Composition and History of the Book of Mormon
September 1974

“Composition and History of the Book of Mormon,” New Era, Sept. 1974, 41

Composition and History of the Book of Mormon

The Nephites kept a large number of records for the benefit of future generations (Hel. 3:13, 15–16.) The importance of record-keeping is stressed in the story of Nephi, who, before leaving the Old World, obtained the BRASS PLATES from Laban in Jerusalem. (1 Ne. 3; 1 Ne. 4) These plates were apparently handed down in the Nephite royal line, for King Mosiah I had them. (Omni 1:14.)

Arriving in the New World, Nephi prepared two sets of plates. (1 Ne. 19:1–6) The LARGE PLATES OF NEPHI were passed down by the kings to Benjamin, son of Mosiah I. (Omni 1:11; W of M 1:10.)

The SMALL PLATES OF NEPHI came down in a different line. The first part of our present Book of Mormon (1 Nephi through the Words of Mormon) comes from the small plates. The men who wrote on them referred to them as “these plates,” while referring to the large plates held by the kings as the “other plates.” Here is the line of transmission of the small plates:



(Jacob 1:1–4)


(Jacob 7:26–27; Enos)


(Jarom 1:1–2)


(Jarom 1:15; Omni 1:1)


(Omni 1:3–4)


(Omni 1:8–9)


(Omni 1:10)


(Omni 1:12)

Amaleki, noting that the plates were almost filled, turned them over to King Benjamin (Omni 1:25), who added them to the “other plates” (W of M 1:10). Thus King Benjamin possessed the plates of brass, as well as all of the plates of Nephi. (Mosiah 1:3–4, 6.) These he passed on to his son, Mosiah II. (Mosiah 1:16; Mosiah 28:11.)

King Mosiah II added to the large plates of Nephi the records of Zeniff and Alma. (Mosiah 25:5–6.) He also came into possession of 24 GOLD PLATES containing the Jaredite history. (Mosiah 28:11–13, 17–20.) He gave all of the plates to Alma II (Mosiah 28:20), and from him they were passed on as follows:


Helaman I

(Alma 37:1–5, 21)


(Alma 63:1)

Helaman II

(Alma 63:11–13)

Nephi II

(Hel. 16:25; 3 Ne. 1:2)

Nephi III, the disciple

(3 Ne. 1:2–3; 3 Ne. 23:7)

Nephi IV

(4 Ne. 1:19)

Amos I

(4 Ne. 1:19–20)

Amos II

(4 Ne. 1:21)


(4 Ne. 1:47)

Ammaron hid the plates in the hill Shim. (4 Ne. 1:48.) He then chose young Mormon as his successor and instructed him to remove the plates of Nephi from the hill in his 24th year. (Morm. 1:1–4.) At the appropriate time Mormon took the plates. He updated the history on the large plates, then began an abridgement of these on a separate set of plates. (Morm. 2:17–18.)

Later, because of the Lamanite danger, Mormon removed the rest of the plates from the hill Shim. (Morm. 4:23.) He completed his abridgement of the large plates and hid most of the Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah, except for his own abridgement and the small plates of Nephi, which he gave to his son Moroni. (Morm. 6:6; W of M 1:1–7.)

Moroni finished the record of his father on the abridgement. (Morm. 8:1, 13.) Then he wrote a preface to his father’s work, which is the first paragraph of the present-day preface to the Book of Mormon.

Later Moroni found sufficient time to add an abridgement of the 24 gold plates, or Book of Ether (Ether 1:1–5), and even to write some of his own thoughts (Moro. 1:1–4). He then wrote the second paragraph of the preface and hid the plates.

A little over 1,400 years later Moroni turned over the abridged Nephite records to Joseph Smith. The Prophet translated all but the sealed portion of the plates given him and produced our Book of Mormon. His translation of Mormon’s abridgement of the Book of Lehi (the 116 pages) was lost by Martin Harris (D&C 3:9–20; D&C 10:1, 6–29), so the translation of the small plates was substituted (D&C 10:30–46; see W of M 1:6–7). Joseph Smith did not translate the brass plates, nor the original 24 gold plates, nor from the original large plates of Nephi. He did see all of them, however.

In an interview at Richmond, Missouri, in September 1878, David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses, declared to Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith that he, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris had seen “not only the plates of the Book of Mormon, but also the brass plates, the plates of the Book of Ether, the plates containing the records of the wickedness and secret combinations of the people … and many other plates.” (Preston Nibley, The Witnesses of the Book of Mormon (1953), pp. 67–68.)

Sometimes we hear people say they wish the Lord would give us some of these other records. But before we seek more scripture to read, we should ask ourselves if we are truly satisfied with the knowledge we have of what God has already revealed.

Notes on Book of Mormon Chart, following pages

Book of Mormon Chart

Pre-Nephite Records

Nephite Records

Mormon’s Work

Moroni’s Work

Joseph Smith’s Translation
(D&C 1:29; D&C 5:4; D&C 17:6; D&C 20:8; JS—H 1:30–65.)

(1 Ne. 3–4) contained Bible books and others (1 Ne. 5:10–13; 1 Ne. 13:23), also a genealogy of Lehi’s family (1 Ne. 3:3, 12; 1 Ne. 5:14–19). Parts of the plates (especially Isaiah and Zenos in 1 Ne. 19:10–17; 2 Ne. 12–24; Jacob 5; and Alma 33:3–13) are cited in the Nephite records.



PREFACE on title page of Book of Mormon, translated, according to Joseph Smith, “from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates,” and hence not modern. (History of the Church 1:71–72.)

LARGE STONE kept by the Mulekites and brought to Mosiah I. Contained the story of Coriantumr and the Jaredites, part of which was added to the small plates. (Omni 1:20–21.)

(1 Ne. 19:1–6; 2 Ne. 5:29–33; Jacob 1:1–4; Jacob 7:26; Jarom 1:14; Omni 1:30) contained an abridgement of Lehi’s record (1 Ne. 1:16–17; 1 Ne. 6:1) plus writings from Nephi to Amaleki.

Mormon added his own comments plus an abridgement of King Benjamin’s record to the small plates. (W of M 1:1–5, 9–12.)

1 NEPHI through WORDS OF MORMON translated as a substitute for the 116 lost pages. (D&C 10:30–46; cf. W of M 1:6–7 and 1 Ne. 19:3.)

(1 Ne. 19:1–6; 2 Ne. 5:29–30; Jacob 1:1–4; Jacob 7:26; Jarom 1:14)
Contents: Book of Lehi, record of kings to Benjamin, history to Mormon.
Records added: King Benjamin’s written speech (Mosiah 2:8); record of Zeniff (Mosiah 9–22; Mosiah 22:13–14; Mosiah 25:5–6); record of Alma I (Mosiah 23–24; Mosiah 25:5–6); prophecy of Nephi, son of Helaman (Hel. 7–12); prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite, added by commandment of Jesus (Hel. 13–15; 3 Ne. 23:6–13); Bible quotations by Jesus (especially 3 Ne. 16; 3 Ne. 20; 3 Ne. 22; 3 Ne. 24–25).

MORMON’S ABRIDGEMENT of the large plates of Nephi. (Note how occasionally the historical commentary of Mormon enters the scene: see especially his addition in 3 Ne., beginning with 28:24 and going to the end of chapter 30.)

116 LOST PAGES. (See D&C 3:9–20; D&C 10:1, 6–29.) In his preface to the first (1830) edition, Joseph Smith wrote that these were taken from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the, hand of Mormon. …” (title page.)

MOSIAH through 4 NEPHI


Moroni added some material (Morm. 8–9.)


(Mosiah 8:9–19; Mosiah 21:27–28) contained Jaredite records from Adam to Ether (Mosiah 28:17).

Translated by King Mosiah II. (Mosiah 28:11–13, 17–20.)

MORONI’S ABRIDGEMENT of the portion covering the time from the tower of Babel to Ether, being less than one percent of the total record. (Ether 1:1–5; Ether 15:33.)