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Blass claimed a fraud should keep his written work as short as possible — the Book of Mormon is over 500 pages long. Blass said a fraud should never write a historical document. The Book of Mormon covers 1000 years of history beginning in Jerusalem of 600 B.C. and ending on the American continent in 400 A.D. Proofs for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon continue to proliferate. Blass said a fraud should retire from public life, lest his cheating be discovered, but Joseph Smith became a mayor, a militia captain, and a candidate for the U.S. presidency. Blass said a fraud should always keep an escape route open, the ability to disclaim, but Joseph Smith stood by his work to his death. [1]

As mentioned above, Joseph Smith did most of his translating in Harmony, Pennsylvania, where there were no resources for research. The Book of Mormon contains Egyptian names, and all sorts of Hebraisms, including chiasmus — Hebrew poetic form. It is consistent in its use of places and characters, and sophisticated in its spiritual and political and social insights. It contains symbolisms that spring from Jewish tradition and religious practice, and consistent doctrine. Tone and voice differ with differing prophet-authors, something that also exists in the Bible.

“Even if Joseph had wanted to pause to check his details against reputable sources, to scrutinize the latest theories, to learn about scholarly biblical interpretations or Jewish customs, or to verify any Book of Mormon claims against the wisdom or theologies of his day--even if he had wanted to go to a library to check such things (something he showed no inclination to do until later)--there simply was no library anywhere for him to use.” [2]

There were no resources in Harmony, and a tiny amount in Palmyra for Joseph to draw on. And that is if he had been educated enough to find and use them. Even if he was able to find resources for research, how many years would he have had to do so to produce such a tome? Critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have pointed to various works Joseph could have plagiarized, yet none holds up to scrutiny.

The Bible

“Joseph's mother notes that Joseph had not read the Bible all the way through by age 18. Providing a plausible origin of the Book of Mormon is becoming an impossibly difficult task for those who claim that Joseph drew upon his vast knowledge of books and the Bible to fabricate it.”[2]

There are several chapters of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, all dealing with the scattering and regathering of Israel. The original Book of Mormon peoples were led away from Jerusalem and lived their lives “as if in a dream,” longing for home. These verses were of great comfort to them. Joseph Smith had access to the King James Version, but there are aspects of these chapters of Isaiah similar to other translations, ancient and more modern, an impossibility for Joseph. When the resurrected Jesus Christ visited the Book of Mormon peoples and called them His “other sheep,” He delivered to them a discourse very similar to the Sermon on the Mount. However, since the more wicked of the Book of Mormon peoples had been destroyed prior to Christ’s visit, the remaining people were more righteous than those the Savior taught in the Holy Land. Thus, He went on to give the Book of Mormon peoples many more discourses, and He performed amazing miracles among them that are far beyond anything we see in the Bible.

Other Books

Other books have been cited by critics as possible sources for ideas in the Book of Mormon. Most were at the wrong place at the wrong time to have been used by Joseph Smith, and Joseph had neither the time, nor the access to peruse and use these various sources, assuming he was able to exercise any sort of advanced scholarship. Joseph Smith was so young and so inexperienced as a novice scholar, that only with divine help could he have possibly produced the Book of Mormon. As time went on, as he received revelation upon revelation, his intelligence developed, and he was able to function like a somewhat educated man. To read more, click here.

Book of Mormon Evidences

• The Book of Mormon begins in Jerusalem and follows a prophet’s escape from the city just before the Babylonian captivity. The prophet Lehi and his family and friends migrated through Arabia to the coast of Oman before crossing the sea to America. His route has been substantiated archeologically, along with named locations. [3]

• At the time of Joseph Smith people scoffed at the possibility that texts were ever engraved on metal plates, but since then many such texts have been found, and engraving on metal pages bound by rings substantiated as an ancient practice. [4] Joseph’s claim that the metal plates were stored in a stone box also raised eyebrows, but has since been found to be a common practice in the ancient near east. [5]

• DNA evidence does not disprove the Book of Mormon. There are genes found in Native Americans that are also found in Jews, including mitochondrial DNA haplotype X (found among some Israelis and Europeans) and a Y chromosome haplotype called "1C". These genes can also be found in Asia, and so don't prove that people from the Middle East came to the Americas--but that possibility most certainly is NOT excluded by the DNA evidence. [6] [7] [8]

• Joseph Smith (and eleven witnesses of the gold plates) claim that the scriptures were inscribed in reformed Egyptian, and within the text, that claim is also made. Scholars have said this was impossible, but Several modified or "reformed" Egyptian scripts are well known, including forms called Demotic and Hieratic. However, a more detailed reading of the Book of Mormon actually shows that the writers wrote in Hebrew, using Egyptian characters to save space. Yiddish is a modern example of this same technique, using German vocabulary and Hebrew characters. We have, in fact, an ancient illustration that comes remarkably close to the Book of Mormon itself. Papyrus Amherst 63, a text from the second century B.C., seems to offer something very much like "reformed Egyptian." It is a papyrus scroll that contains Aramaic texts written in a demotic Egyptian script. [9] [10]

• In the Book of Mormon the descendants of the prophet Lehi happen upon another group of people who left Jeruselem at about the same time. They are descendants of Mulek, son of King Zedekiah, who escaped destruction and was also led by God to the Americas. Critics have said this person never existed, but a royal seal has been discovered in the Holy Land with his name on it. [11]

• The Book of Mormon prophets recorded that cement was used for building where trees were scarce. This claim has often been criticized, but now there is proof. There is ancient cement work in abundance at Teotihuacan (which is clearly "in the land north" according to modern models for Book of Mormon geography). Mesoamerican cement was being used at least by the first century B.C. for structural use as well as for building veneers. [12]

• Chiasmus, ancient Hebrew poetic style, is found in the Book of Mormon, especially in the Book of Alma. This is an absolute impossibility for Joseph Smith to have created himself or with the help of others. [13]

• There are parables in the Book of Mormon that use olive trees as an allegorical vehicle. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob recites one and sources a lost Old Testament prophet. The horticultural knowledge required to construct this allegory was far outside Joseph Smith’s realm of experience. [14]

• Many wars are reported within the pages of the Book of Mormon, with times of the year and relative locations, fortification, and agricultural seasons, all of which are consistent, with fighting abandoned in the winter months, and heat fatigue occurring in the right locations at the right time of year in Meso-America. [15]

• Seemingly awkward sentence structures in the Book of Mormon are actually Semitic structures. Phrases and sentences that are unusual or awkward in English yet are natural and proper in Hebrew. [16] [17]

• There are over 200 names in the Book of Mormon not found in the Bible, and many are Egyptian. Others have followed the Israelite trend to shorten the reference to God at the end of many Hebrew names. (Jeremiah in Hebrew is Yirmiyahu. Shortening the end leaves an “ee” ending, as with Book of Mormon prophets Lehi, Nephi, Moroni.) The prophet Alma’s name has been found recently in ancient Israel and proven to be an ancient Hebrew name for a male. [18]

• Alma 7:10 prophesies the location of Christ’s birth in the “land of Jerusalem” and some think this proves the Book of Mormon is false. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls and other recently discovered ancient documents from Israel confirm that the phrase "land of Jerusalem" was an authentic term used to describe the area around Jerusalem--an area that includes nearby Bethlehem. [19]

• Volcanism and earthquakes are described in the Book of Mormon with effects (three days of “thick darkness”) only a knowledgable geologist could describe. Evidences of these disasters have been found and dated in Meso-America. [20]

• The Dead Sea Scrolls were written before the time of Christ and have added proof that the Book of Mormon is true. “Mormonism has more in common with the apocalyptic belief system represented at Qumran than with that of Hellenized (Grecanized) Christianity….Now with the discovery and admission of the existence of typical New Testament expressions, doctrines, and ordinances well before the time of Christ, the one effective argument against the Book of Mormon collapses” (Nibley, “More Voices”). [21]

• Weights and measures found in the Book of Mormon mimic ancient Egyptian systems of trade. [22]

Changes to the Book of Mormon?

The Book of Mormon was translated into one long sentence originally, with no chapters, verses, etc. Anybody can buy reprints of the 1830 edition from LDS bookstores and LDS scholars freely and openly discuss and write about the nature of these changes. Changes in the text have been discussed in official Church publications like the Ensign magazine and by widely respected, private LDS groups like the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.

“The driving force for virtually all changes has been to (1) ensure that the printed text is faithful to the original manuscript and (2) to ensure that the text is accessible and readable. Alleged departures from the original text generally turn out to be simple clarifications or reworkings of awkward grammar rather than doctrinal changes.
"The many changes that critics are so indignant over are corrections of the very kind one would expect in putting a hand-written document into type with crude technology and under difficult circumstances - and in a time with many varying spelling practices. Many of the changes are due to the fact that the Book of Mormon was dictated to scribes without punctuation and without division between verses and chapter - just as one might expect from a fairly direct translation of an ancient Hebraic or Semitic text, written without punctuation.
“In the early 1800s, spelling and grammar were not yet standardized. Joseph dictated the translation to scribes who spelled many words in ways that are nonstandard today. Hundreds of spelling variants had to be corrected in the first edition and in subsequent editions of the printed text. For example, "ware sorraful" in 1 Nephi 7:20 was changed to "were sorrowful." Likewise, we should not be outraged to find Nephi writing on "plates" today when Joseph's scribes had him writing on "plaits" in 1 Nephi 13:23. Hundreds of such changes have been necessary.” [23]


  1. "Hermeneutik and Kritik," Einleitende und Hilfsdisziplinen, vol. 1 of Handbuch der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft (Nordlingen: Beck, 1886), 269, 271
  2. History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, Lucy Mack Smith

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