The Book of Mormon is the religious history of a group of Isarelite people who came from Jerusalem to the American continent in 600 B.C. and existed here until 400 A.D. However, the critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often quote the above verse of scripture claiming there is no proof that the people, places, or events spoken of in the Book of Mormon ever happened. Therefore, they say, that since we cannot prove it is true we should reject it as being a God-inspired book of divine scripture.
If what they say is true then the only conclusion that can be reached is that the story of how this book came into existence is equally as false. Somewhere in the 1820's a young, unschooled, farm boy in his teens, by the name of Joseph Smith, claims an angel of God showed him where there were plates of gold buried in the side of a mountain not far from his home. On these plates of gold were inscribed what appeared to be hieroglyphic type of writing. Joseph then claims that it was through divine inspiration that he was able to translate these writings, revealing that they contained the teachings of prophets who lived on this continent concerning Jesus Christ.
Traditional Christians immediately condemned this book as being a hoax and the imaginative work of a young, unskilled, and out-of-work boy who was seeking fame and fortune. Over the years, the critics of Joseph Smith have amplified their criticism as more archeological evidence seems to discount the story contained in the Book of Mormon.
While this may appear to be somewhat of a valid argument (although the Bible also suffers from the same argument - see "The Same Standard" ), there is another area of proof that the critics have failed miserably to show is false. If the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction then so is the story of how Joseph claims he came to write the book. Over the past century and a half critics have tried to show that Joseph either copied or adapted his story from what someone else had written but, to date, all such efforts to prove this theory have failed, despite all the knowledge and modern technology we have gained over the last hundred and fifty years. What we are then left with is one of only two possibilities: either Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon as he claimed or he made the entire story up from his own fertile imagination.
Since the critics reject the possibility that Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon from translating ancient writings inscribed on gold plates that were shown to him by an angel of God, then the critics have no other choice but to prove that Joseph Smith totally made up the story as found in the Book of Mormon. If the critics cannot prove that's what happened, then they are left with only one other possibility for the origin of the Book of Mormon. Therefore, let's examine what they critics must prove.
Joseph Smith was raised on a farm in Palmyra, New York, within a family of nine children and even the critics admit that he had no formal education. It is also undisputed that Joseph had completed the Book of Mormon in June of 1829, then secured the copyright for it and in August of that year handed the manuscript to a printer named Egbert B. Grandin for him to publish. Since Joseph was born on December 23, 1805, it is a fact that Joseph Smith had completely written the Book of Mormon by the time he was only twenty-three years old.
Among all the writers in American history, it is extremely rare to find an author of a successful book who has been that young. It is almost impossible to find an uneducated author who has published a book of any sort that has been successful. To be both young and uneducated and yet publish a book that is still popular nearly two hundred years later, having sold over a hundred and twenty million copies and has been translated in over eighty-one languages world-wide has never been done in the history of writing.
But Joseph didn't write a children's book containing only a few pages, told in a simple style, using simple words, and containing simple, two-dimensional characters. The Book of Mormon is a six hundred page epic, rich in depth, both in story content, character development, plot twists, as well as doctrinal exhortation and scriptural analysis. It has complex military strategy, involved political intrigue, complicated rivalry, thorny social problems, and addresses difficult social and religious issues. It gives sound advice on human relationships, marital happiness, child rearing, moral behavior, and governmental principles. It is a book that has provided some of the best educated scholars endless hours of study examining and exploring its content from many different perspectives. According to the critics, we are supposed to believe that an uneducated twenty-three year old farm boy wrote such a book, not from an ancient historical account, as he claims, but from his own creative mind.
Furthermore, this is not a fantasy book set in a make-believe world that contains mythical creatures such as is found in Tolkien's "The Hobbit," and "The Lord of the Rings," or C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia." This book is purported to be the true account of a group of Israelites who came here to the American continent more than twenty-six hundred years ago. As such, it chronicles their life and those of their children, spanning a thousand years of time. To write a book like this, even if it were fiction, would take a tremendous amount of research and study to make it sound authentic.
Nearly every book written today has an acknowledgment page at the beginning. This is where the author acknowledges and thanks all those who have given help and support in the writing of the book, without which, the author admits, they would not have been able to write it. This is especially true for those who write non-fiction books. However, there is no acknowledgment section anywhere in the Book of Mormon even though it purports to be a work of non-fiction because Joseph didn't have anyone with whom he collaborated or from whom he obtained the information he needed. Where he lived during the time when he wrote the Book of Mormon there were no great libraries containing a vast wealth of knowledge on a wide variety of subjects from which he could incorporate into the Book of Mormon.
Most stories, especially fiction, have a simple, straightforward plot. James A. Mitchner wrote an epic story entitled "Hawaii" that was over a thousand pages long and told the fictional history of that island from the time it was created by a volcano to our present time. However, despite its length in pages and the vast amount of time it covers, the story line is extremely simple. It follows in a straight, chronological order.
Tom Clancy writes novels that are eight to nine hundred pages long but his story lines are a little more complicated. Often, at the beginning of his narrative, the reader is introduced to four or five different people in different locations doing things that seemingly have nothing to do with each other. However, as the story unfolds the reader is continually switched back and forth to each of these characters. In this way, they slowly begin to see these people moving together towards a climax where each of them has a bearing on the outcome of the others.
Some books have what is called flashbacks where the reader is taken from the present-day story line to an event that happened in the past. However, in all of these instances, the story line is not very complicated.
But such is not the case with the Book of Mormon. Although it has a chronological time line, beginning around 600 B.C. and progressing to 400 A.D. there are also different groups of people who enter the story at various times, coming from different locations. There are also side stories of people who traveled away from the main group, showing what happened to them, and how they returned. There are several flashbacks, one of which takes the reader back to the time of the Tower of Babel.
As far as story lines go, the Book of Mormon is the most complex of any book ever written and yet it is fits together in a perfectly logical manner. If Joseph Smith made this story up by himself, he would be the most ingenious writer the world has ever known. Not even professional writers who are much older and more highly educated than Joseph Smith have written a novel this intricate.
On the other hand, the complexity of the Book of Mormon story is just what one would expect to find if it was a history book. If we look at the history of the United States we see many different stories all happening at the same time. We also see past events having a profound influence on the then current behavior of its people with numerous groups of people with different customs and ideas migrating to this new land, each with their own history that then became comingled with the history of other immigrants. And that is exactly what we find in the Book of Mormon. Therefore, Joseph Smith didn't have to be a literary genius if what he wrote was indeed actual history.
The complexity of the story in the Book of Mormon is made even more amazing when we realize that when Joseph Smith wrote it he didn't have a word processor. That means what he wrote by hand had to be right the first time because it would have been difficult for him to review, revise, edit, and make addition or corrections to what he had already written.
To understand how difficult this would have been, most fictional novels have only a few characters in them. When a story has too many people in it, the reader often has a hard time remembering who is who. By way of contrast there are over two hundred and eighty new names found in the Book of Mormon. If Joseph had made all of them up by himself, as the critics want us to believe, he would have had a difficult time keeping all of them straight in his mind as he wrote his novel. If he had invented this entire story, without the aid of a computer he would have had to constantly keep checking the material he had already written to keep from getting all these names mixed up and confused during his storytelling.
For example, there is the story of a man named Alma who had a spiritual conversion when he was young. This story is found on page 200 but nothing more is mentioned about his conversion experience until much later, when Alma is older and is recounting to his son Shiblon what happened that caused him to become a beleiver in Christ. This is found on page 305. By this time the reader has long forgotten the original incident but when we compare the two stories we see they are the same.
Alma had another son named Corianton who is first introduced to us on page 305 and then he is briefly mentioned again sixty-two pages later. After that nothing more is heard of him. As insignificant as Corianton is in the overall story, it would have been very easy for Joseph to have gotten his facts mixed up about this son of Alma if he had made this incident up. However, when we compare the two stories they both match perfectly.
On page 142 there is a very brief mention of a man named Coriantumr who was discovered by the people of Zarahemla. All it tells us about him is that he gave the people of Zarahemla an account of his people who had been slain and that he had lived among the people of Zarahemla for nine months. It isn't until page 508 that we see his name mentioned again and then learn his history. Despite being 366 pages apart from one another, these two accounts of Coriantumr fit together perfectly.
And there are many other similar examples like this found in the Book of Mormon. If Joseph Smith wrote this story as he translated it from an ancient historical record such occurrences as this would be understandable and even expected. However, if we are to believe the critics that Joseph Smith invented this entire story we are then forced to conclude that he had to have had a phenomenal memory. Yet, there is nothing in the rest of his life that seems to indicate that his memory was any better or worse than anyone else.
To believe that Joseph Smith had no other source for his Book of Mormon than himself is to also believe that he was the most gifted writer the world has ever known, which is how some people try to explain away all of these unbelievable things about him. However, if what they say about Joseph is true when he was twenty-three years old then his talent for writing would be even greater when he was thirty-three or forty because as he grew older he devoted himself to studying a wide variety of topics as well as becoming a mayor, a printer, a mason, a militia general, and the leader of a church.
The critics claim that the motivation for all that Joseph Smith did was to gain fame and to make money. They point to how he made himself the center of attention by appointing himself to every important position in the church and in his own created society of believers, how he called himself a prophet so that people would worship him, and how he sought to build an ever growing group of devoted followers who would do whatever he commanded them. They point to his statement about how God told him that his name would be had for good and for evil throughout the world as further evidence that he was obsessed with his own greatness. What these critics want us to believe is that Joseph Smith was a megalomaniac, someone who sought to have the power to dominate others and who needed to have the admiration and praise of people.
However, in making all of these claims the critics have boxed themselves into a corner when it comes to their assertion about the Book of Mormon.
Whenever any author has written a book that has become a best seller their immediate goal is either to write a sequel to the first book or to at least write another book to capitalize on the popularity of the first. If fame or fortune was the motivation behind why Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon at age twenty-three then that same motivation would have propelled him to write another book to increase his fame and fortune.
If Joseph was the specially gifted writer that the critics say he was then his skill as a writer would have only increased as he got older and acquired more knowledge and education. If Joseph Smith's imagination at age twenty-three was so vivid and brilliant that he could write a story as complex and intricate as the Book of Mormon then we should expect to see him produce another epic novel containing even more detail, with greater imagination, with deeper insights, and being significantly longer in length than his first published work.
One of the stated religious beliefs that Joseph Smith taught was "in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes" (10th Article of Faith). The stated purpose of the Book of Mormon "is to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever" (title page of the Book of Mormon).
In the Book of Mormon we read an account of where Jesus Christ appeared after His resurrection unto the Israelite inhabitants of this continent, stating that they were the other lost sheep that He must visit which he spoke about while living in Jerusalem (John10:16, 3 Nephi 15:16, 21). But then He added, "And verily, verily I say unto you that I have other sheep which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that round about whither I have been to minister… I shall go unto them and that they shall hear my voice and they shall be numbered among my sheep, that they may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them" (3 Nephi 16:1,3).
As more and more people began to idolize and follow Joseph Smith as a living prophet of God, and with his supposed need for power and fame, what better way for a gifted, imaginative writer to increase both of these desired attributes than to claim that another angel had appeared unto him showing where yet another ancient record was buried concerning another one of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Since the Bible tells us that these lost tribes were taken into the north country it would have been logical for Joseph to claim that he had received an ancient record of Jesus Christ's appearance to a group of people. perhaps living in Scandinavia, written on leather made from the skins of goats.
Yet, after publishing the Book of Mormon, Joseph never again wrote another book like it. Although he did write a book entitled The Doctrine and Covenants, it was not a story but a collection of unrelated revelations he claims to have received over a number of years. He also wrote two other smaller books entitled "The Book of Abraham" and "The Book of Moses" which are just a few printed pages long and mostly contain information that seems copied from the Bible. None of these come anywhere near the complexity or the depth of detail that is contained in the Book of Mormon. In fact, there is no evidence in any of Joseph's writings, both personal or public, that shows great, extraordinary literary skill.
To believe that Joseph Smith made up the Book of Mormon from his own imagination is to believe something so amazing and bizarre that it defies credibility and requires the suspension of logic and common sense. While the critics like to say there is no physical, archeological evidence at this time to support the story found in the Book of Mormon, the critics have not been able to disprove Joseph's claim of how he came to write it. Therefore, they can't hold fast to their belief that they must prove all things.