More Precious than Gold

In September 1827, Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon plates. The rest is amazing history.

What would be the most important thing ever printed in a book? Wouldn’t it be the words of our Heavenly Father spoken to His prophets here on earth and the truth taught about His Son Jesus Christ’s life and teachings?

The Bible is a record kept by the people who lived in the Middle East, and the Book of Mormon is a record kept by another group of people as they left that area, crossed the ocean, and lived on the American continent. The Book of Mormon records the Lord’s instructions to them and the visit of Jesus Christ to the Americas.

The Bible is a testament or witness of Christ, and the Book of Mormon is, as the subtitle of the Book of Mormon says, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” The two books support each other.

Where did the Book of Mormon come from?

Joseph Smith’s First Vision occurred when he was 14. Three years later, in 1823, Joseph Smith was visited and taught by an angel, the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni. Joseph was told where to find the gold plates that Moroni had buried 1,400 years earlier. Joseph was shown the plates at the Hill Cumorah not far from his home in Palmyra, New York, but was not allowed to take them until he had grown and matured.

In 1827, Moroni gave the gold plates to Joseph with instruction to protect them and translate them. Moroni also instructed Joseph regarding the use of the Urim and Thummim, sometimes referred to as interpreters, to aid in the translation process. Anciently there was more than one Urim and Thummim, but the Urim and Thummim, or translators, that Joseph Smith used were the same ones given to the Brother of Jared when he spoke face to face with the Lord (see “Urim and Thummim” in the Bible Dictionary).

During this same time, people in and around Palmyra heard rumors that Joseph Smith had found gold plates, and several attempts were made to steal them from him—even to the point of attacking him. He was able to keep them safe by following promptings of the Spirit (see JS—H 1:60).

Why is it called the Book of Mormon?

About 345 A.D., the prophet Mormon, who was also the leader of the Nephites in the last battles of his people against the Lamanites, was told by the Lord to record the history of the people of his day. Prophets, kings, and wise men before him had kept many records about their prophecies, revelations, and civilization for 1,000 years. He read through these writings and, guided by the Spirit of the Lord, took the most important sections of the records and copied them into one shorter book, an abridgement. In other words, he acted as the editor. Mormon sometimes made comments on the things he was writing. He also added the small plates of Nephi to his abridgement.

Since Mormon was the one who made the abridged gold plates, it is called the Book of Mormon. Mormon gave the plates to his son, Moroni, who finished the work after his father’s death and also added the book of Ether to his father’s abridgement. He also added another section, a vision of the Last Days, which the Lord told him to seal. Joseph Smith was not allowed to translate the sealed portion of the gold plates. Moroni was the one who buried the plates and later came to Joseph Smith with instructions about the plates.

How did Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon?

At first, the Prophet Joseph asked his wife, Emma, to write the words he spoke as he translated. Others, such as Martin Harris, also helped. But the translation was going too slowly. Joseph Smith needed to devote all his time to the work with a scribe who could also commit all his time. Oliver Cowdery was guided by the Lord to offer to help the Prophet in this work. In a matter of a few months, the translation of the book was finished.

While it was being translated, several prophecies concerning the book were fulfilled. A section of the book, 116 pages, was lost by Martin Harris and never recovered, making it clear why Nephi was commanded to make two versions of his records (see 1 Ne. 19:1–3). Also, a copy of some of the translation was taken to a “learned” man (see 2 Ne. 27:15–21), Professor Charles Anthon in New York City, who verified that it was an accurate translation. Then, when he was told where the writing came from, the professor tore up the certificate of authenticity he had written.

People were anxious to read this new book of scripture, so arrangements were made with Egbert B. Grandin, a printer in Palmyra, to print 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon in 1830.

Over 10 years later, the Prophet Joseph bore this testimony of the Book of Mormon to the Council of the Twelve Apostles in Nauvoo: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (History of the Church, 4:461).

[photos] The Hill Cumorah The top photograph of the Hill Cumorah was taken in 1907. A more modern view of the hill at the bottom is the present site of the Hill Cumorah Pageant staged each summer just a few miles from Palmyra, New York.

[photo] Hyrum Smith’s Box After Joseph Smith had received the plates, he needed somewhere to keep them. He kept them in this box lent to him by his brother Hyrum. Joseph Smith described the plates: “These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold, each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long, and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Egyptian characters, and bound together in a volume as the leaves of a book, with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed” (History of the Church, 4:537).

[photo] The Dictated Manuscript The manuscript of the Book of Mormon was dictated by the Prophet Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdery who wrote it down. The ink has faded, yet it is still obvious that as Joseph Smith dictated and Oliver Cowdery wrote, there were very few words crossed out or changed. This photo is of the manuscript in First Nephi chapter 8 verses 12 through 20. Long sections were not divided into verses like we have now until many years later. Dividing the sections into chapters and verses made it easier to refer everyone to an exact place in the scriptures.

[photo] Printing Press This is the press used in printing the Book of Mormon. Setting type and printing was laborious. Each letter had to be picked out of the type case, set up in lines by hand, and placed in a form. Then each sheet of paper was hand printed, 16 pages at a time. It is estimated that the printers worked 11 hours a day, six days a week, for more than seven months to print the almost 600 pages in each of the Book of Mormon’s first 5,000 copies.

[photo] First Edition of the Book of Mormon At first, the text on the pages was not divided into chapters or verses. It was divided by the printer into paragraphs. The text was not arranged into chapters and numbered verses as we know them until 1879. The verses were then put in double columns on a page in 1920.

[photo] The Book of Mormon Floods the Earth In the 172 years since the first printing of the Book of Mormon, millions of copies of the book have been printed. It has also been translated into 103 languages (including American Sign Language on video) and been carried by missionaries and members throughout the earth. It continues to stand with the Bible as a witness of the divinity of our Savior, Jesus Christ.