Research and Perspectives: Book of Mormon Update


The Church’s increasing focus on the Book of Mormon has resulted in a dramatic increase in research. New information is constantly appearing. The notes that follow report on topics currently under study. The research is not yet definitive, of course, and viewpoints change as new information becomes available. Still, topics being studied provide ever-widening insights into the Book of Mormon.

Democratic Government in Ancient America

The collapse of the Berlin Wall in the fall of 1989 has led many to ponder the growth of democracy. More than two thousand years ago, a similar political transformation took place in ancient America. For five centuries, the people had lived under a monarchical form of government. Then King Mosiah II created a system of government based on principles of legal equality for all citizens, agency, and personal accountability. This era of “democracy” is described in the books of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, and 3 Nephi.

The political structure was based on a system of “judges.” The ultimate authority in the land was the people. For the first time in America, elections were held to select leaders of the people. “Choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers.” (Mosiah 29:25.)

What is most impressive about the Nephite system, in addition to its democratic elements, is that it promoted agency, including an explicit provision for freedom of expression and assembly. As pointed out by Nephite record-keepers, “the law could have no power on any man for his belief.” (Alma 1:17.)

Another unique characteristic was the emphasis on honesty. It is recorded that “they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished.” (Alma 1:17.)

When Mosiah first proposed the new governmental structure, he argued that Nephite citizens would be held accountable for their own actions: “Ye [should] have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.” (Mosiah 29:30.)

Readers of the Book of Mormon can appreciate the remarkable achievements represented by a democratic government among the Nephites. Principles of religious tolerance, popular sovereignty, accountability of leaders, and the rule of law are all embodied in this combination.

Kendall Stiles, assistant professor of political science, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, and elders quorum president, Perrysburg Ward, Toledo Ohio Stake.

Silk and Linen in the Book of Mormon

Some people have wondered why the Book of Mormon mentions silk and linen (see Alma 1:29), since silkworms and linen as we know them were apparently not known in ancient America. The answer may be that even though the worm that eats mulberry leaves and produces silk in its cocoon seems to have been restricted to the Far East, several ancient American peoples had cloth as fine as and similar to silk.

At the time of the Spanish conquest, natives in Mexico would gather cocoons from a type of wild silkworm and spin the thread into expensive cloth. People in the Yucatan would also spin the silky floss from the pod of the ceiba tree (or silk-cotton tree) into a soft, delicate cloth called kapok. The silky fiber of the wild pineapple plant was also prized in tropical America, yielding a fine, durable cloth. The Aztecs made a silklike fabric using hair from the bellies of rabbits. Some cotton specimens excavated at Teotihuacan, dating to A.D. 400, have been described as even, very fine, and gossamer-thin.

As for linen, the flax plant from which the cloth is made was apparently not known in ancient America. However, several fabrics that look and feel like European linen were woven from native plants. The yucca plant and the leaves of the ixtle (agave plant) both yield fibers that make fine, linen-like cloth. A cloth made by stripping bark from the fig tree, soaking it, and pounding it also has some of the characteristics of linen.

John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., and Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985), pp. 232, 365; Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics: Scholarly Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Horizon Publishers, 1986), pp. 23, 27–28; “F.A.R.M.S. Update,” Nov. 1988.

Book of Mormon References to Deity

In a day when many claim that the “Mormon Church” is a cult and certainly not a Christian church, it is interesting to note that the Book of Mormon has 476 references to the Lord Jesus Christ by name. With 531 pages in the text of the 1981 LDS edition, that averages nearly one reference per page. Of all the other Christian scriptures, only the Gospels, which abundantly use the name Jesus because they present synopses of his life, have more references to him by name.

Lee Crandall and Susan Easton Black did studies on the frequency of all references to Deity in both the Book of Mormon and the New Testament. They found that even with 1,349 fewer verses than the New Testament, the Book of Mormon makes 108 more references to the Lord. (Because Jehovah was actually the premortal Christ, and because the Savior directs the affairs of the world, most of the references to Deity in the Book of Mormon refer to Jesus Christ.)

I, too, had long known that almost every page of the Book of Mormon refers to Deity. In my Book of Mormon classes I would have the students let their copies of that scripture fall open randomly to any page. We would see how many times the books would fall open before we found one of the few pages that did not contain a specific name of God. Pronoun references did not count.

We learned a great lesson—the Book of Mormon is a Christ-oriented book. I had heard estimates that there are fewer than 50 of the 531 pages in the Book of Mormon on which a name of God does not appear. Not satisfied with guesswork, I set out to count the pages that did not contain a name of Deity.

To my delight, I found that only 30 of the 531 pages contain no specific name reference to Deity. Furthermore, many of those 30 pages make references to God without using names.

For instance, two pages record catastrophes and “a voice heard among all the inhabitants of the earth” (3 Ne. 9:1), but the source, Jesus Christ, is not identified by name until the third page.

Two more pages describe Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. (1 Ne. 8:1–35.) Nephi later tells us that the tree and the rod of iron in the vision are the love of God and the word of God. (1 Ne. 11:21–22; 1 Ne. 15:23–24.)

To those who say Latter-day Saints don’t respect Christ or don’t worship him, we need simply point to the Book of Mormon. If they read only the book of Moroni, they will encounter 215 references to him in its thirteen and one-half pages. Page 519 alone has 26 references to Deity. The Book of Mormon is a volume of scripture that centers on God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. It records the Lord’s dealings with the Nephites and witnesses to the world that the Bible is true, that Jesus is the Christ, and that God still speaks from the heavens.

Charles D. Tate, professor of English, Brigham Young University, a counselor in the Orem Utah Sharon Stake mission presidency, and ward mission leader, Orem Thirteenth Ward.

[illustration] Behold Your Little Ones, by Robert T. Barrett