Book of Mormon Cornerstone

What Have Scholars Learned about the Book of Mormon?

This cornerstone article compiles select findings from some of today’s most fascinating Book of Mormon research.

The Book of Mormon translated by Joseph Smith contains an account of Jesus Christ in the Americas and has been published in dozens of languages. The record viewed as holy scripture by Latter-day Saints has increasingly become a focal point of scholars. This cornerstone article compiles select findings from some of today’s most fascinating Book of Mormon research.

Cornerstone content. This article is frequently updated, along with similar pieces about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.

Book of Mormon names may have ancient origins

Scholars associated with the Interpreter Foundation have spent decades studying the origins of Book of Mormon names and proper nouns like Nephi, King Benjamin, Mosiah, and Jershon. In a groundbreaking onomasticon published in 2022, Stephen D. Ricks says that the evidence for ancient origins in the Latter-day Saint scripture is overwhelming.

Those who believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God will see this dictionary as a confirmation that the book is ancient and true.

Do Book of Mormon Names Have Ancient Origins?

Bruce R. McConkie wrote an unpublished commentary

Bruce R. McConkie is perhaps best known for writing Mormon Doctrine or giving a powerful talk about the Savior’s atonement. McConkie is widely regarded for his mastery of the scriptures. But what many don’t know is that he wrote a personal commentary on the record translated by Joseph Smith.

As a young man he had written an informal commentary-like collection of notes on the Book of Mormon solely for his own benefit, but he threw away those extensive notes since they had served their purpose.

The Many Legacies of Bruce R. McConkie

The angel Moroni gave the book to Joseph Smith

A resurrected angel named Moroni gave Joseph Smith the golden plates that would be used to translate the Book of Mormon. The angel Moroni tutored the prophet for several years, and there are nearly two dozen documented encounters.

Emma Smith protected the gold plates

Emma Hale Smith repeatedly took measures to keep the gold plates safe from enemies of the Prophet. In one instance, she rode bareback on a horse for an hour to warn Joseph about efforts to steal the plates. In another, Emma hid the plates in a barrel of beans and asked her brother to sleep outside and guard the barrel.

She also made a leather pouch to hold Joseph’s seer stone.

Jenny Reeder, The Remarkable Legacy of Emma Smith

There’s a study edition

Study bibles are the rage on college campuses. They provide readers with an opportunity to look at familiar verses in friendly layouts, while also providing access to key scholarly insights and footnotes. Now, Mormon Studies readers can experience the same kind of academic insights in a Maxwell Institute study edition:

It helps readers appreciate the sacred text by offering, in an accessible format, some of the advances in scholarship on the Book of Mormon over the past generation.

Spencer Fluhman, What Is the Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon?

It includes new witnesses

Joseph Smith includes the testimonies of 11 witnesses in the Book of Mormon, including Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. But they weren’t the only people who witnessed the miracles associated with the holy scripture. Accordingly, the Maxwell Institute Study Edition includes the testimony of Emma Smith.

“Emma Smith . . . speaks very matter-of-factly about things she experienced daily over the course of several years,” said Grant Hardy, the editor of the study edition. “It just seemed like time to give Emma her due.”

There’s a connection to Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson is one of today’s most influential fiction writers. The author of epics like Mistborn and The Way of Kings is also a faithful Latter-day Saint who occasionally draws inspiration from his religion.

The connection has caused BYU scholar Nick Frederick to pose a fun question: Could Brandon Sanderson have saved the Nephites?

There’s new Book of Mormon art

BYU’s Anthony Sweat is known for his artistic depictions of lesser-known events from Latter-day Saint history. One of his most well-known pieces is called “Translating with Oliver,” and depicts the Prophet Joseph looking at seer stones inside of a hat.

“My reason for creating an image of Joseph using the hat was to give a hitherto undepicted faithful visual to some of these historical sources that mention a hat,” said Sweat.

“Translating with Oliver” by Anthony Sweat depicts Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon by looking at seer stones in a hat.

Joseph’s family played a role

Historian Kyle Walker reveals that five of Joseph’s family member played a role in bringing forth the Book of Mormon. And despite the ups-and-downs of family life, the Smith family testified of the record’s miraculous nature long after the Prophet’s death.

Both parents, and all eight of his siblings, never lost faith in his prophetic role or in their belief in the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

These were the individuals who knew his character best. Their united support is one of the strengths of the Restoration.

What Did Joseph Smith’s Family Know about the First Vision?

An emeritus general authority has written an apologetic treatise

Tad R. Callister is perhaps known for writing The Infinite Atonement or serving in the General Sunday School Presidency. However, the former general authority has also written a book in defense of the record translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith.

In particular, Callister sought to provide church members with answers they could provide to Book of Mormon critics:

I felt like we didn’t have to be on the defense all the time. We could also be on the offense. If someone’s a true, honest critic, they should not only have the privilege to ask questions but should be responsible for answering some of our questions—including some that are very difficult for them to respond to.

Tad Callister and the Book of Mormon

It’s rich with theology

The Maxwell Institute published a series of 12 brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon. Each book is written by a different Latter-day Saint scholar. For example, Terryl Givens wrote about 2nd Nephi and Daniel Becerra tackled 3rd Nephi.

Each scholar is an expert in the modern academic fields of philosophy, theology, literature, or history, but each also works from a position of deep personal faith. The series invites Latter-day Saints to slow down, dive deeper, and read scripture more transformatively.

The Book of Mormon: Brief Theological Introductions

The Book of Mormon contains radical teachings about the Fall of Adam and Eve

Second Nephi contains an account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that radically differs from traditional Christianity. Latter-day Saint intellectual Terryl Givens says that the account given by Nephi “changes everything”:

In Eve’s celebration of their “transgression,” we find a repudiation of original sin and original guilt, or life as a purgatory, of suffering as punishment, of a God incapable of basic principles of justice and equity. We return to a lovely conception of those events in Eden recognized by the early Christian Irenaeus, who wrote in words eerily foreshadowing Lehi’s (and Alma’s).

Terryl Givens and the Maxwell Institute on 2nd Nephi

Brigham Young said it might be different if Joseph translated it again

Hebrew scholar Matthew Grey reports that Brigham Young made an interesting statement about Joseph Smith and the translation of the Book of Mormon. It suggests that the Prophet’s translation process may have been more fluid than we realize:

Brigham Young is even reported to have said in 1862 that if Joseph would have translated the Book of Mormon at that time, “in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation” (see Journal of Discourses 9:311).

Joseph Smith’s Use of Hebrew in the Book of Abraham

There’s a book devoted to Joseph Smith’s translation activities

Joseph Smith famously said that the Book of Mormon was produced in New York by the “gift and power of God.” But what that means remains a mystery to many in the Mormon Studies community.

It’s one reason why a group of scholars published a book with the University of Utah Press devoted to Joseph Smith’s production of ancient scripture.

Producing Ancient Scripture includes 16 scholarly chapters about Joseph Smith’s translation activities related to the Book of Mormon, King James Bible, Kinderhook Plates, and more.

The book includes several chapters related to the Book of Mormon, including:

  • “By the Gift and Power of God”: Translation among the Gifts of the Spirit (Christopher James Blythe)
  • Performing the Translation: Character Transcripts and Joseph Smith’s Earliest Translating Practices (Michael Hubbard MacKay)
  • Reconfiguring the Archive: Women and the Social Production of the Book of Mormon (Amy Easton-Flake and Rachel Cope)
  • Nephi’s Project: The Gold Plates as a Book History (Richard Bushman)
  • Seeing the Voice of God: The Book of Mormon on Its Own Translation (Samuel Morris Brown)

Joseph never retracted his claims about the book’s divine origins

Scholars associated with the Joseph Smith Papers have learned many things about the Prophet. One thing that has impressed R. Eric Smith is that Joseph was “consistent and unwavering” in his testimony.

From considering Joseph’s papers as a whole, a key point I take away is that he was consistent and unwavering in testimony. Across the various types of documents and across the years, he doesn’t backtrack about the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, his calling to be a prophet, the reception of divine authority, or the great work and role of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Know Brother Joseph: Q&A with the Editors

It’s a focus of BYU devotionals

About three dozen professors, apostles, and general authorities have spoken about the Book of Mormon in BYU devotionals. President Kimball gave the first-recorded address (“The Lamanite“) in 1957. In the years that followed, contributors such as Neal A. Maxwell and John W. Welch offered additional insights:

The Book of Mormon helps interpret Isaiah

The prophecies of Isaiah are one of the Hebrew Bible’s most wondrous realities, but scholars often wrestle to pinpoint precisely what Isaiah refers to and why. Latter-day Saints don’t have that struggle, according to Ann Madsen (wife of Truman G. Madsen):

When you’re an Isaiah scholar, there’s no continuing revelation like the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and the temple. We have a lot of help as Latter-day Saints.

Ann Madsen Reflects on Isaiah, Jehovah, and the Temple

We know the names of only three Book of Mormon women

There are nearly 200 women with identifiable names in all of scripture. However, almost none of them come from the Book of Mormon:

Over 170 women are identified by name in all the standard works, with only two named in the Doctrine & Covenants (Emma Hale Smith and Vienna Jaques) and three Book of Mormon women named (Sariah, Isabel, and Abish).

Women of the Old Testament: Witnessing of Christ

It has “itty bitty books”

The Maxwell Institute’s Sharon J. Harris gained notoriety when Elder M. Russell Ballard referenced her brief theological introductions in his general conference talk, “Watch Ye Therefore, and Pray Always.” In other circles, she’s gained renown for referring to the short books of Enos, Jarom, and Omni as “itty bitty books.”

Each author, no matter how small his contribution, is a link in the chain that ensures the record will survive into the future.

Brief Theological Introductions to Enos, Jarom, and Omni in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon provides an interesting perspective on the biblical documentary hypothesis

The documentary hypothesis is a big deal for scholars of the Bible. It looks at growing evidence that several authors may have contributed to the first five books of Moses. While the hypothesis sometimes troubles religious students, Jeffrey Bradshaw says that it has a familiar ring for Latter-day Saints:

The notion that a series of individuals may have had a hand in the authorship and redaction of Genesis should not be foreign to readers of the Book of Mormon, where inspired editors have explicitly revealed the process by which they wove separate overlapping records into the finished scriptural narrative.

Tracing Ancient Threads in the Book of Moses

Rejecting the book could result in a curse

Joseph Smith instituted a practice similar to the New Testament ritual of shaking the dust off of one’s feet. While no longer practiced, Joseph’s brother performed a ritual curse against an antagonistic hotelier in the church’s early history:

In June 1830, Samuel Smith (Joseph’s brother) performed the first recorded instance of modern ritual cursing. He performed it against an innkeeper who rejected the Book of Mormon and denied Samuel room and board during his missionary service.

Samuel Weber, What Did It Mean to “Shake Off the Dust of Thy Feet”?

Joseph’s translation wasn’t a “translation”

Scholars often refer to Joseph Smith’s “translation” of the Book of Mormon in upstate New York—and the Prophet himself used the word. But his work bringing forth the Book of Mormon wasn’t a translation in the traditional sense of the word (i.e., translating words from one language into another language).

Joseph’s translation process remains one of the greatest mysteries from the church’s early history. We may not know precisely how his “translation” took place, but faithful Latter-day Saints also don’t need to be afraid of what history tells us.

Sam Brown states:

I don’t believe that we should put scare quotes (or air quotes) around the word translation when we talk about Joseph Smith’s scriptures.

I’m quite persuaded that he was translating and that translating is much more interesting and powerful than we’ve given it credit for.

Sam Brown on the Words and Worlds of Early Mormonism

Fun fact: Kent P. Jackson said there are several words that describe what the prophet meant by translate. For example, in reference Joseph’s work with the King James Version of the Bible, Jackson suggests phrases like render, transfer, and change help explain what the Prophet was doing.

“Joseph Smith also used the verb correct to describe what he was doing with the Bible,” said Jackson. “He was correcting it.”

A BYU scholar discovered the origins of Nahom in Paris

S. Kent Brown stumbled across what he calls the “first archeological proof for the Book of Mormon” in a catalogue about a Yemeni exhibit in Paris. As he read an archaeologist’s translation of an ancient altar, Brown discovered what he believes is the origin of Nahom in the Book of Mormon.

It took about thirty minutes for me to come to realize that I had just read the name Nahom as a tribal name in south Arabia (Nihm, or more properly without the vowels, NHM).

And the time was exactly right, for Lehi and Sariah were on the move in the early sixth century.

The Old Testament and New Testament: What Happened in Between?
Latter-day Saint scholar S. Kent Brown says that the Nahom altar constitutes the first archaeological proof of the Book of Mormon.

Martin Harris plays a bigger role than you think

Many people know Martin Harris for only the role he played in the loss of the 116 pages. But his biographer, Dr. Susan Easton Black, says that Latter-day Saints might be surprised how prominent Harris’s role was in the church’s early history.

Readers will discover in Martin Harris: Uncompromising Witness of the Book of Mormon that there is much more to the story of this Book of Mormon witness than the follies which led to the loss of the 116 page manuscript.

This biography reveals the compelling story of a man who struggled to keep his faith in the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ when family and friends turned against him. It tells of a businessman whose fascination with worldly honors, flirtations with apostasy, and pride nearly cost him the joy of his later years in the west.

If readers will set aside their preconceived notion about the flawed character of Martin Harris, they will discover in the text insights about this Book of Mormon witness not found elsewhere.

Martin Harris and the 116 Pages: There’s More to the Story

The Book of Mormon is in the middle of a popular renaissance

The Book of Mormon is a keystone of the Latter-day Saint faith, but it’s also gaining buzz in circles such as American religious history. For example, Max Perry Mueller says the book’s influence is growing in scholarly circles:

The Book of Mormon is having a moment outside of Mormon Studies. Even outside of Religious Studies, as more and more Mormon and non-Mormon academics are taking the text’s complexity and richness more seriously.

Max Perry Mueller on ‘Race and the Making of the Mormon People’

Hugh Nibley inspired Richard Bushman

Richard Bushman struggled with his testimony as a young college student and felt out of sorts when he served a mission after his sophomore year. Bushman’s mission president directed him towards the works of Hugh Nibley with the directive, “See if you can find a better explanation than the one in the book itself.”

The future biographer of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling accepted the challenge and dived into Nibley’s apologetic research.

These little specks of evidence provided the kind of rational support I was looking for in my quest for conviction. Nibley opened up a Middle Eastern antiquity I had not dreamed existed.

Hugh Nibley Observed: Rare Stories You’ll Want to Read

The “Elvis” Book of Mormon is a forgery

A special copy of the Book of Mormon was donated to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1989. What made this edition special was the claim that it contained annotations made by Elvis Presley. The story took on a life of its own. Soon, even one of the Osmond brothers was touting the fascinating volume.

But some stories make better Latter-day Saint myths than realities. In this case, a historian discovered that the book wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

His [Keith Erekson‘s] analysis concluded that none of the annotations in the book came from Elvis, nor did he likely have time to read the book between the time it was given to him and his death.

Elvis Has Left the Library: Identifying Forged Annotations in a Book of Mormon

We aren’t sure why Joseph needed the gold plates

The gold plates play a key role in the narrative of the Book of Mormon’s translation. And scholars such as Richard Bushman think that the plates were essential to Joseph’s translation process. They just aren’t sure why.

For example, historical records suggest that Joseph rarely consulted the plates when engaging in the translation process. His own accounts indicate that the translation took place by looking not at the gold plates, but seer stones.

Latter-day Saint historian Mark Ashurst-McGee discusses how Joseph Smith used seer stones in the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Unfortunately, the historical record limits our ability to draw conclusions.

We don’t know enough about the technology of revelation to do more than speculate.

Richard Bushman, What Was the Purpose of Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates?

There’s an academic journal devoted to it

The Journal of Book of Mormon studies published by the Maxwell Institute has scores of scholarly articles about the good word of God in Latter-day Saint scripture. The peer-reviewed periodical seek to promote “an understanding of the history, meaning, and significance of the scriptures and other sacred texts revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith.” That includes (but isn’t limited to) the Book of Mormon.

Note: The journal used to be called the Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture.

Bruce R. McConkie wrote the chapter headings

Biographer Dennis B. Horne explains that Elder McConkie played a pivotal role in the the publication of the 1978 edition of the standard works:

He wrote the chapter and section headings for all the standard works, and did a great deal of work on the introductory material and the Bible Dictionary.

Bruce R. McConkie and Mormon Doctrine

Fun fact: Bruce R. McConkie’s wife, Amelia Smith McConkie, was the daughter of Joseph Fielding Smith, who was the son of Joseph F. Smith, who was the son of Hyrum Smith.

The Book of Mormon enriches the Savior’s character

The crowning event in the Book of Mormon is the appearance of the resurrected Jesus Christ in the Americas. While the Savior repeated many of the teachings given to those in Jerusalem, there’s also a great deal of new information—not only about what the Messiah taught, but also who He was.

3–4 Nephi present to us a Savior who resists easy categorization. He blurs the boundaries between humanity and divinity, between father and son, between male and female, and between individuality and relationality.

Daniel Becerra, Finding Christ in 3rd Nephi and 4th Nephi
The Book of Mormon serves as another testament of Jesus Christ and includes an account of the Savior visiting the Americas after His death and resurrection.

Forgers tried to trick Joseph Smith

The Prophet’s claims about the Book of Mormon led a group of men to try and trick him. They created a forgery known as the Kinderhook Plates as a joke to falsely fulfill Parley P. Pratt’s prophecy that “truth would spring up out of the earth.”

Things got taken to another level when someone gave the plates to Joseph in Nauvoo. But history has exaggerated the attention Joseph gave the plates.

He attempted to translate one character from the Kinderhook plates (using his own abilities rather than seeking divine help), and then quickly gave up the project.

In a sense, the joke exceeded their wildest dreams when that happened. But then nothing much came [and Smith] quickly abandoned [his] translation effort.

Did the Kinderhook Plates Really Fool Joseph Smith?

Some scholars think Freemasonry influenced the Book of Mormon

It’s becoming increasingly well-known that there’s a connection between Freemasonry and the temple endowment. But one pair of scholars thinks that Masonic influence can be seen in many other places as well.

Our book comments on each form of Latter-day Saint scripture (Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Egyptian papers) and gives examples of Masonic midrash found therein. It’s quite fascinating to see so many Masonic ideas within our familiar religious texts.

How Did Freemasonry Influence Joseph Smith?

Not everyone agrees

Jeff Bradshaw of the Interpreter Foundation doesn’t think the evidence for Masonic influences in the Book of Mormon is especially convincing. However, he sees a stronger case when it comes to practices from the Kirtland School of the Prophets.

Though evidence of Masonic language and ideas in the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses is generally unconvincing, descriptions of some practices from the Kirtland School of the Prophets seem to recall Masonic ritual language patterns (see, for example, Doctrine and Covenants 88:128ff.).

What is the Relationship Between Freemasonry and the Temple Endowment?

Joseph’s approach to revelation inspires the author of The Work and the Glory

The Work and the Glory is a historical fiction narrative of early church history. The bestselling series by Gerald Lund has sold millions of copies and was made into a move trilogy. To this day, Joseph’s approach to revelation inspires Lund.

“I’ve got a list of 500 things,” Lund said, when explaining what he’d ask the Prophet about revelation. “But if I were wise, I’d say, ‘Tell me what you have learned about revelation, Joseph.'”

The Book of Mormon has chiasmus

The Book of Mormon has several instances of chiasmus, a literary form common in ancient Hebrew writings. To this day, one of the most popular articles in the history of BYU Studies Quarterly is “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” by Jack Welch.

It has apocalyptic material

Latter-day Saints were talking about apocalyptic happenings even before the Church was founded in 1830. The nature of those conversations have changed over time, but historian Christopher Blythe says that the Book of Mormon contributed to early apocalyptic discussions.

The Book of Mormon is filled with apocalyptic material and details the destructions of several civilizations in the Promised Land (the Americas). We spend much less time talking about apocalyptic events in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries than we did in the nineteenth, but it ebbs and flows.

Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse with Christopher Blythe

There are economic implications

Economics professor Lindon Robison spent years searching for ways to apply principles from Book of Mormon to neoclassical economic paradigms. But it didn’t work.

So, he came at the problem from the opposite direction and looked for manifestations of economic principles in the Book of Mormon:

Never before in my economic studies had I read such a definitive economic development declaration. The steadiness of the church and the people’s love for each other produced a material abundance.

I wanted to understand how and why caring could produce economic prosperity. So I began a study that has continued until this day.

Lindon Robison on Latter-day Saint Economic History

The Book of Mormon complements the Bible

The Book of Mormon was never intended to replace the Bible. President Russell M. Nelson stated:

Love for the Book of Mormon expands one’s love for the Bible and vice versa. Scriptures of the Restoration do not compete with the Bible; they complement the Bible.

Scriptural Witnesses

The Book of Mormon can be used to date the birth of Christ

Scholars typically struggle to narrow down the time of Christ’s birth to more than a few years. However, one BYU professor thinks Jesus was born in December of 5 BC, in part because of dating notations that indicated Lehi (a Book of Mormon prophet” left Jerusalem (about 600 BC”). morono

Jeffrey R. Chadwick, When Was Jesus Actually Born?

Someone’s writing a cultural history of Book of Mormon geography

Christopher Blythe joined the Maxwell Institute to write a cultural history of Book of Mormon geography.

The book will look at how Latter-day Saints have speculated about the setting of the Book of Mormon and why different theories have been more or less influential at different times in Latter-day Saint history.

Scholar Finds Brigham Young Revelation

Jane Manning James held Joseph’s seer stones

Jane Manning James had the opportunity to handle Joseph Smith’s seer stones. Biographer Quincy Newell said that the priceless opportunity occurred while living in the Nauvoo Mansion House.

In the words of Jane Manning James:

One morning I met Brother Joseph coming out of his Mother’s room he said good morning and shook hands with me. I went in to his Mother’s room she said good morning, bring me that bundle from my bureau and sit down here.

I did as she told me, she placed the bundle in my hands and said, handle this and then put in the top drawer of my … bureau and lock it up.

After I had done it she said sit down.

Do you remember that I told you about the Urim and Thummim when I told you about the Book of Mormon?

I answered, yes Ma’am, she then told me I had just handled it. You are not permitted to see it, but you have been permitted to handle it. You will live long after I am dead and gone. And you can tell the Latter-day Saints, that you was permitted to handle the Urim and Thummim.

Jane Manning James: Your Sister in the Gospel

Further reading

About the Book of Mormon resources

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

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