Friday, September 27, 2019

An overview of records referenced in the Book of Mormon

To get a better overview myself, I wanted to list all the various records that are referenced in the Book of Mormon. Here is what I have found:

The brass plates

We are introduced to these already in the 3rd chapter of the Book of Mormon. We all know the story of getting them from Laban in 1 Nephi 3-4. We know they were structured similarly as the Old Testament (see this post for an interesting detail). We also have pretty strong evidence that they originated in the northern kingdom of Israel.

In Mosiah 1:4 we learn that it was written in the Egyptian language (possibly similar to the plates of Mormon, written in "reformed Egyptian", assumed to be the Hebrew language expressed with Egyptian script). We also learn that these plates were handed down the generations of prophets and record keepers (see e.g. Alma 37). Undoubtedly, they were used in preaching and missionary work (like in Alma 18:36).

An interesting question is what happened to them. There is a late account by Joseph Smith's sister indicating that the brass plates were in Cumorah along with the gold plates. This seems to be contradicted by the Book of Mormon itself, which tells us that all Nephite records where hidden up and Moroni only took the plates of Mormon (with the small plates of Nephi attaced to them) with him. Of course, it's impossible to know what Moroni did when he wandered around for decades and the fate and current location of the brass plates remains a mystery.

The large plates of Nephi

The first time these are referenced in the Book of Mormon is 1st Nephi 9:2. It's described as giving a full account of the history. Other references describes it as containing the more secular things as opposed to the small plates. But since the small plates were full around the time of King Benjamin, it may seem that the large plates were used for both historical and spiritual matters.

Nephi made these plates after he had arrived in the promised land (see 1st Nephi 19:1)

Mormon's abridgment is taken from the large plates of Nephi.

The small plates of Nephi

After Nephi had made the large plates, he was commanded to make another set, the small plates (see 2nd Nephi 5:30). He didn't know why but later it turned out, they were God's back-up plan when the 116 pages were lost.

Also, both the large and small plates were used by the Nephites is their contents is referenced by later prophets throughout the Book of Mormon

When Amaleki had finished his record, the small plates were full. He gave them to King Benjamin who had the large plates. As Mormon 500 years later worked on his abridgment from the large plates of Nephi, he searched through the records that had been given him and found the small plates. He liked what he saw and attached them to his abridgment.

The record of Lehi

We are informed in 1st Nephi that Lehi wrote a record. 1st Nephi 19:1 tells us that Nephi engraved his father's record on the large plates. Perhaps because Lehi did not use plates for his record and this was a way to preserve it? 1st Nephi 1:17 tells us that Nephi engraved an abridgment of his father's record on the small plates. This is what the first half of 1st Nephi seems to be, even though Nephi blends a lot of "I, Nephi" into it.

The plates of Mormon

These are plates made by Mormon and contain the abridgment from the large plates of Nephi. More on Mormon and his record is found here.

The record of Zeniff

The entire chapters 9 and 10 of Mosiah seem to be quoting the record of Zeniff who led an expedition to the Land of Nephi. From chapter 11 when Noah starts his reign the narrative shifts from first to third person again. We learn from Mosiah 8:5 that the people in the Land of Nephi had kept a record, probably also after Zeniff's death. But perhaps others than Noah took care of the record keeping and Mormon just abridged after having copied directly from Zeniff.

It makes me wonder how many other records like these existed that Mormon decided not to include in his abridgment.

Multiple records from people in the land northward

In Helaman 3, we read about migrations to the land northward. We also read
15 But behold, there are many books and many records of every kind, and they have been kept chiefly by the Nephites.
So no specific reference, but interesting to get the hint that there really were "many records of every kind". So this list probably only contains a small fraction.

The Jaredite stone tablet

This was brought to Mosiah-1 after his group found Zarahemla and merged with the Mulekites. He translated it and found that it contained an account of Coriantumr and his forefathers (the Jaredites).

The Jaredite record (24 gold plates)

This was another Jaredite record found by the people of Limhi when they searched for Zarahemla and got lost. They couldn't translated it so they had to wait until they got to Zarahemla where they gave it to King Mosiah-2, who translated it with the Urim and Thummim (and wrote it on a separate set of plates?). Moroni later abridged this record on the plates of Mormon and it's currently know as the Book of Ether.

I have been wondering if there is a possibility for "24 plates" to actually mean 24 sets of plates. Since Moroni could only write "a hundredth part", 24 (or 48) pages of writing doesn't seem that much.

The record Jared and his brother brought with them

The Book of Ether contains a reference to the "record which our fathers brought across the great deep" (Ether 8:9). Apparently, the Jaredites had a record that they brought with them across the ocean. This makes a lot of sense. The Nephites brought a record and were therefore capable of preserving the language and keep a record themselves. The Mulekites, however, did not bring any record and therefore didn't keep one either and their language became corrupted. The Jaredites were more like the Nephites. They could keep a record because they had brought a record so they had a written language.

The Bible

The Jewish Bible is also referenced in the Book of Mormon. For instance in 1st Nephi 13 and 2nd Nephi 29. Interestingly, there seems to be a distinction between the record on the brass plates and the Bible. In 1st Nephi 13:23 the two are also compared
it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many
Apparently, the brass plates contained more writings than the Old Testament

These are all I have found, but I might have overlooked something. The Book of Mormon we have today consists of:
  • The small plates of Nephi, including an abridgment of the record of Lehi. This covers 1st Nephi-Omni
  • The plates of Mormon, containing the Words of Mormon, an abridgment of the large plates of Nephi, an abridgment of the Jaredite record (24 gold plates) and various other direct quotes from letters, Zeniff's record, etc.