Our Foundation Stories Part III: The Book of Mormon Comes Forth

John Nilssonbook of mormon, church, faith, God, history, joseph, LDS, Mormon, questioning, restoration, scripture, theology 7 Comments

Joseph Smith\'s 1823 bedroom

As a child, the story of Moroni visiting Joseph Smith seemed familiar to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on just why. Only later, on reflection, did the mythic aspects of the story stand out more sharply.

First the repetitive structure: The angel Moroni appeared to Joseph three times during the night in his bedroom and tells the same things each time. Joseph comes back each year on the same night to the Hill Cumorah, from 1823-1827. Some accounts, such as his neighbor Willard Chase’s, have him being told to dress in black clothing and to bring his wife.

Each time he is denied the plates, and told to return the same time next year. His words are “at the end of the year”, which is an interesting phrase given that one would assume the end of the year was December 31st. He repeats the phrase “end of the year” several times in his narrative. Why is this? And why so much preparation time for the plates?

In addition to the repetitive structure, there are remnants of Joseph’s magical/organic/agricultural worldview showing through here. The “end of the year” is not a phrase you would use unless you are tied to the rhythms of the land. The fall equinox is the end of the growing season, and as such the end of the natural year. Nature is beginning to die. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Moroni, revealing a new thing, to have visited Joseph in the spring, have him visit the Hill Cumorah in the spring each year, and then allow Joseph to take the plates in the spring, when life is beginning?

As far as the years of preparation time, perhaps the Book of Mormon and it’s significance needed to “grow” in Joseph’s psyche, where the end of the growing season and harvest time would have impressed very forcefully on a farm boy how things grow, from crops to individuals to societies. It also would be a time of celebration and a reduction of physical activity to a certain extent, allowing time for more contemplation.

Perhaps the story of Joseph’s nocturnal hill visits is about something old, mysterious, and forgotten, something that has died. Certainly the contents of the Book of Mormon reveal that indeed, the narrative is about a death. The death is of Nephite civilization and Nephite righteousness, which are inextricably intertwined. In that sense, the time of year is perfect to discover something hidden and old, a record of a people who have died, perhaps to save it from complete oblivion.

It is interesting to consider a gold book in a stone box in a New York hill about a civilization which no one would have known anything about had not Moroni told Joseph about it. Are there other books, in other hills, about other civilizations history and archeology knows nothing of, awaiting an inquisitive seeker?

Comments 7

  1. I think the “end of the year” statement comes from the fact that the command came on September 21, meaning that after a full year from that point.

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    Thanks for the comment. I suppose my reading was kind of like an English teacher who gets way into the symbolism of the Scarlet Letter or something.

    I still think the equinox bit is instructive.

  3. “Are there other books, in other hills, about other civilizations history and archeology knows nothing of, awaiting an inquisitive seeker?” This is a question I often consider. Of course, we’ve got the dead sea scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library. Ancient records are interesting, but hard to understand out of the context of their time. All we can do is liken them to ourselves because I don’t think we have much of a clue really what it was like to live in those other times. The absence of iPods is enough to blow one’s mind.

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    True enough about the Dead Sea scrolls and Nag Hammadi. I expand the definition of ancient record sometimes to include Joseph Smith’s History in the Pearl of Great Price. I honestly think there was more continuity between his time and the biblical times he was fascinated by than there is between his time and our own. Which is why this whole autumnal equinox thing strikes me as odd, being more shielded from the shifting seasons.

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