(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ presents itself as a translated record of ancient American peoples detailing their dealings with each other and with God. The book as a whole received its name from its primary editor, identified as Mormon, who is said to have delivered the record to the concluding author, his son Moroni, around 400 c.e. Mormon’s record, compiled from four sets of metal plates, resulted in a book of direct historical narrative, expansive summary, and theological editorial observations. The Book of Mormon stands with the Bible as scripture for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Interpreted as God-inspired, its text offers an account of the history and culture of two separate founding groups who leave the Old World to begin a new life in a promised land. The earlier community, the Jaredites, came to the Americas around the time of the biblical Tower of Babel. The other group left from Jerusalem around 600 b.c.e. and eventually divided into opposing factions: the Nephites and the Lamanites.

The Book of Mormon comprises fifteen books, each named after its principal writer. Mormon included in his compilation the first six books as they were written. Nephi starts the record (1 Nephi) by recounting his father Lehi’s vision warning the family to leave Jerusalem to escape pending destruction. Against complaints of the two oldest sons, the family struggles its way across the wilderness. Following two return trips to retrieve religious records and to invite another family for marriage prospects, the expanded family treks until it reaches the sea. Nephi builds a ship under God’s direction, and the family sails to the Americas—the “promised land.” While traveling through the wilderness, Lehi has another vision, in which he sees a path leading to the Tree of Life, which contains fruit “desirable above all other fruit” (1 Nephi 8.12). Nephi petitions God and is shown the same vision, learning of God’s love and condescension.

Some time after they arrive in the Americas (2 Nephi), the tension between Nephi and his brothers becomes so intense that they split into two groups: the Nephites and the Lamanites, named for the eldest brother. Nephi keeps the record until his death, when his younger brother Jacob becomes the new religious leader.

Jacob records the society’s progress (Jacob) and his own preaching regarding purity and Christ’s atonement. Jacob’s son Enos briefly shares his own powerful conversion (Enos), and his fervent prayer secures God’s promises for his own salvation as well as that of fellow Nephites and even enemy Lamanites. Enos’s son Jarom (in the Book of Jarom) succinctly summarizes the continuing battles between the two warring civilizations and describes the saving spirituality of his own Nephite people.

Passing of the plates to sons or to brothers results in desultory entries from Omni, Amaron, Chemish, Abinadom, and Amaleki (Omni), who describe vacillations of violence and peace among the Nephite people. Amaleki mentions how one Nephite man, Mosiah, was inspired to take followers to the land of Zarahemla, where they discover a group of people who migrated from Jerusalem at the same time that Lehi and his family left. The joyful reunion results in the unification of the Nephite band and the people of Zarahemla, with Mosiah as spiritual and temporal leader. The people of Zarahemla possess the record of the ancient Jaredites, which is passed down with the other sacred records until Moroni later abridges it. Mosiah’s son Benjamin succeeds as king and gains advantage in the continuing battle against the Lamanites. A small group of King Benjamin’s subjects journey back to repossess the land of Nephi. Amaleki closes his record with a testimony of Christ’s saving power.

Having no family, Amaleki gives the record to King Benjamin. The plates are handed down until they come into Mormon’s hands. In a brief editorial interjection (“The Words of Mormon”), Mormon explains that the next part of the record will be his own abridgment of the other metal plates.

Mormon reviews the difficulties of King Benjamin’s reign as he struggled to promote righteousness through moral reprimands and peace through military struggle (Mosiah). After selecting his son, also named Mosiah, to be the next ruler, the weakening King Benjamin offers a moving sermon to his beloved people. His discourse recounts his just reign, reminding his followers of their obligation to serve God and others. His powerful witness of God’s mercy moves his people to sincere repentance.

Under Mosiah’s reign the people beg their king to discover the whereabouts of the group that left to find the land of Nephi during Benjamin’s reign. A search party discovers these lost Nephites in bondage to the Lamanites. Recounting their history, the oppressed people explain that their first leader, Zeniff, made a treaty with the Lamanites to repossess the land of Nephi, an agreement broken when the flourishing of the Nephite...

(The entire section is 2082 words.)