Please review this explanation on the purpose for this section before reading the information here.
The content of the Book of Mormon is beautiful and inspiring. There is depth and truth arguably not matched in any other work in the history of mankind. However, when viewed as an ancient American document, it has many challenges.
Joseph inserts large chunks of King James Isaiah. In Joseph’s time, it was believed that Isaiah wrote the entire Book of Isaiah more than 100 years prior to Nephi lived, so it was reasonable to believe the Book of Isaiah existed in its entirety on the Brass Plates that Nephi took with him. Now, scholars believe that Isaiah consists of multiple parts. A part attributed to Isaiah in the 730 BC time period, and then other parts by other authors that cover time periods up to 540 BC, 50 years after Nephi took the Brass Plates with him from Jerusalem. Another problem is that Joseph didn’t just insert Isaiah, he made minor corrections to the KJV Isaiah he inserted. Joseph seemed to know that the italicization was used in the KJV for words that were not taken from the original Hebrew or Greek and were used to help make the grammar work or to help make the verse make sense in English. He changed many of these words. Yet, his modifications don’t seem to add any significance to the text and don’t make it any closer to the original Hebrew. In some cases, Joseph’s correction is based on a misunderstanding and makes the verse further from the original Hebrew, with no apparent doctrinal reason. And there are major errors in the KJV translation that scholars recognize now that Joseph didn’t change.
19th Century ideas and language
The Book of Mormon contains source material that places it in a 19th century context. We see anti-Catholicism, 19th century style revival meetings, condemnation against child baptism, arguments for a democratic government with checks and balances, Tree of Life allegory with roots in Joseph Smith’s grandfather, and anachronistic specificity of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.
If you do a Google book search for some of the unique sounding phrases in the Book of Mormon, and not found in KJV Bible, you find several hits in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Phrases like:
less than the dust of the earth; sing the song of redeeming love; apply the atoning blood of Christ; hearts may be purified; awakened you to a sense of your guilt; worthless and fallen state; infinite atonement; great and last sacrifice; bowels of mercy; mercy can satisfy the demands of justice; corruption raised in incorruption; trust in the arm of flesh; judged according to their works; endless happiness; restoration of all things; probationary time; space for repentance; plan of redemption
In Mormon 8:23, Moroni gives us the sacrament prayer. Sacrament prayers in Protestant churches in the early 1820’s sounded very similar. From: A critical and practical elucidation of the Book of common prayer, and administration of the sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies of the Church, John Shepherd, 1828.
In all humility we beseech thee, O Almighty God, to accept this unbloody, reasonable, and spiritual sacrifice. Send also they Holy Spirit upon these elements here spread out, that he may bless and sanctify them, and to those who receive them, this bread may become the precious body of thy Christ, and this wine, the precious blood of thy Christ, for the remission of sins and life everlasting.
Hebraisms, Chiasmus, and writing in the “Ancient Style”
LDS apologists for many years have identified the many Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon. These are examples of Hebrew language grammar and expressions that appear in the Book of Mormon like chiasmus, the and/if clause, and the phrase “it came to pass”. In recent years, it has come to light that there was a genre of book writing in Joseph’s time where people intentionally mimicked biblical King James style writing to make the book sound like scripture. Here are a couple other books written in the same style from the same time period.
From Gilbert Hunt, The Late War, between the United States and Great Britain, 1816:
So it came to pass, on the fifth day of the fifth month, now on the twenty-seventh day of the same month, being thirty days after Zebulon had gone to sleep with his fathers.
And now, my son, I command you that ye retain all their oaths, and their covenants, and their agreements in their secret abominations; yea, and all their signs and their wonders ye shall keep from this people, that they know them not, lest peradventure they should fall into darkness also and be destroyed.
From Michael Linning, First Book of Napoleon, 1809:
And behold it came to pass, in these latter days, that an evil spirit arose on the face of the earth, and greatly troubled the sons of men.
And this spirit seized upon, and spread amongst the people who dwell in the land of Gaul.
Now, in this people the fear of the Lord had not been for many generations, and they had become a corrupt and perverse people; and their chief priests, and the nobles of the land, and the learned men thereof, had become wicked in the imagines of their hearts, and in the practices of their lives.
A counter from LDS Apologists on this I find compelling is that a) the Book of Mormon is more complex in its chiasmus and Hebraisms than these other works and b) Joseph accomplished this at a young age with little education.
Highly Detailed Christianity
The level of specificity of the doctrines of Jesus Christ is out of place. We can trace doctrinal discussions and understanding of Christianity through time. First, we have extremely vague Old Testament prophesy, then we have the gospels where the basic gospel is introduced, then you have Paul expanding on some topics, then we have centuries of debate over specific issues like the depravity of man, the fall, infinite atonement, which brings us into the time of Joseph Smith. We see Book of Mormon prophets jumping in on these modern Christian debates on esoteric doctrinal issues, 2,000 years before the debate occurs. It makes sense from a very literal, fundamental view of religion that Mormonism taught from the beginning, but as we get a better view of how religious history has unfolded, it becomes more and more glaringly out of place. Book of Mormon prophets are quoting New Testament before it happens. They are identifying detailed information about Christ’s earthly ministry found in the text of the future KJV Bible (ie names of characters, places, etc), yet don’t add anything specific not found in the New Testament.
How do informed LDS members view this information?
churchistrue.com sacramental paradigm view:
Scripture is seen as metaphorical. Faith is an expression of loyalty, devotion, worship and doctrinal alignment but not necessarily a belief in the factual accuracy of scripture or historical religious origins. Challenges to scriptural historical events are not damaging to faith. I believe Joseph Smith was inspired by God to bring forth the restoration of the gospel, but most likely the Book of Mormon is not an ancient document. The Book of Mormon is not easily explained. It’s a complex document with a cohesive narrative interwoven with profound and inspiring doctrinal exposition. It has unique ability to bring its readers to Christ and partake of God’s love. I believe it’s best understood as a 19th century document, created by Joseph with inspiration from God. I believe Joseph felt called to be a prophet, but it’s possible he made mistakes in an attempt to bolster his credibility to others to execute the plan he felt deeply was his responsibility. I believe the fruits of Joseph’s work are true and beautiful.
Literal believing LDS view:
The complexity and consistency of the Book of Mormon is great to expect it to have been manufactured by Joseph. It must be an ancient American document. Chiasmus and Hebraisms have been attempted by other authors, but never as complex or consistent as the Book of Mormon. Remarkable, considering Joseph was uneducated. We don’t understand the exact method the text was conveyed and translated to Joseph. There could be answers hidden in that process that explain some of the questions raised on this page.
Nuanced LDS view:
The actual reality lies somewhere in between the two above views. Some are fine accepting Joseph created the Book of Mormon text, viewing it in the same vein as Biblical midrash. Some believe the book has ancient origins somehow, but Joseph added his own commentary and heavy influence in the final text. But rather than focus on its ancient origins, we find more value in the actual text itself. The teachings, the doctrine, the stories and symbols. This is the profundity of the Book of Mormon and the revelations given to us by Joseph Smith.
Shared view by all LDS:
The Book of Mormon is the word of God. Through it we can come unto Christ. It is the keystone of our religion.