On this day in 1830, the Book of Mormon was first published at E.B Grandin’s New York bookstore. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith Jr, claimed that he had been visited by an angel called Moroni who told him of ancient writings on golden plates which described people whom God led to the Western hemisphere before the birth of Jesus. These plates were supposedly found by Smith buried by a tree on a hill in his back yard. Smith said he was told by Moroni to translate the plates into English and publish them. Smith initially struggled to find someone to publish the book as many considered it risky, fraudulent and blasphemous. Smith and his friend Martin Harris began work on translating the Book of Mormon, with Smith dictating by either reading directly or using seer stones placed in a top hat (accounts vary).
Work was halted when Harris’s wife stole some pages of the manuscript. Translation recommenced in 1829 and was soon finished and ready for publication and sale in March 1830. It took eight men and boys working 12 hours a day, six days a week, for almost eight months to print the initial 5,000 copies. Upon the book’s publication Smith said he returned the plates to Moroni. The building in New York where the Book of Mormon was first published and sold is now the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site.
Mormonism continues to be a prominent religion in the United States and abroad. Despite enduring questions about the origins of the religion – many believe Smith planted the plates or made them up altogether – it still has a large following. Mitt Romney, in the 2012 election, became the first Mormon presidential candidate in the United States. I have been interested in Mormonism for some time, though I must admit my interest has been encouraged by seeing the musical ‘The Book of Mormon’. Even though the musical is a parody of Mormonism (‘I Believe’ explicitly pokes fun at Mormon beliefs and ‘All-American Prophet’ mocks the origins story recounted here), I thought it was surprisingly gentle considering some other things Matt Stone and Trey Parker have done. I personally didn’t see it as a vicious attack on Mormons or their beliefs, however as I am not a Mormon I cannot say it hasn’t offended anyone. I would always recommend reading historical and contemporary material on the religion, but if you’re a fan of Matt and Trey (and even if not!), ‘The Book of Mormon’ is a fantastic musical and a good laugh.