Book of Mormon Study Guide

 

In honor of the women of the church being instructed to read the Book of Mormon before the end of 2018, we wanted to put together a small study guide to help you get the most out of your reading.

We will include a lot of links in the following study topics, but we feel that if you are going to read the Book of Mormon in under 90 days, you should consider the following so that you get a fuller picture of what the Book of Mormon is all about, how Joseph Smith brought it to life, and some of the more difficult problems that the church does not teach members about it.

Many church leaders would call this page "anti-Mormon" material, but as you will see below we will source our material and let you know exactly why we are bringing up the different topics. As Elder Holland said: “Everything in the Church – everything – rises or falls on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and, by implication, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of how it came forth...It sounds like a ‘sudden death’ proposition to me. Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is or this Church and its founder are false, fraudulent, a deception from the first instance onward."

Study Guide Topics:

Before You Begin Reading the Book of Mormon

1. Learn more about the Book of Mormon translation process

2. Knowing the Difference Between Tight vs Loose Translation Methods

As You Begin Reading the Book of Mormon

1. The Lost 116 Pages

2. King James Bible Errors and Deutero-Isaiah Passages

3. DNA and the Lamanites

4. Anachronisms

5. Population Size and Basic Math

6. Large Scale Battles and Lack of Any Evidence Left Behind

After You Finish Reading the Book of Mormon

1. Who Were the Lamanites?

2. Where is the Hill Cumorah?

3. Church Doctrines Not Mentioned in the Book of Mormon

Before You Begin Reading the Book of Mormon

1. Learn more about the Book of Mormon translation process

In order to better understand the Book of Mormon, we need to research how it came to be. I took the missionary discussions and remember quite well the missionaries showing me the pictures of Joseph Smith sitting a table looking at the gold plates, transcribing it in a very scholarly way. As a matter of fact, I recently asked current missionaries to describe the translation process and that is how they described it to me over twenty years later in 2018. That is the church narrative - that Joseph Smith translated gold plates on a table while a scribe wrote down his translations.

However, as we now know (and has been confirmed by the church), this is just not how it happened. Joseph Smith never used the gold plates in translating what we know as the Book of Mormon. The method of translation was Joseph Smith putting a stone that he found buried under a well during a treasure dig into a hat, putting his head completely into the hat, and then reading the words that "appeared" in the hat. There was no Urim and Thummim used in the translation as the church carefully claims in order to avoid talking about a 'seer stone' in a hat. The translation narrative from the church does not match their own history, and the church has been aware of this as they commission artwork and manuals that purposefully teach members an inaccurate history. The picture on the left below is how the church teaches members the translation happened, but the picture on the right is how it actually happened.

There ​are a number of reasons that this presents issues when reading the Book of Mormon. We will go into those in a moment, but it is important to understand how Joseph Smith got the gold plates and the method of translating the Book of Mormon. Our annotated LDS essay on the Book of Mormon translation goes into all of the translation issues in much more details, and we feel this is a must read before you begin the Book of Mormon to get a better understanding of how it all came to be.

2. Knowing the Difference Between Tight vs Loose Translation Methods

After reading our annotated LDS essay on the Book of Mormon translation, it is clear that the Book of Mormon was translated with a "tight" translation. We define a tight translation to be the following: "As outlined above by FAIR's use of Emma Smith's words, a tight translation is where Joseph Smith is directly translating the Book of Mormon via the seer stone in the hat word for word (Emma was the scribe for the initial 116 pages that were lost. It is unclear *how* Joseph translated the Book of Mormon in that time beyond the quote above, but for the Book of Mormon as we have it, Joseph translated by putting the seer stone in a hat and reading the words). The words would appear on the stone in the hat, and Joseph Smith would dictate them to his scribe. This method of translation is a literal one and does not afford Joseph Smith the ability to change or alter the words as the tight translation must be direct for the stone to reveal further words."

This is important to remember because a tight translation does not allow for the following issues that happen in the Book of Mormon:

1. King James Bible Errors and Deutero-Isaiah

2. Anachronisms

3. DNA and the Lamanites

4. Changes to the Book of Mormon

5. The 'Lost' 116 Pages

6. How Specific It is

7. The Golden Plates

8. Hebraisms

To get more details on each of these points, please refer to our Tight vs Loose translation page. Each of those eight points are expanded, and they are important to know before you begin reading the Book of Mormon.

As You're Reading the Book of Mormon

1. The Lost 116 Pages

The beginning of the Book of Mormon is what was actually translated at the end due to the original first 116 pages being lost. When Joseph Smith began translating the Book of Mormon, Marin Harris wanted to show his wife Lucy the manuscript to calm her fears that Joseph Smith was conning him out of his money. After God told Joseph no two times, Martin continued to plead with Joseph to let him take the manuscript back. Joseph Smith asked God a third time, and Martin was allowed to take the manuscript back home.

As we all know, Martin then lost the manuscript, likely taken by his wife Lucy. Upon returning, Joseph exclaimed "Oh, my God! All is lost! all is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned." (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, 1853) Joseph then received a revelation not to re-translate the pages, even though doing so could've proven Joseph's ability as a prophet. If he re-translated them and they were the same (which would have been the case with the seer stone in a hat since it was tight translation), he's a true prophet. If he re-translated them and those with "evil designs" altered the pages, it would be a win for Joseph because it would be so obvious the words were altered on foolscap paper. 

But Joseph Smith soon translated the small plates to replace the 116 pages, and this is where we want to point out some notes to watch for as you begin your Book of Mormon reading. Mostly, we want readers to notice how few details are given in the books that replace the first 116 pages, and how quickly the details pick up once those books are done.

For example, only 11 people are named in the first book of Nephi, and no additional names are given at all in the second book. Yet Joseph names ten Old Testament characters by name and even "prophetically speaks of Jesus some 600 years before his birth and claims that he knew that "the name of the apostle of the Lamb was John..." (1 Nephi 14:27)

Furthermore, we then get two new names in the book of Jacob (Sherem, Enos) and two more new names in the book of Jarom (Jarom, Omni). Jarom states that 238 years have passed, which means that the Book of Mormon only gives four new names in almost 230 years of history (the first 11 names are from the beginning years)!

You can read more examples and details of the issues with the 116 Pages on our Summary page, #17 The Lost 116 Pages. This is very helpful to read before you begin the Book of Mormon, as it is very easy to see these details if you know what to look for ahead of time, but it is also useful if you are already through these books to think about while it is still fresh in your mind.

2. King James Bible Errors and Deutero-Isaiah Passages

This has been discussed by other critical sources at length, but it is an ongoing problem for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. As we discussed in our tight vs loose translation page, the history is absolutely clear that Joseph Smith had to undertake a tight translation from the seer stone, which means that the Book of Mormon should be word for word from the words that appear on the seer stone in Joseph's hat.

The problem here is that the Book of Mormon contains up to 15% of its content from the King James Version of the Bible. That issue is compounded further by Joseph Smith also bringing all of the King James errors and italicized words with the lifted passages. There is no way to reconcile a tight translation with KJV errors, and there is no way to reconcile a loose translation with the history of how Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Mormon.

However, the biggest problem is the Deutero-Isaiah issue: What was unknown during Joseph Smith's lifetime is that the book of Isaiah was actually written by multiple authors from different times. It has since been accepted by both non-LDS and LDS scholars that parts of Isaiah were written after the exodus from Jerusalem, meaning that the gold plates could not have possibly included those chapters, yet they still are included in the Book of Mormon.

Our Deutero-Isaiah page goes into this problem in much more detail, and further explains why this is a problem for Joseph Smith and the credibility of the Book of Mormon. You can read that here.

3. DNA and the Lamanites

The title page of the Book of Mormon says that the book is "Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel." Joseph Smith himself claimed the Native Americans were the Lamanites as did every church leader and prophet that followed him. During the 1955 General Conference, Elder Milton Hunter said "I bear witness that the Book of Mormon contains the word of God and that it was written originally by holy prophets with the knowledge that it would be preserved to be brought forth in the latter days for the benefit of the descendants of the Lamanites--the American Indians."

The problem is that DNA testing has proven that the Native Americans are from Asia, and did not come from Israel. This puts the entire purpose of the Book of Mormon into question, and there is just no good answer for apologists. Even in 1997, then Elder Russell Ballard spoke at a conference for Native Americans and said "You would be overwhelmed if you had the opportunity to shake hands with Lamanite stake presidents and bishops who have come out of the world and embraced the gospel."

There is no question that the church believed and taught that the Native Americans were Lamanites, but we now know that is simply not true. The DNA tests are extremely conclusive and our official LDS annotated essay on DNA goes into almost too much detail as to why the many different apologist theories just can not work. The church even changed the language of the introduction from the Lamanites "are the principal ancestors of the American Indians" to "among the ancestors of the American Indians." And as you read the Book of Mormon, remember that this change did not come from revelation or discernment - it came from advancements in science and history that proved the original statement to be wrong.

This is a very difficult part of the Book of Mormon because the testing obviously was not available during Joseph Smith's lifetime, but has been conclusive beyond all reasonable doubt in recent decades. The Native Americans are not the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon, and if you would read our annotated LDS essay on DNA, you can know the apologist possibilities ahead of time which is useful when reading the Book of Mormon again.

4. Anachronisms

As you read through the Book of Mormon, it is important to note the anachronisms that you read about. These are items or ideas that were known in Joseph Smith's time, but not known or heard of in the Americas during the Book of Mormon times. It again goes back to the Tight vs Loose translation theories as to how these phrases/items/passages got into the Book of Mormon if the book was translated directly off the seer stone as taught. Among the anachronisms you will see while reading the Book of Mormon are:

  • Deutero-Isaiah Passages: As discussed above, the inclusion of Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon is an anachronism as there is no way that these passages could have been included on the gold plates since they were written after the exodus from Jerusalem.

  • Cattle/Sheep/Goats: "And also all manner of cattle, of oxen, and cows, and of sheep, and of swine, and of goats, and also many other kinds of animals which were useful for the food of man." (Ether 9:18) While the Book of Mormon claims that animals were domesticated for food as in Joseph Smith's time, even FAIR considers this anachronism claim correct.

  • Honey Bees: "did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees." (Ether 2:3) FAIR gives the following explanation: "The Book of Mormon does not state that the Jaredites brought honeybees across the ocean. It says that they brought them to the coast of the Old World. The Maya codex Tro-Cortesianus, which predates the arrival of the Spaniards, shows drawings of bees and parts of honey combs." They need you to believe both that the Book of Mormon never explicitly says honey bees were brought while also telling us that there are drawings of bee parts so either way they're covered. That's peak apologetics right there. What FAIR doesn't note is that the earliest honey bee fossils date back 14 million years, which is over 13 million years before Mormon doctrine allows for life to exist.

  • Swords/Metalworking: "And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance." (2 Nephi 5:15) This is one of the most egregious anachronisms, because we are told they used these weapons for battles that numbered in the hundreds of thousands. In order to create such metalworking, you would have evidence of forges, old stockpiles of materials, etc. It simply did not happen, even though FAIR tells us that steel doesn't actually mean steel. FAIR states: "The author assumes that "steel" refers to modern steel, which did not exist in pre-Columbian America. Steel has been found in the Old World in the appropriate time period." The problem is that it did not exist in the Americas. A lot of things existed in the Old World that were not in the New World - that's actually the point of noting the anachronisms that Joseph made based on what he was familiar with from his time-frame. That includes both things around him physically, as well as things that he read about int he Bible, which we know he heavily referenced/borrowed from for the Book of Mormon.

  • Horses/Chariots: "Now when Lamoni had heard this he caused that his servants should make ready his horses and his chariots." (Alma 20:6) This is a technology that would have revolutionized the population and would have been passed down from generation to generation, yet there is zero evidence it happened. FAIR admits this is correct, even though they try to downplay the idea by stating chariots are not mentioned often. Bottom line is that this is an anachronism that Joseph Smith would have assumed was used when going to battle, and thus it ended up in the Book of Mormon.

  • There are many other anachronisms including wheat, silk, oxen, swine, coins, and wheels as well in the Book of Mormon.

5. Population Size and Basic Math

One of the issues with the Book of Mormon is that it is presented as a literal history of the Americas and has been translated directly as to not have been distorted over time as they claim the Bible has been. But consider the following as you read the Book of Mormon:

In 2 Nephi 5, we have the story that a temple was built in the first 20 years in the New World. "And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine."

At this point there are at most 50-53 people who have already split into two groups, with one half to two thirds of this group women and children, who would likely not be sent to work on building temples. That leaves just 8-10 men to build a temple! For contrast, the Bible tells us that 183,000 people worked on Solomon's Temple for 7.5 years. There is absolutely no way that 8-10 men could build any kind of temple in such a short time, let alone in exceedingly fine workmanship. The math just does not add up.

Nephi also says that "And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us." Again, the amount of people needed to create swords without any technology is beyond what was available. This would require not just the material, but iron and steel forges, which would have also left evidence for us to know it happened. In addition, you can't just make a sword on a whim- you need to find ore, smelt the ore, make tools to shape the smelted ore, the knowledge of how to smelt the ore so that it is strong and durable, and know which materials are strong and which ones will break. Yet the Book of Mormon tells us that Nephi was able to make these swords with a small group of people that have never made swords before. I realize the apologists would proclaim that God can make miracles happen, but there is no mention of God providing the swords or the temples. FAIR mentioned that the swords are probably much more primitive than Laban's, but that does not match the Book of Mormon's own words. The math does not add up.

There are other instances of this as well, and we have some more details about that on our Summary page (#18, Math) if you would like to read more details about the numbers issues int he Book of Mormon.

6. Large Scale Battles and Lack of Any Evidence Left Behind

Following the issue of numbers in the Book of Mormon, we have the problem that there has been no evidence found of the events in the Book of Mormon. We are told of large scale battles that rival any from World Wars 1 or 2, and yet we do not have any evidence of the battles. We are told that the Hill Cumorah was the site of battle, yet the hill contains no battle armor, helmets, or swords. These are not items that would simply fade away, and even if they did we can measure those metals being in the dirt. The reality is that as you read about the temples built, the structures creates, and the weaponry used in war... not a single trace of evidence has been found for any of it.

As you read the Book of Mormon, think of all the ancient artifacts we have from around the world and how we have used those artifacts, structures, and writings to learn more about each civilization. Then think about how grand the civilizations grew in the Book of Mormon and how widespread the battles were and ask why we have yet to uncover any items from these incredible wars.

After You Finish Reading the Book of Mormon

Once you finish reading the Book of Mormon, it is best to reflect on what you have read knowing the ideas above that were never taught as kids going through Sunday School, Seminary, or even in college. We won't recap the ideas above because we want to keep this short, but we want to leave the following thoughts as you ponder about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

1. Who Were the Lamanites?

As we touched on above, DNA testing has proven that the Native Americans came from Asia during the last ice age. During Joseph Smith's lifetime, it was a subject of much debate because all of the white settlers wanted to know how the Native Americans got to America, and many books were written about this subject (and some critics claim that Joseph Smith utilized some of these writings in the Book of Mormon).

But what is most troubling is that the Book of Mormon stated the Native Americans are descendants of the Lamanites, which we now know is not true. And this begs the question of what the purpose of the Book of Mormon is if the Lamanites are not who the church has taught they were.

And it's not just the Book of Mormon that got this wrong: Every church leader has proclaimed the Lamanites to be the ancestors of Native Americans until DNA testing proved otherwise.

Improvement ERA, November 1899: The American Indians are of the House of Israel. The Book of Mormon is a history of their forefathers, whom it terms Lamanites… p. 10

Two of the missionary elders began to work as tailors, while the others crossed the frontier and commenced their mission among the Indians or Lamanites,... p. 15

The following is part of a letter from Oliver Cowdery, dated, Kaw Township, Mo., May 7, 1831, and shows how little was then generally known of the Lamanites or Indians in the great west:... p. 22 (Improvement Era)

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007) [Manual]: 1830, September: Receives a revelation that missionaries are to “go unto the Lamanites” to preach the gospel (D&C 28:3; see also 30:5-6; 32: 1-3). In October, four elders depart on a mission to teach in Indian territory west of the state of Missouri. p. xvii

Ensign, June 2001: During the 1830s, before Brigham Young started on a mission to Native Americans in the state of New York, the Prophet Joseph Smith laid his hands on Brigham’s head and committed unto him the keys necessary to open the “gospel to every Lamanite nation.”4 This priesthood blessing, which surprised and unsettled Elder Young, weighed heavily on him for the rest of his life. It gave him a lifelong duty to help the Native American people. Four(4). Meeting of First Presidency and others, 29 Dec. 1847, General Church Minutes. (Ensign on LDS.org)

The early revelations refer to the Lamanites as the ancestors of the Indians, and there is no doubt that the church has taught this as a doctrine throughout history. Looking back at reading the Book of Mormon, it is important to note that the DNA studies completely undercut the entire history of the people in the Book of Mormon and what we have been taught about them by every prophet.

2. Where is the Hill Cumorah?

 

We were taught by early church leaders that the great battles took place at the Hill Cumorah where Joseph Smith claimed to receive the gold plates. Here just a few quotes about what the church thought about the Hill Cumorah in New York until technology allowed for the hill to be scanned, revealing no armor, bodies, or weapons underneath.

Elder B. H. Roberts, October 1927 General Conference: "Only three weeks ago, about now, I had the pleasure of standing upon the summit of the hill Cumorah in company with President Grant. Being there upon the height...I could not refrain from recalling the time when Moroni stood upon the crown of that hill with the evidence of the ruins of the civilization of his people about him. And this warning, written in the book of Ether, let me say, in closing, comes from the prophet of God who was also the historian of the great Jaredite nation, by adridging and translating their history into the Nephite language. This warning comes, then, from the historian of one civilization that had perished about the hill Cumorah; it came also from the same man who was a witness of the destruction of the civilization of his own people at the same place. p. 23" (1927 General Conference)

President Marion G. Romney, October 1975 General Conference: "...I will give you a lesson today that the Lord has taken great pains to bring to us... In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill...my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation.

Thus perished at the foot of Cumorah the remnant of the once mighty Jaredite nation... This second civilization to which I refer, the Nephites...came to an end for the same reason, at the same place, and in the same manner as did the Jaredites" (LDS.org)

Jesus The Christ (2006) [Manual]: “...For many decades the Nephites retreated before their aggressive foes, making their way north-eastward through what is now the United States. About 400 A.D. the last great battle was fought near the hill Cumorah;(b) and the Nephite nation became extinct.(c)...Moroni, the last of the Nephite prophets, hid away the record of his people in the hill Cumorah, whence it has been brought forth...in the current dispensation. That record is...the BOOK OF MORMON.” pp. 721-744 ((b) Near Manchester, Ontario county, New York, (c) See Mormon, chapters 1–9; and Moroni, chapter 10) (LDS.org)

Scripture Story: Moroni, The Last Nephite Record Keeper: "Moroni then buried the sacred record in the Hill Cumorah and died--the last of the Nephites… The sacred record then lay in the Hill Cumorah until the time of Joseph Smith, 1400 years later... He introduced himself as Moroni, the same Moroni who had hidden the Nephite record in the Hill Cumorah. He told Joseph of the record and of many more things. The Hill Cumorah was not far from Joseph’s home, and when Moroni spoke of it, Joseph saw it distinctly as in a vision..." (p 459-460, Scripture Story: Moroni, The Last Nephite Record Keeper)

We can post hundreds of these quotes, but the point is clear that the church has taught the Hill Cumorah where Joseph claimed to receive the plates is the same one that these grand battles happened. Just as with DNA, technology has given us the ability to verify that and the Hill Cumorah contains none of the evidences that would exist if any ancient battles had taken place there.

3. Church Doctrines Not Mentioned in the Book of Mormon

One last note we want to point out after reading the Book of Mormon is that most of the key doctrines of the church are nowhere to be found at all in the Book of Mormon. Polygamy is briefly mentioned in the Book of Mormon, which Joseph did implement shortly after forming the church, but the following doctrines receive no mentions in the Book of Mormon:

  • The concept of more than one God/Jesus and God being separate beings (Alma 11:44; Mosiah 15:5; 2 Nephi 31:21)

  • Temple endowment ceremony (Secret combinations are condemned; Mormon 8:27, 40, 2 Nephi 26:22, Helaman 6:22, and others)

  • Multiple tiers of Heaven (Not mentioned before Emanuel Swedenborg popularized the idea in the 1700s)

  • Baptisms for the Dead (Alma 34:34, 2 Nephi 9:38, Mosiah 2:36-39)

  • Polyandry (polygamy is mentioned, but marrying another man's wife is not)

  • The idea of a pre-existance for all people (Not mentioned)

  • That men can begin as people and progress to be a God (Mormon 9:9, Moroni 8:18)

  • The idea that hell is not eternal (Jacob 3:11; 6:10; 2 Nephi 19:16; 28:21-23.)

  • The Word of Wisdom (Not mentioned until Emma complained to Joseph about tobacco)

  • The idea that God's will can change with time (Mormon 9:9, 19; Moroni 8:18; Alma 41:8; 3 Nephi 24:6)

We are not going to go into a ton of details here, but please feel free to research those topics more because the doctrines of Joseph Smith and Mormonism do not often align with the Book of Mormon. If you look at the time line of when these doctrines were unveiled to the members, you can see that almost all of the most important Mormon doctrines were introduced long after the Book of Mormon and most have their own historical problems.

If you are interested in reading more about some of the more troubling topics, please check out the following pages that relate to the Book or Mormon or Joseph Smith's teachings from our website:

This study guide is not meant to be incredibly comprehensive, but to point out the topics that are troublesome for the Book of Mormon and the foundation of the church. Our links will provide a lot more information on these topics to better explain not just why they are a problem, but why the apologetic responses do not work to address them. Please reach out to us if you have any further questions, or for more resources that we can help you find. Please also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more articles, updates, and news. Thanks for reading!