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Take the Book of Mormon Challenge!


The Book of Mormon is often dismissed as gibberish by those who have never taken the trouble to read it. In fact, its very existence poses a serious puzzle if it is not what it claims to be - an ancient record. For details, see my page on Book of Mormon Evidences. (For general background, see my Introduction to the Book of Mormon and my Introduction to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or to really dig, read the Book of Mormon online at the richest Web site of all, www.lds.org.)

Below is the Book of Mormon Challenge, an assignment that Professor Hugh Nibley at BYU sometimes gave to students in a required class on the Book of Mormon. Though it is several decades old, it still offers a challenge worth pondering. (Recently discovered evidences for Book of Mormon authenticity should be consulted for some real excitement.) The following text is taken from the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 8, Ch. 11, pp. 221-2:

"Since Joseph Smith was younger than most of you and not nearly so experienced or well-educated as any of you at the time he copyrighted the Book of Mormon, it should not be too much to ask you to hand in by the end of the semester (which will give you more time than he had) a paper of, say, five to six hundred pages in length. Call it a sacred book if you will, and give it the form of a history. Tell of a community of wandering Jews in ancient times; have all sorts of characters in your story, and involve them in all sorts of public and private vicissitudes; give them names--hundreds of them--pretending that they are real Hebrew and Egyptian names of circa 600 b.c.; be lavish with cultural and technical details--manners and customs, arts and industries, political and religious institutions, rites, and traditions, include long and complicated military and economic histories; have your narrative cover a thousand years without any large gaps; keep a number of interrelated local histories going at once; feel free to introduce religious controversy and philosophical discussion, but always in a plausible setting; observe the appropriate literary conventions and explain the derivation and transmission of your varied historical materials.

"Above all, do not ever contradict yourself! For now we come to the really hard part of this little assignment. You and I know that you are making this all up--we have our little joke--but just the same you are going to be required to have your paper published when you finish it, not as fiction or romance, but as a true history! After you have handed it in you may make no changes in it (in this class we always use the first edition of the Book of Mormon); what is more, you are to invite any and all scholars to read and criticize your work freely, explaining to them that it is a sacred book on a par with the Bible. If they seem over-skeptical, you might tell them that you translated the book from original records by the aid of the Urim and Thummim--they will love that! Further to allay their misgivings, you might tell them that the original manuscript was on golden plates, and that you got the plates from an angel. Now go to work and good luck!

"To date no student has carried out this assignment, which, of course, was not meant seriously. But why not? If anybody could write the Book of Mormon, as we have been so often assured, it is high time that somebody, some devoted and learned minister of the gospel, let us say, performed the invaluable public service of showing the world that it can be done."


Hugh Nibley's Comments on the structure and complexity of the Book of Mormon

Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 8, p. 227

The book starts out with a colophon telling us whose hand wrote it, what his sources were, and what it is about; the author boasts of his pious parents and good education, explaining that his background was an equal mixture of Egyptian and Jewish, and then moves into this history establishing time, place, and background; the situation at Jerusalem and the reaction of Nephi's father to it, his misgivings, his prayers, a manifestation that came to him in the desert as he traveled on business and sent him back post-haste "to his own house at Jerusalem," where he has a great apocalyptic vision.

All this and more in the first seven verses of the Book of Mormon. The writer knows exactly what he is going to say and wastes no time in saying it. Throughout the book we get the impression that it really is what its authors claim it to be, a highly condensed account from much fuller records. We can imagine our young rustic getting off to this flying start, but can we imagine him keeping up the pace for ten pages? For 588 pages the story never drags, the author never hesitates or wanders, he is never at a loss. What is really amazing is that he never contradicts himself.


My page of evidences for Book of Mormon authenticity

Introduction to the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon online at the www.lds.org

Jeff Lindsay's home page


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