The Book of Mormon — Solid Rock or Sinking Sand?

The Book of Mormon (BoM) is the foundational scriptural document of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as established by Joseph Smith. Its truthfulness and accuracy are absolutely essential to that organization for if the BoM is found to be false then the entire edifice of Mormonism collapses. Indeed, the official INTRODUCTION to the 1981 edition of the BoM directly challenges readers to “ponder in their hearts” the truthfulness of this book. The following is a brief non-theological examination of the BoM. A good place to start is a quick overview of the purported history chronicled in the BoM:

Around 600 B.C. (before the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon) God led the Jewish patriarch Lehi and his family and friends east into the wilderness to escape the coming destruction. They took with them the Hebrew Scriptures written in Egyptian on brass plates.(1) Along the way, Lehi found a brass ball with a pointer that guided them through the wilderness.(2) After at least eight years of wondering eastward through the wilderness, they came to a coastal area where God gave them divine instruction on how to build an oceangoing sail ship.(3) They boarded, and after a journey of “many days” they came to the “land of promise”—America.(4) Soon after arriving they split into two mutually hostile tribes, and warfare erupted. The tribes grew into two warring kingdoms. This strife and bloodshed continued for centuries. All the while they continued the record keeping—again written in Egyptian on brass plates.(5)

Around 121 B.C. one of the kings sent out a scouting party. They stumbled onto the ruins of a vast and ancient civilization and found records written on gold plates in a totally unknown language. The scouting party returned with the plates, which were divinely translated by a seer, and then re-translated into Egyptian and re-recorded on brass plates.(6) The ancient civilization was the descendants of those people God brought to America just after the Tower of Babel. They grew to several millions in population, but in a degenerate fit of rage and mutual hatred they all gathered near the hill Cumorah in New York State where every last man, woman and child of them engaged in a terrible slaughter to extinction.(7)

Meanwhile, God had been sending prophets to the descendants of Lehi. These prophets were extremely (and I might say suspiciously) specific in details of the coming of Christ—even to the extent of naming Jesus and his mother Mary! (8) These prophets foretold that right before the arrival of Jesus in America there would be total darkness and natural disasters upon the land.(9) Supposedly, in 34 A.D. this took place and Jesus appeared in America. He preached and taught for an unspecified (though obvious from the text) short period of time and then ascended into heaven. (Read 3 Nephi for details)

About 300 years of peace followed, but again division and warfare erupted. This climaxed in 421 A.D. with one kingdom virtually annihilating the other in a final battle—again near the hill Cumorah in New York! Mormon and his son Moroni were among the few survivors on the losing side. Mormon, as the last record keeper, passed the brass plates to his son who buried them in a stone vault on the west side of the hill Cumorah.(10)

In 1823 the resurrected, glorified Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and showed him the location of the vault. In 1827 Joseph Smith opened the vault and took possession of the plates (showing them to a few select “witnesses”) and began the translation of them from Egyptian into KJV style English through divine inspiration. In 1830 Moroni took all of the brass plates up into Heaven; Joseph Smith went to press with the BoM; and the rest, as they say, is history.(11)

Well, this is quite an epic story even in condensed form. I would like to say that I wish the Book of Mormon were true; that the archeology, history and in-hand brass plates supported it; that Christopher Columbus had been met by Christianized Indians. All of this would be a tremendous boost to modern orthodox Christianity. But there are no plates—nor even copies of them. Joseph Smith only offers the doubtful written testimony of “witnesses”, now long dead. And everything else works against the BoM.

I start my critique with the most serious flaw of the BoM: its reason for existence as explained in 1 Nephi 13:26-29 (supposedly written around 592 B.C.):

And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God —because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.

These four verses clearly indicate that orthodox Christianity is to be regarded as utterly corrupt and that the Christian New Testament is totally unreliable. The above charges against orthodox Christianity and the New Testament Scriptures are very serious. Christianity would be severely weakened if the charges proved to be true. Joseph Smith held out the hope of an alternate Scripture, pure and untainted. But the picture today is very much different from that of the 1830’s. The past one hundred and fifty years has seen tremendous improvements in New Testament manuscripts, archeology, historical research and critical textual scholarship. At this point even if the BoM were true it simply wouldn’t be needed! Though none of the original New Testament manuscripts are known to exist, the critical analysis of existing manuscripts is such that our best modern translations of the New Testament can be accepted for all practical and theological purposes as completely faithful to the original manuscripts. It is the BoM that must pass similar scrutiny.

Which brings me to the next problem area: translation. The BoM does not tell what language Lehi and his descendents used for ordinary speech, but does make clear that the brass plates were written in Egyptian.(12) Supposedly, Moroni took the brass plates up into Heaven and Joseph Smith made no copies. This means that his work must be accepted entirely on faith since it can’t be tested or double-checked. Compounding the problem is that Joseph Smith made no claim to knowledge of the Egyptian language. The work was done entirely by divine inspiration. This means that it really didn’t matter in what language the plates were written—even childish scribble—for Joseph Smith didn’t know what he was looking at. In fact, with total divine inspiration he didn’t even need the plates at all!

More subtle problems emerge when we remember that Lehi and his clan supposedly left the Middle East around the year 600 B.C., thereby freezing their language and knowledge in that time frame. I don’t think that Greek was a well known or common language in Judea at that time. But the BoM uses many Greek derived words such as Jesus, Christ, church, apostle,(13) Christians,(14) Bible,(15) etc., etc. Would these Hebrew Jews have been able to find Egyptian characters that would translate into modern Greek-derived equivalents? This is a particular problem in Ether 3:14, because the name “Jesus Christ” is used in text that was supposedly translated from the totally unknown ancient language on the golden plates into Egyptian and then retranslated by Joseph Smith from Egyptian into the Greek derived KJV style English. In Jacob 7:27 Joseph Smith even uses the French word “adieu”. Now, what Egyptian symbol gives that word?!

3 Nephi 12:22 quotes Jesus as saying the Aramaic word “Raca”. Would these people have known and remembered Aramaic after 600 years of isolation in America? Is there an Egyptian character specifically for “Raca”? I doubt it. Also, the BoM refers to the “Red Sea”. ‘Red Sea’ in earlier English versions of the New Testament is a mistranslation of ‘reed sea’, or ‘sea of reeds’. The correct term is footnoted in modern translations such as the NIV, but the error is present at least three times in the BoM.(16) Surely a divine translation of Egyptian would have rendered the correct name. This is a subtle but telling error on Joseph Smith’s part.

The third problem is simple geography. The BoM is wonderfully vague on many subjects, but none more so than leaving you in the dark as to where you’re at. Once the story leaves Jerusalem you’re lost! Where did Lehi & Co. set sail from: The Arab Sea; Bay of Bengal; The South China Sea? Who knows?! The BoM gives no clue. Did they sail west across the Indian/Atlantic Oceans or east across the Pacific? Again, who knows? It doesn’t say. And where did they land in the “land of promise”? Once again, it doesn’t say; at least not explicitly. But it does give clues. The area where almost everything was supposed to have happened was a land rich in timber, gold, silver, iron, copper, and zinc.(17) Also, it must have been possible to walk from the coast of the eastern sea to the coast of the western sea in anywhere from one and a half days to three weeks.(18)

Looking at my National Geographic world map, the only area that could reasonably satisfy all of these requirements is southern Mexico and Central America. But this means that in the end, several hundred thousand men, women and children would have had to abandon all their long-established cities and then battle each other across more than two thousand miles of rugged mountains, deserts, plains and woods (not to mention several major rivers) in order to fight the final slaughter at the hill Cumorah in New York State!

This report has focused on three major points. While I could go on and on with many other details, the above points are more than sufficient to lead me to the inescapable conclusion that the Book of Mormon is utterly false; that Joseph Smith made the whole thing up out of his imagination. Rather than stand on the solid rock of actual truth, the Mormon Church sinks into the shifting sands of falsehood.

Written by: Brian G. Bloedel

(Referenced to the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon)
(1) 1 Nephi 1:2 and the rest of the first fifteen chapters.
(2) 1 Nephi 16:10
(3) 1 Nephi 17
(4) 1 Nephi 18
(5) This story is told in all of the books from 1 Nephi 19 through the book of Helaman.
(6) Mosiah 8
(7) Story told in the Book of Ether.
(8) 2 Nephi 25:19 and Mosiah 3:8
(9) Helaman 14
(10) Read the Books of 4 Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni.
(11) From the TESTIMONY OF THE PROPHET JOSEPH SMITH printed in the front of the BoM.
(12) Mormon 9:30-36
(13) 1 Nephi 11:34-36
(14) Alma 46:13-17
(15) 2 Nephi 29:3-10
(16) 1 Nephi 2:5 & 16:14, and Alma 36:28
(17) 2 Nephi 5:15; Jarom 1:8; Helaman 6:10-11; Ether 10:23-24
(18) Alma 22:27-34 & 50:11-13 and 34; Helaman 3:3-14

3 thoughts on “The Book of Mormon — Solid Rock or Sinking Sand?

  1. Phil DuFrene

    Thirty-five years ago heard a radio comedy skit on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company). One man was making excuses to another about why he couldn’t do something.

    The other man replied, “That story is so wild only a Mormon would believe it.”

    That has given me chuckles for a long time.

    Your points are well taken.

    Phil

    Reply
  2. Richard Jeffery Holmes

    Have only read the Book of Mormon once! Read it in 97! The Book of Mormon is an obvious account written eons ago! There are two sites here on the internet showing and proving before your very eyes that the Book of Mormon is a work of the divine! For obvious reasons though the anti-Mormons don’t post those two sites! I have seen the info on those two sites but just cannot find them! The Book of Mormon was translated by the Lord through (via) Joseph Smith in Joseph Smith’s understanding of the English language of his time! The English language has changed just a little too since Joseph Smith’s time! Doctrine and Covenants section 87 proves the prophetic powers of the prophet Joseph Smith!

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