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Yes, I Have Read the Book of Mormon

Mormon missionaries often ask, “Have you read the Book of Mormon?” I personally get the feeling this question implies you cannot criticize a book you have not read. Since few have actually read all of the Book of Mormon, the question opens the way to a presentation by undermining anyone’s grounds for rejection. Sometimes I respond simply by asking, “Have you read the Koran?” But in all fairness, it is true you can’t comment intelligently on a book you haven’t read, so I determined to read the Book of Mormon this year just as I had read the Koran last year.

The Book of Mormon, like the Koran, is rather painful to read. I handle books like these by reading them only five or ten pages per day. Since the Book of Mormon is slightly over 500 pages, it took me about 100 days to read it. One other advantage to this approach is that, by reading slowly, you can take better notes and ruminate more on what you read.

In chapter 16 of his book Roughing It, Mark Twain gives an excellent account of the Book of Mormon, which he describes as “chloroform in print,” a descriptive phrase that has yet to be excelled. As Twain notes, the Book of Mormon is composed of 15 shorter “books,” the longest of which is the Book of Alma (150+ pages). If you had to identify favorite passages among Mormons, I think most of them would come in the last third of the work. This means you have to slog through a lot to get to the “good part.”

While I cannot improve on Twain’s trenchant comments about the Book of Mormon, I want to make my own independent observations that reiterate, document, and expand on some of his thoughts.

1. The Book of Mormon is plagiarism gone amuck. It is a shameless pastiche of the Bible. Countless words, phrases, and whole passages are lifted verbatim from the King James Version of both Old and New Testaments (2 Nephi 12-24 = Isaiah 2-14; Mosiah 13: 12-24 = Exodus 20:5-17; Mosiah 14 = Isaiah 53; 3 Nephi 12:3-14:27 = Matthew 5-7). The minor borrowings are simply too many to enumerate. Ether 12:6-22 is a pastiche of Hebrews 11. Ether 8:8-11 derives from the story of Herod’s daughter’s dance in Matthew 14:1-10. Helaman 10:4-11 reprises Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:13-20.

2. The Book of Mormon is relentlessly dull because it is so wordy, tedious, and repetitive. Sometimes the wordiness is downright comical. In Jacob 4:1, for example, the writer says, “I cannot write but a little of my words because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates.” Then he proceeds to repeat the phrase “and it came to pass” 28 times in chapter 5 alone, one of the most confused examples of English prose imaginable. If writing on brass plates is so difficult, why so much repetition and useless verbiage? The Book of Mormon began recycling long before it became trendy. Instead of recycling plastic, however, it recycles the same names, ideas, and phrases over and over and over (4 Nephi, for example, just rehashes all that has gone before).

3. The Book of Mormon is badly written. It seems to admit that fact to itself. Ether 12:23 notes that criticism will arise because of “our weakness in writing.” He rightly remarks, “I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words” (Ether 12:25). Consider this sentence: “And it came to pass that Moroni felt to rejoice exceedingly at this request, for he desired the provisions which were imparted for the support of the Lamanite prisoners for the support of his own people; and he also desired his own people for the strengthening of his army” (Alma 54:2). Such confused prose and confused narrative abounds in the Book of Mormon (see, for example, Alma 23-25). I personally feel sorry for highly educated Mormon English teachers who feel compelled to defend this book.

4. The Book of Mormon strikes you as somewhat surreal. Most of it is predicated on a detailed belief in something that supposedly has not yet happened—the advent of Jesus Christ. Consequently, the book is chock full of anachronisms. Mosiah, for example, purports to be written in 124 B.C., yet it mentions “Mary” the mother of “Jesus Christ” (3:8), the resurrection of Christ (16:7-8), and the ascension of Christ into heaven (18:2). Other naïve anachronisms include “the twelve apostles” (1 Nephi 13:40), “Bible” (2 Nephi 29:3), “churches“ (2 Nephi 26:21), the “baptism” of Christ along with the descent of the Holy Ghost in the form of dove, “the atoning blood of Jesus Christ” (Helaman 5:9), Jesus in the tomb for “three days” before rising (Helaman 14:20), and speaking in the “tongue of angels” (2 Nephi 31:5-14).

5. The Book of Mormon is obsessed with the spirit of revelation and prophecy (3 Nephi 3:19; 6:20; 29:6). It is, of course, this inspiration from heaven that permits such detailed looks into the future. Prophecy is the device by which absurd anachronisms become legitimate and writers can mix quotes from the Old and New Testaments in the same breath (for example, 2 Nephi 30:12-17 which uses language from Isaiah 11:6-9, Matthew 10:26, and Luke 8:17). It is interesting to see Jesus himself in 2 Nephi 26:3 borrowing language from 2 Peter 3:10 and Revelation 6:14, books yet to be written.

6. The Book of Mormon is preoccupied with themes of the early American republic: the “cause of our freedom” (Alma 60:30), “rights”, “privileges,” “their freedom and their liberty” (3 Nephi 2:12), doing “your business by the voice of the people” (Mosiah 29:26), a “land of liberty” (Mosiah 29:32), “free government” (Alma 46:35). Representative government is instituted (Mosiah 29:25), monarchist traitors denounced (Alma 51:5-6; 60:17-18; 3 Nephi 6:30), and conspiracies to overthrow political freedom detected (3 Nephi 7:6; Ether 8:18-26). The Book of Mormon is a thoroughly nineteenth-century American book, not a book of antiquity.

7. The Book of Mormon sets out to clarify and improve upon Christian doctrine as set forth in the Bible. It carefully clarifies issues that nineteenth-century Protestants longed to have clarified. Has the age of miracles ceased? See Moroni 7:27-29. Do young children need to be baptized? See Moroni 8:5-24. What is the significance of baptism? See 3 Nephi 7:25. How should a baptism be performed? See 3 Nephi 23-27. What should be the name of the church? See 3 Nephi 26:3-10. What exactly is the gospel? See 3 Nephi 27:20-21. What is true faith? See Alma 32:17-21. Numerous doctrinal sermons, evangelistic sermons, and hortatory sermons sprinkled throughout the text explain all the essential beliefs a true Christian must have.

8. The Book of Mormon is strangely fatalistic. Despite all the preaching and teaching, despite all the missionary activity and conversions that take place, righteousness never seems to last very long. The Book of Mormon has a bloodthirsty view of humanity (Mormon 4:11; Ether 14:21; 15:2). The Holy Spirit, the blessings of prophecy, and good Christian living don’t seem to count for much over time. People always return to their sinful ways and eventually self-destruct.

9. The Book of Mormon is full of prophets who talk like nineteenth-century protestant preachers. They speak of “the plan of salvation” (Jarom 2). They extend “invitations” to be saved (Alma 5:62). They call on people to “repent and be born again” (Alma 7:14). They speak of life as “a time to prepare to meet God” (Alma 12:24). They explain archaisms in King James English that nineteenth-century readers might misunderstand (e.g., the word “charity” in 2 Nephi 26:30 and Ether 12:34) and clarify that, despite what you might gather from the Bible, the earth moves, not the sun (Helaman 12:15). The book seems not only to contain anachronisms but to be itself one long, sustained anachronism.

10. The Book of Mormon is not that controversial from the standpoint of Christian doctrine. I think conservative, charismatic Christians of the twenty-first century would object to little or nothing professed in the book. Virtually all of what is controversial and heretical about Mormonism (e.g., baptism for the dead, multiple gods, temple ceremonies, polygamy) does not appear in the pages of the Book of Mormon. This gives support to the contention that the Book of Mormon was originally an early nineteenth-century novel stolen before it was ever published, then revised and adapted by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon for their own purposes. The Book of Mormon is badly written, but it is clearly within the bounds of standard Christian doctrine. It was written by someone intimately familiar with the Bible and with nineteenth-century biblical theology.

I close with a few specific observations.

1. Unlike in the Bible, there are no important female characters in the Book of Mormon. It is entirely male-dominated. In the entire book, I noticed only one woman mentioned by name (Sariah in 1 Nephi 5:1). All women seem to do is produce male babies who eventually become fodder for slaughter in battle.

2. Unlike the Bible, the Book of Mormon is skin-color conscious. God curses the Lamanites by making their skin turn black (2 Nephi 5:21). Six hundred years later, God blesses the Lamanites by turning them white again (3 Nephi 2:15). Black is not beautiful in the Book of Mormon.

3. Some stories in the Book of Mormon would make great Monty Python sketches. Check out Alma 17-18 (Heroic Arm Slicing); Alma 44:8-20 (Get Scalped and Come Back Fighting); Ether 3:6 (The Finger of the Lord); Ether 15:23-32 (Last Man Standing Falls); Helaman 16:1-8 (The Leaping Prophet); 3 Nephi 28:7-40 (The Three Immortal Missionaries).

4. If you ever wonder where Mormons get their zeal for door-to-door evangelism, read Alma 26:23-29 to learn about some of the first Mormon missionaries.

5. According to Ether 15:2, in the final conflict between the Nephites and the Lamanites one side alone lost two million people "slain by the sword." That's a lot of sword fighting. Two million is nearly five times the number of American soldiers killed in World War II.

What happens when a work of fiction is presented as truth? Some people in the eighteenth century objected to the rise of novels because they were “lies” foisted upon the public as truth. Over time, thoughtful people came to realize that fiction is not really a lie but potentially a form of imaginative truth. Fiction could be “true” insofar as it was “true to life” and provided insightful aesthetic pleasure. In my view, the Book of Mormon is inferior fiction that is neither true to life nor aesthetically pleasing. Is it a lie? I prefer to think of it as influential fiction. And yes, I have read the Book of Mormon, but I never plan to read it again.

Comments (15)


It would be interesting to have you write a similarly insightful review of the Bible - applying all of the same techniques used in this one.

Oh wait, there are a number of atheistic websites that have already done just that.

John H. Williams:

For my thoughts on the Bible, please refer to the archives, especially the posts on "The Bible as Literature" and "Who Reads the Bible Literally?"

Since the Bible is indeed a work of antiquity, I view it differently from the Book of Mormon, just as I judge the Iliad differently than I do a novel by Dickens. Inasmuch as I am far more removed from antiquity than from the nineteenth century, I feel less confident in making pronouncements about it.

"Since the Bible is indeed a work of antiquity, I view it differently from the Book of Mormon, just as I judge the Iliad differently than I do a novel by Dickens. Inasmuch as I am far more removed from antiquity than from the nineteenth century, I feel less confident in making pronouncements about it."

You're just begging the question.

You: The Book of Mormon is boring!

Him: Well, so is the Bible.

You: Yes, but the Bible is historical, so the same standards don't apply.

Nice how you just assume that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction and then judge it by the standards you would apply to fiction. Because of course it can't be true! Heavens no! That would just ruin everything!

So the Bible can be forgiven crappy writing because it happens to be historical, but the Book of Mormon cannot because it is fictional.

Seriously, you are a model of intellectual integrity for us all.

Secret Tip: Next time you read a text from another religion, try not to go in there looking for stuff to prove the book false.

It helps with the experience.

It also helps if you didn't come to the book with anti-Mormon cliffnotes bouncing around your head.

Wow, you seemed to have stirred up the hornets with this entry, John. As a longtime reader of yours, I find you neither an atheist nor lacking intellectual integrity.

Nice to have you active again in the blogosphere. Best regards.


It is sad to see someone read the whole book and miss the main message, as this is often the case with the Book of Mormon. While I do not need to prove anything about the Book of Mormon as I know for myself it is true and did not come to this conclusion through the words or encouragement of others, I would like to point out a few things. The Book of Mormon supports the bible in every meaning of the word, they stand as witnesses of two different nations that Jesus is the Christ! While you have looked for mistakes in the Book of Mormon you have missed that the very point of it is to read it and ask God with a sincere heart and real intent if it is true. And may I say that what happens when truth is presented as truth you get 13 million members worldwide, one of the fastest growing churches in the world, a church that will not confirm, change or reform to fit the world, and over 100 temples throughout the world inside of which the work of God is performed. The key is to read and pray with a sincere heart, neither of which you did.

Quoting you:
The Book of Mormon supports the bible in every meaning of the word, they stand as witnesses of two different nations that Jesus is the Christ!

Actually, if you forget the horrendous mistakes in the BOM this claim is not too far off of the mark..but the BOM is diametrically opposed to LDS doctrine as found in the other standard works and in Mormonism in general.

God has a body of flesh and bone.
Not in bible

God impregnated mary as a man does to birth Jesus
Not in bible

Jesus Satans brother
Not in bible

Men can become gods
Not in bible

God has plural goddess wives
Not in bible

Getting the picture?


I was born and raised in the LDS Church. I have been a Mormon my entire life and will probably continue to the end. That being said, I agree with John. The book of Mormon is one long Anachronism and full of plagiarisms from the Bible. I have read it several times and I have spent my entire life trying to believe it is true. It’s not! I don’t get nearer to God by reading it. I do by reading the Bible. Some may wonder why then would I stay in the LDS church. Quite simple, overall, I appreciate what the LDS church is all about. Its structure lends itself to a well organized and consistent church. I know that for the most part the people have good intentions and their prayers are being answered slowly. That is why the LDS church doctrine slowly changes toward mainstream Christian ideas. Eventually, I believe the church will purge itself of most of its problems (Like polygamy, Racism, Bigotry and cult like doctrine). The temple ceremonies change over time, the language becomes tamer. I do believe in Eternal Marriage and families (I just don’t believe the Mormons are the only ones that get it or that it has to be done in their temple by their priesthood authority). I do believe in the word of wisdom (I just don’t believe that someone that drinks or smokes will be excluded from anything because of it. For the most part I keep my mouth shut, since Mormons are taught that anyone that does not agree with what the LDS church teaches must be doing the work of the Devil. It makes them furious mad. So I am content to remain grounded in my Christian beliefs. I discern for myself what is true and not true based on my own wisdom and knowledge gained from scripture study and personal revelation; founded on the primary principles and example taught by Jesus Christ. (In other words, I don’t drink the Kool-Aid)


Interesting comments on how it is poorly written. Having read it myself, I must conclude that the english grammer of the book is atrocious. But I have found, in my own research on the matter, that the book as translated to Arabic word for word, is almost perfect Arabic grammer. As for the 'plagerisms' in the BOM from the Bible, if an individual teaches something, shouldnt there be consistancy in what they say? Now suppose what they teach is the truth, the truth is constant, and thus, should not change from text to text. If the war of 1812 happened in 1812 and was published in a history book as having occurred in 1812 and a second book publishes that it also happened in 1812, is that plagerism? This gets even more complicated when you take into account euphemisms and cultural inferences. I can almost guarantee that if you review diaries of our soldiers today that there would be alot of similer expeiriences that these people shared. Someone say a thousand years from now looking at these diaries without any knowledge of the events of the time, could make the same argument you just did. I really do suggest that you do some more research on the people the BOM is supposed to represent, and i think it will make a little more sense. Dont be so closed minded, just a thought...

Tom Jessop:

I would like to comment on your post dated December 17, 2008 were you have stated

“Men can become gods…Not in bible”
From Revelation Chapter 2:

26-And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

27-And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.

28-And I will give him the morning star.

What nations will some have power over? What nations will some rule with the word of God? And what nations will some judge with that word, just as Jesus will through the power He received of His Father? Where will these nations come from? After all Jesus will judge all nation of this world…So what does Jesus mean here???

John H. Williams:

I believe you are referring to a comment by Robert posted on June 15, 2009. He was, I think, supporting my assertion that the most controversial doctrines of Mormonism are not found in the Book of Mormon.

To my mind, the passage in Revelation is simply saying in figurative language that persecuted Christians will eventually be vindicated.

The phrase "to the one who conquers" is repeated in each letter to the seven churches (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). The meaning each time is basically the same: Christians will prevail and receive eternal life in heaven.

These passages in Revelation, like the Book of Mormon, say nothing about men becoming gods.

Tom Jessop:

Everyone knows of the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-12.)
Not everyone knows of the Beatitudes found in Revelation(Rev.1:3, 14:13,16:5,19:9,20:6,22:7, 22:14.)
There are also blessing to those who overcome which you have listed, but you missed one
Jesus said…He that overcometh Shall Inherit All Things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son (Rev.21:7.)
Jesus also said that…To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne (Rev. 3:21.)
Strong's G2362 – thronos…2) to the Messiah, Christ, the partner and assistant in the divine administration
a) hence divine power belonging to Christ

Jesus has said that… To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my THRONE… hence divine power belonging to Christ…Jesus said that some will share His divine power…

And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father Rev 2:26
Jesus in His own words promises that some will be as He is…

John H. Williams:

Once again, the controversial doctrine that men will become gods is not found in the Book of Mormon. That is the main point.

The Book of Revelation does not teach such a thing either. "I will grant him to sit with me on my throne" (Rev. 3:21)does not necessarily mean someone will become divine. It simply means he will have a place of honor in heaven.

If God wanted to tell us that men will become gods, he could have done it plainly and simply in so many words. But he did not.

Your strained argument that skips from one end of Revelation to the other is neither clear nor compelling in my view. Power-sharing does not equal divinity. You are reading the idea of divinity into the text.

Revelation has been called "the happy hunting ground of heretics" with good reason. This is an excellent case in point. Basing any doctrine on a speculative reading of Revelation leads to heresy, and ultimately to madness.

Tom Jessop:

The main point about the Book of Mormon, of it all is this. Joseph Smith only translated 1/3 of the plates, leaving 2/3 of plates untranslated because they were sealed. He also lost 116 pages of what he translated. No one knows what the other 2/3 of the plates, or the 116 pages contained.

Temple marriage and baptisms for the dead are not found in the Book of Mormon in its incomplete form that we have today either but that doesn’t mean that these doctrines are invalid. We will see what it contains when God reveals the rest of the book.

As far as jumping from one end of Revelation to the other to make my mad point —I disagree with that. Chapters two and three of Revelation teach what the righteous in the Churches will receive. To the Church in Ephesus: The righteous partake of the tree of life (2:1-7). To the Church in Smyrna: The righteous are not hurt by the second death (2:8-11). To the Church in Pergamos: The righteous receive hidden manna, a white stone, and a new name (2:12-17). To the Church in Thyatira: The Righteous Will Have Power Over Many Nations (2:18-29). To the Church in Sardis: The righteous will be clothed in white raiment (3:1-6). To the Church in Philadelphia: The righteous will dwell in the heavenly temple (3:7-13). To the Church in Laodicea: The Righteous Will Sit Upon The Throne Of Jesus (3:14-22).

This is not jumping from one end of the book to the other; rather it is found within the same theme which is what the righteous of the Church as a whole (Rev. 1:4) will receive.

The deification of man is not doctrine made up by Joseph Smith -- it was restored through him by God. It was a teaching of the Ancient Church.

Hippolytus said that the final state of the righteous is to become like God and to become a god:

And thou shalt become a companion of the Deity, and a co-heir with Christ…for thou hast become God:…thou hast been deified, and begotten to immortality…He has formed thee after His own image….and God called man His likeness from the beginning…and provided thou obeyest His solemn injunctions, and become a faithful follower…thou shalt resemble Him…For The Deity, By Condescension, Does Not Diminish Aught Of The Dignity Of His Divine Perfection; Having Made Thee Even God Unto His Glory! (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies10:30, in A.N.F. 5:153.)

Origen explains the relationship that will be between the Father, Son, and the joint heirs with Christ.

And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract Himself divinity, Is Being Of More Exalted Rank Than The Other Gods Beside Him, Of Whom God Is The God, as it is written, “The God of gods, the Lord, hath spoken and called earth.” It Was By The Offices Of The First Born That They Became Gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is “The God,” and those formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype…Now it is possible that some will dislike what we have said representing the Father as the one true God, but admitting other beings besides the true God, who have become gods by having a share of God. They may fear that the glory of Him who surpasses all creation may be lowered to the level of those other beings called gods. We drew this distinction between Him and them that we showed God the Word to be all the other gods the minister of their divinity….As then, there are many Gods, but to us there is but one God the Father, and many Lords, but to us there in one Lord, Jesus Christ. (Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John 2:2-3, in A.N.F. 9:323-24.)

And just as Joseph Smith taught , Origen preached the truth that we will always be subject to the Father and the Son, and we will inherit all things as Jesus did (Revelation).


Tom Jessop:

I missed a point, you said that “If God wanted to tell us that men will become gods, he could have done it plainly and simply in so many words. But he did not.”

33-The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

34-Jesus answered them, Is It Not Written In Your Law, I Said, YE ARE GODS?

35-If He Called Them Gods, Unto Whom The Word Of God Came, And The Scripture Cannot Be Broken;

36-Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I Said, I Am The Son Of God? (John.)


Tom Jessop:

“Black is not beautiful in the Book of Mormon.”

Most critics of the Book of Mormon cite 2 Nephi to show that the B.O.M. can’t be true (Matt. 15:20-26.) None of the following is official L.D.S. doctrine…Yet anyway…

The Book of Ether found in the B.O.M. tells us about the Jaredites who were a group of righteous people that existed at the time of the Tower of Babel. The Lord did not "confound" their language because they were so righteous. They were commanded to build barges and sail to the New World. To make a long story short, a number of Mormon scholars believe that the Jaredites were a black Hamitic people.

Some very interesting facts…Apostle Parley P. Pratt (1885) wrote that the genealogy of the Jaredites goes "back to Ham the son of Noah" (Pratt to Van Cott, LDS Church Archives)
L.D.S. scholars say that all the Jaredite names are Hamitic. The Jaredites had oaths "handed down even from Cain." (Ether 8:16). There are no Priesthood ordinances mentioned in the Book of Ether. The Jaredites were probably the Olmecs of Mesoamerica, and the Olmecs appear to have been black Africans. Most interesting of all…The ancient Mayan record that the original settlers of Mexico sailed there from the Tower of Babel. If the scholars are right, then a thousand years before Abraham the chosen people of God were a black-skinned Hamitic people… Black is very beautiful in the B.O.M…

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