This book contains the papers from the 44th Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, held in October, 2015. The Sperry Symposium is held annually, and draws most of its speakers from the Church Educational System. Each year’s theme is usually based on the book of scripture that will be studied by LDS adults in the coming year, and this volume fits right in with this year’s Gospel Doctrine study of the Book of Mormon.
The first paper in the book is by Elder Merrill J. Bateman. He gave the keynote speech on “The Coming Forth of Plain and Precious Truths.” He describes many aspects of the gospel that may be only vaguely mentioned in the Bible, but for which we learn much more from the Book of Mormon. Some examples are the plan of salvation, the premortal life, the fall of Adam, the atonement and resurrection, and specific doctrines taught by Christ.
The book then has several papers on the process of publishing the Book of Mormon, from the preparation of Joseph Smith as a seer, to the receipt of the plates, the translation, the loss of the 116 pages, the witnesses (both male and female) of the translation process and the plates, and then finally the negotiations to get it published. There is then discussion of how the book was received by 19th century America, how it was used in the early church, and its eventual translation into 110 languages (not including Hebrew or the Deseret Alphabet, which are not currently in print). There are then two papers on the purposes of the Book of Mormon – to “show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord” and “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ” (both as listed on the Book of Mormon title page).
Steven C. Harper’s paper on “The Probation of a Teenage Seer: Joseph Smith’s Early Experiences with Moroni” will be of particular interest to those who are not very familiar with Joseph’s use of seer stones, both as a teenager and in the translation of the plates. It talks about the spiritual gifts that Joseph showed early which prepared him for his role in the restoration of the church, as well as the development he had to go through from his first visit by Moroni until he was finally ready to receive the gold plates four years later.
There has always been a lot of curiosity about the lost 116 pages. J. B. Haws reviews the information that we know, that we don’t know, and some information we have of varying degrees of reliability that might give us some possible insights. What we don’t know includes things like how many pages there were (it may not have actually been 116), whether they might still exist (Lucy Harris may have burned them), and exactly what was on them. We do know that they did actually exist, since Lucy Harris never denied having been involved with them, despite having had good reason to. We might know, based on Joseph’s rebuke by the Lord in the Doctrine and Covenants, that he was not yet aware that there were two sets of plates of Nephi, and that he picked up where he had left off in the translation with Mosiah, and then went back to Nephi’s record at the end of the translation process to fill the hole that was left in the beginning.
Po Nien Chou and Petra Chou give an interesting overview of the history and process of the translations of the Book of Mormon into other languages, starting with Danish. It then went to other European languages, the Pacific islands, Asia, and then Africa. The translation process today is heavily regulated by the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve. Where it was once done by individuals or small groups, some of which were not members of the church, it is now done by committees made up of well-qualified members with temple recommends. “Many of our modern translators utilize computers and word processors, lexicons and encyclopedias to help and guide them in their sacred assignment. The modern work is extensive, and each step must be critically analyzed by Church translation experts” (page 241). Following this paper, there is an appendix that gives a timeline of “Book of Mormon Milestones,” another appendix with “Book of Mormon Languages in Sequence of First Published,” and yet one more with “Selected Questions and Answers on Translating into Other Languages.” The question and answer section contains answers from the Church, and some of them are very interesting, such as one addressing a “literal” translation.
Although I’ve studied the Book of Mormon and the early history of the church throughout my life, this volume has helped me remember some of the things that went into making the Book of Mormon available for us and how greatly we are blessed to have it. I have also learned some new things. The book has helped renew my interest in studying the Book of Mormon once again this year, and it should be a rewarding read for all who value it as scripture.