The Book of Mormon—What It Is.
[The following is an extract from an article concerning the Book of Mormon, written by Orson Pratt, Church Historian, in December, 1874, for insertion in the Universal Cyclopedia. It is now forwarded for publication in the Deseret News.]
The first edition of this wonderful book (meaning the Book of Mormon) was published early in 1830. It has since been translated and published in the Welsh, Danish, German, French and Italian languages of the east, and in the language of the Sandwich Islands of the west. It is a volume about one-third as large as the Bible, consisting of sixteen sacred books.
A small volume of plates of the first six books of this collection were made by the prophet Nephi nearly six centuries before Christ. Nephi gives a brief sketch of his father and family, who were commanded of God to leave Jerusalem six hundred years before Christ. They came to the eastern borders of the Red Sea, where they encamped, and were soon joined by two or three more families from Jerusalem. This little company proceeded for many days in their journey along the eastern borders of the sea; after which they altered their course, nearly eastward, and came to what they called the great waters; this must have been the borders of the Arabian Gulf or Indian Ocean. Here they were commanded to build a ship, on which they embarked, being directed continually in the ship’s course by a miraculous instrument, prepared by the hand of the Lord for the purpose. At length, after many sufferings and hardships, they landed on the western coast of South America, not far, as is believed from the thirtieth degree of south latitude.
This little colony brought with them from Jerusalem, their ancient scriptures, engraved in Egyptian characters, on brass plates. About one-half of the colony apostatized, and greatly persecuted the righteous, and sought to destroy the prophet Nephi. Being commanded of God, Nephi and his followers secretly fled from their enemies, and traveled a great distance north, and located their colony, near the head waters of what is now called the Amazon. But a few years elapsed, when the Lamanites, having discovered the location of the Nephites, began to make war upon them, committing many depredations and murders. The enmity between the colonies continued for many generations, during which hundreds of thousands were slain in battle.
About four centuries after leaving Jerusalem, the Nephites again migrated northward; traveling many days through a wilderness, they found themselves upon the banks of a river, which they called Sidon, known in modern times as the river Magdalena. Here, to their great joy, they discovered a colony of Jews, who left Jerusalem the same year that their nation were carried captive into Babylon. The Nephites united with this colony. About this time, the small plates of Nephi were full, being occupied mostly with prophecies and revelations.
The prophet Nephi, not only constructed the small volume of plates above referred to, but also made a large volume of plates, intended for a more extended history of his people, and to embrace a more voluminous collection of sacred writings, that might, in future generations, be revealed. Both volumes were kept by a succession of inspired men, each recording the most prominent historical events of his day, together with the additional revelations received.
During the first half century before Christ, the north wing of the continent became extensively colonized, by emigration from the south. At the time of the crucifixion, both the Nephites and Lamanites, because of their great wickedness in the stoning and killing of their prophets, were visited with great judgments, in the form of tempests, earthquakes, and fire from heaven. Three days of total darkness occurred.
Nearly a year after these events, Jesus, the resurrected Redeemer, descended from heaven, taught them his gospel and chose twelve ministers to preach the same and established his church. All the inhabitants of the continent were soon converted, righteousness prevailed for two or three centuries, succeeded by a dreadful and almost universal apostacy. A lengthy exterminating war followed. The Nephites were conquered and slain by the Lamanites, their last battles being fought on and round about the hill where the sacred plates were found. This national extermination happened three hundred and eighty-four years after the birth of Christ.
Before this dreadful event, the prophet, Mormon, by the command of God, made a volume of plates, and engraved thereon an abridgement of the history of the nation, from the time the colony left Jerusalem until his own day. This abridgement was chiefly taken from the large volume of plates constructed by Nephi. In this abridgement were copied a very few of the many revelations and prophecies which had, from time to time, been given to the nation and engraved on former records.
The small plates of Nephi, in the possession of Mormon, were by him joined in the same volume with those which he, himself, had manufactured, and the two sets combined, were called the Book of Mormon.
After Mormon had completed the abridgement, he committed the volume, which still contained many blank pages, into the hands of the prophet, Moroni, his son, with instructions to finish the history, record a few other revelations, and then deposit the same, to preserve them from the Lamanites, who had sworn to destroy them. All the balance of the Nephite records were hid by Mormon, in the hill above referred to.
The Prophet, Moroni, after the destruction of his nation, kept himself hid from the Lamanites thirty-six years, during which he wrote a short sketch of the history of a still more ancient nation, called Jaredites, whose ancestors came from the Tower of Babel. This colony crossed the great western ocean in eight barges, being three hundred and forty-four days upon the water. They landed on the western coast of Mexico, and extended their settlements over all the North American portion of the continent, where they dwelt until about six centuries before Christ, when, because of wickedness, they were all destroyed. Ether, one of their last prophets, wrote a sacred history of his nation, upon plates of gold. These were translated by the power of God into the Nephite language, a brief sketch, as above stated, was engraved by Moroni, on the plates of Mormon, and called the Book of Ether.
One of the founders of the Jaredite nation, a great prophet, saw in vision all things from the foundation of the world to the end thereof, which were written, a copy of which was engraved by Moroni, on the plates of Mormon, and then sealed up. It was this portion which the prophet Joseph Smith was forbidden to translate, or to unloose the seal. In due time this will also be revealed, together with all the sacred records kept by the ancient nations of this continent, preparatory to the time when “the knowledge of God shall cover the earth as the waters cover the great deep.”
Moroni informs us that he was commanded of God to hide the records in the earth, with a divine promise that in the latter times they should be brought to light, and their contents published to all nations. The last date given by him is four hundred and twenty years after the birth of Christ.
Orson Pratt, Sen.
Salt Lake City, Dec. 17, 1874.
[Deseret News, Sept. 27, 1876]
[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, Dec. 2006]