The Book of Mormon: the Musical recently captured nine Tony awards, including Best Musical. Sales have been steadily high, with some tickets being sold for as much as $900. But despite the production's popularity, many people know little to nothing about the play's namesake, the actual book considered sacred scripture by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Mormons throughout the world.
The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ (as it is officially titled) contains purported accounts of events which took place primarily on the American content between 600 B.C. and 400 A.D. It is divided into individual books, much like the Bible, titled according to the books' principal authors. Leaf through a copy of The Book of Mormon, and instead of seeing Exodus, Job, Proverbs, Matthew, and Revelation, you will see books with titles like 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, Ether, and Mormon. (Yes, there is a Book of Mormon within The Book of Mormon.)
In fact, the actual name "Mormon" is derived from the purported editor of the book and the author of many of its pages. Joseph Smith, founder of the religious movement which uses The Book of Mormon, claimed that the book was originally written by Mormon and others on ancient tablets made of gold, and that Joseph Smith translated the book into English with the help of God.
The Book of Mormon: The Musical delves into this history a little bit, but given the fact that Elder Cunningham, one of the play's principal protagonists, never read the book prior to his mission, the actual content of the book remains mostly shrouded in mystery.
So here, for your educational enjoyment, are ten fascinating stories which are found in The Book of Mormon.
- Nephi kills Laban, 600-592 BC. One of the earliest shockers in the book is a scene in which Nephi, a faithful Jew and follower of the biblical Mosaic law, is ordered by the Holy Ghost to kill a nobleman in Jerusalem. The nobleman, Laban, had property which belonged to Nephi's family--namely, an early form of the Old Tesament (including the Book of Isaiah). Nephi hesitates, reasoning with the Holy Ghost that he has never shed the blood of an innocent man. The response to Nephi is: "Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief." (1 Nephi, ch. 4, verse 13.)
- Sherem is smitten by God after demanding a sign, 544–421 B.C. Prophets in The Book of Mormon who lived before the birth of Christ often taught their people that Christ would come in the future to redeem mankind. One such prophet, Jacob, meets a naysayer named Sherem who challenges Jacob's testimony and demands proof that there is a Christ. In response, God smites him and causes him to fall to the Earth. Sherem is nursed back to health, calls the people together, confesses the error of his ways, and then dies. (Jacob ch. 7.)
- The prophet Abinadi is burned at the stake, 148 B.C. Abinadi was another prophet who met with opposition. Abinadi was called to go into much more hostile territory than Jacob was, however, similar to Jonah being called to Nineveh. Abinadi's efforts were less successful than Jonah's; rather than repenting, the wicked King Noah burned Abinadi at the stake. In a bout of karma, King Noah later meets the same fate at the hands of his one-time supporters. (Mosiah ch. 17, ch. 19.)
- Alma rebels against his father and the church, is converted by an angel, 100-92 B.C. Alma was a member of King Noah's court and heard the testimony of Abinadi. He alone believes the prophet, repents, and organizes a church based on Abinadi's teachings and the inspiration of God. His son, also named Alma, rebels against his father and the new church and tries to lead as many people as he can away from it. In a scene that is similar to Paul's conversion of the New Testament, Alma the younger is finally stopped by an angel who strikes the fear of God into him. Alma the younger repents and later becomes the head of the church. (Mosiah ch. 27; Alma ch. 36.)
- Alma and Amulek get cast into prison, watch their fellow believers get murdered, 82 B.C. After his conversion, Alma and a companion named Amulek (two of the earliest "Mormon" missionaries) preach in a city called Ammonihah. There, they convert some, but are rebuffed by the majority. The people get so angry that they arrest the missionaries, then burn to death the wives and children of the believers, as well as their sacred scriptures. They force Alma and Amulek to watch the scene of martyrdom, which prompts this exchange: "And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames. But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day." (Alma ch. 14, verses 10 and 11.)
- 2000 young warriors are preserved in battle, honor their mothers, 63 B.C. The Book of Mormon has a lot of warfare in it. In one remarkable account, approximately 2000 young men who are faithful to God march into battle to preserve their freedom. Their commander remarks in a letter, "Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it." (Alma ch. 56, verses 47 and 48.) Later, every single one of these young warriors survives multiple battles, even though they all receive "many wounds." (Alma ch. 57, verse 25.)
- Samuel the Lamanite preaches repentance and predicts the imminent birth of Christ, 6 B.C. The Book of Mormon focuses primarily on two groups of people, those who call themselves "Nephites" (generally, descendants of Nephi, mentioned in Story #1 above), and those who call themselves "Lamanites" (descendants of Laman and Lemuel, Nephi's whiny and obnoxious older brothers). Most of the time, the Nephites are more righteous than the Lamanites. But shortly before the birth of Christ, in an interesting "role reversal," the Lamanites have become more righteous than the Nephites. The Lord sends Samuel, a Lamanite, to preach repentance among the Nephites and to prophesy that Christ will soon be born in the land of Jerusalem (Israel). Samuel promises that on the American continent, there will come a night in which the sun would go down but it would not get dark, and that there would be a new star in the heavens. These would be signs of Christ's birth. (Helaman ch. 14.) Samuel is ridiculed and cast out of the city, but his prophecy comes true six years later. (3 Nephi ch. 1.)
- Appearance of Christ on the American Continent, A.D. 34. The death of Christ in Jerusalem is accompanied by a combination of severe natural disasters, including earthquakes, on the American continent. These disasters are followed by three days of complete darkness. While in darkness, the people hear the voice of Christ, who states that the law of Moses has been fulfilled and that all men should come unto Him. Shortly thereafter, Christ himself descends from the sky as a resurrected being and spends several days healing and teaching the people in and near Zarahemla, one of the Nephites' principal cities. (3 Nephi ch. 11 through ch. 26.)
- The Brother of Jared sees the finger of God, leads his people across the ocean in football-shaped boats, between 2600 B.C. and 2100 B.C. In this section of the Book of Mormon, the ancient editors insert an independent record entitled "Ether," which covers a time period beginning at least 2000 years before Christ's birth. One of the most interesting stories in this record details the account of a man, known only as "The Brother of Jared," who asks the Lord to help him and his people cross the ocean. The Lord tells him to build boats which, from their description, likely resembled giant footballs. The Lord tells the Brother of Jared that he will steer these boats across the waters. Because the boats have to be airtight, the Brother of Jared asks the Lord how they will be able to see while they are enclosed in the boats. The Lord tells Jared to propose a solution, and Jared decides to polish sixteen stones, which he then asks the Lord to "touch." The Lord does so, and the stones provide illumination to the brother of Jared's people. (Ether ch. 2 and 3.)
- Destruction of the Nephites, A.D. 385. The Book of Mormon concludes with a violent and sad account of an enormous battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites. The two groups meet at the "Hill Cumorah" and hundreds of thousands are slain. Mormon is alive during this time and discusses his involvement in the war (he is the captain of the Nephite armies) and also his editing of the records which form The Book of Mormon. He and his son Moroni are essentially the only faithful people left. Prior to his death, he delivers The Book of Mormon to Moroni, who finishes some editing and adds his own testimony at the conclusion of the book before burying the book in the Hill Cumorah. (Mormon ch. 6, Ether ch. 1, Moroni ch. 10, Introduction to the Book of Mormon.) Joseph Smith said that it was this same Moroni who returned as an angel in the 1800s and led him to where The Book of Mormon was located.