Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?

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The Book of Mormon came to us in its current form through the work of a lot of different people both ancient and modern. Much of the work anciently was done by a prophet named Mormon, hence the title that we use for the book – The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. He served as abridger and editor of sacred and secular records that had been kept by prophets and other individuals over the years. As inspired, he selected passages that told of the history of some peoples in the Americas but more importantly, taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. He did all this while watching the end of his civilization – most of his people had either been killed in wars or had turned from following the statutes of God and joined with their enemies. Mormon would eventually be killed in battle, leaving his son Moroni to have charge over the sacred records and to finish the Book of Mormon. Moroni did this, burying the book in a stone box in the ground of what would later be upstate New York.

The plates Moroni buried in the ground were made of gold, which does not corrode or corrupt. Words were engraven onto the plates with great difficulty (see Jacob 4:1) so words were chosen judiciously not just because of the difficulty of engraving but also because of limited space; more importantly, words were chosen so as to help those who read the book draw nearer to Christ.

What we have as the current start of the Book of Mormon was not, in fact, the start of the book. There originally were 116 additional manuscript pages that were abridged by Mormon but these translated pages were lost when Martin Harris, who was helping Joseph Smith with the translation of the Book of Mormon, had convinced Joseph to let him take the manuscript home (so that he could show his wife, who was upset at the work Martin was doing with Joseph). These lost pages likely would have had some sort of introductory commentary by Mormon as well as a more secular history of the people of Nephi:

And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi. (Words of Mormon 1:3).

Mormon made all his abridgments and then discovered the “small plates of Nephi” that included some history but were mainly focused on sacred things (particularly on Jesus Christ).

And now I, Nephi, do not give the genealogy of my fathers in this part of my record; neither at any time shall I give it after upon these plates which I am writing; for it is given in the record which has been kept by my father; wherefore, I do not write it in this work. For it sufficeth me to say that we are descendants of Joseph. And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God. For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved. Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world. Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men. (1 Nephi 6).

Moroni wrote his abridgments of the scriptural and historical records on gold plates bound together into a single unit; to the scriptures he edited, he added the unabridged small plates of Nephi. We do not know if the physical dimensions of the small plates of Nephi were the same as the plates Mormon made – it is possible but I’d be surprised if all the plates were the same size. Nephi’s plates were small though not necessarily because of their physical dimensions, they were small because there were not many of them and there was not room to write anything but the most important things of the Lord (the fact that so much of the words of Isaiah were included tells you something of the worth of the words of Isaiah – priceless).

As we put all this together, we see that Nephi thus wrote most of the first part of the Book of Mormon. As I just wrote, Nephi quotes extensively from Isaiah so many of his words are included. Nephi’s younger brother Jacob is the next author. In addition to what he writes, he quotes extensively from a prophet named Zenos. Jacob then passes the plates on to his son Enos, who writes a few words. His son Jarom next has the plates; he writes a little less than his father (there is not much room left on the plates and not much to add to what was previously written). Jarom gives the plates to his son Omni who writes what become three verses. Omni passes the plates to his son Amaron who then, after writing a little, gives them to his brother Chemish. Chemish gives them to his son Abinadom who then gives them to his son Amaleki. Amaleki fills up the rest of the small plates and then gives them to Benjamin, a righteous king and prophet.

So the lineage of the small plates of Nephi is thus [(b) = brother; (s) = son]: Nephi –> Jacob (b) –> Enos (s) –> Jarom (s) –> Omni (s) –> Amaron (s) –> Chemish (b) –> Abinadom (s) –> Amaleki (s) –> Benjamin (relationship unclear). That is seven, maybe eight generations right there – many hundreds of years. Each of those men wrote a portion of the Book of Mormon, albeit to varying degrees. That timeframe from Nephi to Benjamin was also covered by the other records Mormon abridged, which translation became lost.

That something is missing is obvious when we get to the Words of Mormon and read: “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.” (Words of Mormon 1:1). That’s an abrupt change of topic, something that sounds like it is act 2 of a play. From this we can assume that Mormon spent some time introducing the Book of Mormon and his work earlier (in the now lost portion of the book). He also likely had added his commentary throughout that portion of the plates, as he does throughout the rest of the Book of Mormon.

The rest of the Book of Mormon was mainly written by Mormon (who lived around 300-400 AD) with a few words by his son Moroni (who buried the gold plates around the year 421 AD). Mormon quotes extensively from various prophets and later, quotes directly from the Savior when He visits the Americas, but Mormon’s quoting and commentary are interwoven, often with little differentiation between commentary and quote. The book of Ether, which is near the end of the Book of Mormon is a transcription of a translation (done by Mosiah, father of king Benjamin) of records of a group of people called the Jaredites. They lived long before the Nephites, traveling to the Americas thousands of years BC (likely crossing over into the Americas via a northern route, such as from what is now {north}east Asia). Their civilization lasted through many wars for over a thousand years until the last of them was discovered by another group of people who had left Jerusalem shortly after Lehi’s family did (the Mulekites). These people had struggled through wars and loss of cultural and spiritual heritage. When their people was discovered, they were taught the language of the Nephites and joined together (both groups were of the house of Israel). Through this joining, the record of the Jaredites entered the possession of the Nephites:

And it came to pass that the people of Zarahemla, and of Mosiah, did unite together; and Mosiah was appointed to be their king. And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God. And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons. It also spake a few words concerning his fathers. And his first parents came out from the tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people; and the severity of the Lord fell upon them according to his judgments, which are just; and their bones lay scattered in the land northward. (Omni 1:19-22).

There, now we’ve covered most of those who wrote what is now the Book of Mormon (Mormon, Nephi, Jacob, and Moroni are the four largest contributors). Because Mormon did most of the organizational and editorial work, the book is named in honor of him. He compiled a remarkable book that was not written for his people – they were almost all dead – it was written for the purpose of coming forth in these days to teach people of Jesus Christ and to add to the witness of the Bible of the truthfulness of Christ’s mission.

Nearer My God To Thee

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One of my favorite hymns is Nearer, My God, to Thee. It has a simple but beautiful melody and powerful lyrics. It conveys the longing of being with Heavenly Father again; it conveys the longing of home. There is the desire to be close to God, regardless the cost – even if it takes our own cross to get us there (which it often does in our own way).

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me;
Still all my song shall be nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
Darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
Yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

There let the way appear steps unto heav’n;
All that Thou sendest me in mercy giv’n;
Angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Then with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upwards I fly,
Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Much of the hymn refers to an experience the patriarch of old – Jacob – had on a journey toward Haran. I’ll quote at length from the Bible (Genesis 28:10-22) and insert italicized commentary as appropriate.

10 And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran [a major city that was possibly located in modern day Turkey].

11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.

12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it [this is a metaphorical representation of the connection and pathway between heaven and earth. In Acts 1:9-11 we read of Christ’s ascension in to heaven after His 40 day ministry to His apostles; there are several other similar instances in the scriptures: 3 Nephi 11:5-8; Joseph Smith-History 1:16-17].

13 And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed [this is the Abrahamic covenant, a topic for a different time];

14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.

16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not [Jacob saw God in his dream vision and when he awoke, felt the sanctity of the place].

17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven [Jacob feared because he realized he had been in the presence of God – a wonderful but sometimes fearful thought as well, particularly because of our sins. The place where Jacob slept because the house of God – a temple. Temples literally are the houses of God and the gates of heaven. Through temples can we pass into the presence of God].

18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it [This is a particularly interesting verse. Jacob took his stony pillow and made it into a pillar – an altar. He poured oil, probably consecrated olive oil upon the top of it to consecrate it and sanctify it unto God].

19 And he called the name of that place Beth-el: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first [Beth-el literally means God’s house or house of God. Beth is house and el is God {Elohim would be the title and the plural}].

20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on [this can be viewed as earthly bread and raiment but can also be viewed as the bread and raiment {temple clothes} given in our Father’s kingdom],

21 So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God:

22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house [he dedicated the site as a temple]: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee [this is a reference to Jacob’s paying tithing].

That is the primary scriptural source for the lyrics to Nearer, My God, to Thee.

Here is a recent recording of the most known tune (called Bethany) used with the lyrics. This is Steven Sharp Nelson playing the cello (9 parts). The video was filmed and produced by The Piano Guys.