“Book of Mormon Research,” Tambuli, Dec. 1988, 39
Book of Mormon Research
The following reports on the Book of Mormon are from a growing group of researchers who are examining in new and interesting ways the riches of the Book of Mormon. Their research has convinced them that there is yet much for us to discover in the book; but they are also convinced that the real strength of the book is spiritual—that as we approach it in the spirit of prayer and try to live the principles the Book of Mormon teaches, we will be touched by its divine power to convert, to testify of Jesus Christ and the Restoration, and to bring us closer to God.
Susan Easton Black: Jesus Christ is so central to the Book of Mormon that, as the prophets wrote their testimonies of him, they mentioned some form of his name an average of every 1.7 verses. They referred to Jesus Christ by 101 names—from the first reference to him as Lord (1 Ne. 1:1) to the final name of Eternal Judge (Moro. 10:34).
Robert L. Millet: I have been fascinated with President Ezra Taft Benson’s statement that the Book of Mormon leads men to Christ through two means: (1) by revealing Christ himself and (2) exposing the enemies of Christ. In fact, the prophets’ messages on the plates of brass—a record that Nephi learned is more complete and extensive than our present Old Testament (see 1 Ne. 13:20–24)—are Christ-centered. Prophets like Zenos, Zenock, Neum, and Ezias understood the nature of the Godhead, and their writings concerning the life of Jesus Christ are specific and direct.
Biblical and Near Eastern Studies
Stephen E. Robinson: In an age when most non-Latter-day Saint scholars deny the historical truth of the Bible, the Book of Mormon proves that the Bible is correct, sometimes in great detail, that the picture of Jesus, the divine Son of God, presented in the New Testament is historically accurate, and that the testimony of Jesus borne by the early church is true. For example, most scholars attribute the majority of the Sermon on the Mount to the early church and deny that Jesus ever spoke these words as recorded in Matthew. However, the Book of Mormon clearly supports Matthew’s claim that the Savior gave the sermon.
Gordon C. Thomasson: There are more than thirty occasions when the Book of Mormon makes it clear (to those who know something about Israelite religion) that its peoples, excluding the Jaredites who came earlier, knew and practiced the religion of the Mosaic Law, including all the festivals, feasts, and holy days based upon the Exodus. Passage after passage has a wealth of meaning when we see the people in their own terms—a people who were attempting to “observe to keep the commandments of the Lord” and be “strict in observing the ordinances of God, according to the law of Moses.” (Alma 30:3.)
Archaeology and Anthropology
John Sorenson: One primary need is to establish the Book of Mormon as a record of real people addressing real situations that apply to people today. The scripture is too commonly treated as taking place in some non-existent land, with characters whose circumstances we neither really understand nor relate to. To the degree that we see the Book of Mormon as a genuine record of a actual people, we will be more likely to learn the saving lessons they have to teach us.
Paul R. Cheesman: Joseph Smith declared that the Book of Mormon record was engraved on metal plates. Research has revealed that the ancient world recorded significant events upon plates of gold, silver, bronze, and lead. The Book of Mormon also suggests the use of the wheel. To date, more than one hundred ancient wheeled artifacts have been found in the Americas. The Prophet described the Book of Mormon as being buried in a stone box. Since the book was published, over fifty stone boxes have been found containing many varieties of ancient treasures. Studies such as these can stimulate skeptics and scholars to the point where they might actually pick up the book, read it, and gain a testimony of its truth.
William Hamblin: The Book of Mormon mentions fortifications and warfare as essential to Nephite society. Until recently, archaeologists had insisted that fortifications were rare in Central America during Book of Mormon times. However, new research has shown that this early view was incorrect. It has likewise been claimed that the bow and arrow were unknown in early Central America. Once again, archaeologists have discovered arrow heads, arrow shafts, and pictorial representations of the bow.
I am equally impressed by the things concerning military affairs that the Book of Mormon does not mention. If Joseph Smith were simply copying ideas from the Bible, one would expect war chariots, cavalry, siege engines, and “coats of mail” in the Book of Mormon. Though the Book of Mormon contains numerous descriptions of warfare, weapons, and tactics, none of these biblical military items are mentioned (though chariots for transportation are). The Book of Mormon includes only those items that have counterparts in pre-Columbian Central American military systems.
Robert J. Matthews: For me, one vital aspect of the Book of Mormon is that the book is not a reasoned, logical argument for Jesus Christ, but rather is a report by prophets who knew him through personal experience. Another is the strong and repeated emphasis that the words of the prophets are true and shall be literally fulfilled. These items are important because they place the Book of Mormon in the category of divine testimony and not in the category of mental exercise by an intellectual elite.
Monte S. Nyman: I have analyzed the text of the Book of Mormon in light of Nephi’s instructions to Jacob to include in the small plates only “preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying.” (Jacob 1:4.) The large majority of the text qualifies under one of those three headings. The balance in the book between secular history and things of a spiritual nature is overwhelmingly on the spiritual side.
The book is the primary source of Church doctrine. This was foretold by Isaiah (Isa. 29:24) and is a major purpose of the book (D&C 20:17–36). When the Lord revealed that the Church was under condemnation for treating the Book of Mormon lightly, he said that the Church must not only say but do what was written. (D&C 84:54–57.)
Bruce A. Van Orden: I have sought to identify principles of religious education in the Book of Mormon; the character, development, and personalities of prophet-teachers in the book; and their methods of instruction. In the process I have identified more than one hundred useful principles and analyzed the characteristics of numerous teachers and teaching situations. For example, successful teachers are desirous for the welfare of their students’ souls (2 Ne. 6:3; Alma 13:27–30); teachers should use scriptures abundantly to teach from and explain points of doctrine (2 Ne. 6:3–4; Alma 12:1; 3 Ne. 20:11–12); and teachers should pour out their souls in prayer and thanksgiving (Alma 19:14). The way great teachers approached specific challenges—such as Jacob versus Sherem, King Benjamin to his people, Alma to his sons, and Jesus with the multitudes and his disciples—can provide wonderful models for our own teaching situations.
Susan Easton Black: The Book of Mormon not only clearly defines a path for spiritual and material ruin, but also presents the path that leads to spiritual well-being. Much of the Nephite record is dominated by war, famine, and destruction, but faithful followers found the narrow path, and their actions emulated the life of Christ. Research in this area shows us our choices for joy or sorrow and demonstrates that the Lord will not leave his devoted followers comfortless.
C. Wilfred Griggs: Everybody recognizes that destructive forces exist beyond most people’s ability to understand or combat. The Book of Mormon bears witness of a heavenly power greater than all others to preserve, save, and exalt. A continual study of the Book of Mormon is vital to learn how to partake of God’s eternal power.
Paul R. Cheesman is professor emeritus ot ancient scripture at Brigham Young University (BYU), Provo, Utah.
Susan Easton Black is an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.
C. Wilfred Griggs is director of ancient studies, Religious Studies Center, BYU.
William Hamblin is an assistant professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Robert J. Matthews is dean of religious education at BYU.
Robert L. Millet is an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU.
Monte S. Nyman is associate dean of religious education at BYU and director of the Book of Mormon area, Religious Studies Center.
Stephen E. Robinson is a professor of ancient scripture at BYU.
John Sorenson, formerly chairman of the Department of Anthropology, is professor emeritus of anthropology at BYU and a director of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS).
Gordon C. Thomasson is an applied anthropologist concerned with the development of poor nations. He resides in Provo, Utah.
Bruce A. Van Orden is an assistant professor of church history at BYU.