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Mark Twain’s Review of the Book of Mormon

From chapter 16 of Roughing It. Transcribed by Joey Day.


All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the “elect” have
seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a
copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a
pretentious affair, and yet so “slow,” so sleepy; such an insipid mess
of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed
this book, the act was a miracle—keeping awake while he did it was, at
any rate. If he, accourding to tradition, merely translated it from
certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he
declares he found under a stone, in an out-of-the-way locality, the
work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.

The book seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with
the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the
New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the
quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James’s
translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel—half modern
glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is
awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the
contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern—which was
about every sentence or two—he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases
as “exceeding sore,” “and it came to pass,” etc., and made things
satisfactory again. “And it came to pass” was his pet. If he had left
that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.

The title-page reads as follows:


Wherefore it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and
also of the Lamanites; written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of
the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile; written by way of
commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation.
Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be
destroyed; to come forth by the gift and power of God unto the
interpretation thereof; sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto
the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile; the
interpretation thereof by the gift of God. An abridgment taken from the
Book of Ether also; which is a record of the people of Jared; who were
scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people
when they were building a tower to get to Heaven.

“Hid up” is good. And so is “wherefore”—though why “wherefore”? Any
other word would have answered as well—though in truth it would not
have sounded so Scriptural.

Next comes:


Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people unto whom
this work shall come, that we, through the grace of God the Father, and
our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record,
which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites,
their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the
tower of which hath been spoken; and we also know that they have been
translated by the gift and power of God, for His voice hath declared it
unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we
also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the
plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not
of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God
came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we
beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that
it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that
we beheld and bear record that these things are true; and it is
marvelous in our eyes; nevertheless the voice of the Lord commanded us
that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the
commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know
that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the
blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of
Christ, and shall dwell with Him eternally in the heavens. And the
honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is
one God. Amen.


Some people have to have a world of evidence before they can come
anywhere in the neighborhood of believing anything; but for me, when a
man tells me that he has “seen the engravings which are upon the
plates,” and not only that, but an angel was there at the time, and saw
him see them, and probably took his receipt for it, I am very far on
the road to conviction, no matter whether I ever heard of that man
before or not, and even if I do not know the name of the angel, or his
nationality either.

Next is this:


Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people unto whom
this work shall come, that Joseph Smith, Jr., the translator of this
work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which
have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said
Smith has translated, we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the
engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work,
and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of
soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and
hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of
which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness
unto the world that which we have seen; and we lie not, God bearing
witness of it.


And when I am far on the road to conviction, and eight men, be they
grammatical or otherwise, come forward and tell me that they have seen
the plates too; and not only seen those plates but “hefted” them, I am convinced. I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.

The Mormon Bible consists of fifteen “books”—being the books of Jacob,
Enos, Jarom, Omni, Mosiah, Zeniff, Alma, Helaman, Ether, Moroni, two
“books” of Mormon, and three of Nephi.

In the first book of Nephi is a plagiarism of the Old Testament, which
gives an account of the exodus from Jerusalem of the “children of
Lehi”; and it goes on to tell of their wanderings in the wilderness,
during eight years, and their supernatural protection by one of their
number, a party by the name of Nephi. They finally reached the land of
“Bountiful,” and camped by the sea. After they had remained there “for
the space of many days”—which is more Scriptural than definite—Nephi
was commanded from on high to build a ship wherein to “carry the people
across the waters.” He travestied Noah’s ark—but he obeyed orders in
the matter of the plan. He finished the ship in a single day,
while his brethren stood by and made fun of it—and of him, too—“saying,
our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship” They
did not wait for the timbers to dry, but the whole tribe or nation
sailed the next day. Then a bit of genuine nature cropped out, and is
revealed by outspoken Nephi with Scriptural frankness—they all got on a
spree! They, “and also their wives, began to make themselves merry,
insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much
rudeness; yea, they were lifted up unto exceeding rudeness.”

Nephi tried to stop these scandalous proceedings; but they tied him
neck and heels, and went on with their lark. But observe how Nephi the
prophet circumvented them by the aid of the invisible powers:

And it came to pass that after they had bound me, insomuch
that I could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the
Lord, did cease to work; wherefore, they knew not whither they should
steer the ship, insomuch that there arose a great storm, yea, a great
and terrible tempest, and we were driven back upon the waters for the
space of three days; and they began to be frightened exceedingly, lest
they should be drowned in the sea; nevertheless they did not loose me.
And on the fourth day, which we had been driven back, the tempest began
to be exceeding sore. And it came to pass that we were about to be
swallowed up in the depths of the sea.

Then they untied him.

And it came to pass after they had loosed me, behold, I
took the compass, and it did work whither I desired it. And it came to
pass that I prayed unto the Lord; and after I had prayed, the winds did
cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm.

Equipped with their compass, these ancients appear to have had the advantage of Noah.

Their voyage was toward a “promised land”—the only name they give it. They reached it in safety.

Polygamy is a recent feature in the Mormon religion, and was added by
Brigham Young after Joseph Smith’s death. Before that, it was regarded
as an “abomination.” This verse from the Mormon Bible occurs in Chapter
II. of the book of Jacob:

For behold, thus saith the Lord, this people begin to wax
in iniquity; they understand not the Scriptures; for they seek to
excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which
were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. Behold, David and
Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable
before me, saith the Lord; wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led
this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine
arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of
the loins of Joseph. Wherefore, I the Lord God, will not suffer that
this people shall do like unto them of old.

However, the project failed—or at least the modern Mormon end of it—for
Brigham “suffers” it. This verse is from the same chapter:

Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate, because
of their filthiness and the cursings which hath come upon their skins,
are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the
commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our fathers, that they
should have, save it were one wife; and concubines they should have

The following verse (from Chapter IX. of the Book of Nephi) appears to contain information not familiar to everybody:

And now it came to pass that when Jesus had ascended into
heaven, the multitude did disperse, and every man did take his wife and
his children, and did return to his own home.

And it came to pass that on the morrow, when the multitude was gathered
together, behold, Nephi and his brother whom he had raised from the
dead, whose name was Timothy, and also his son, whose name was Jonas,
and also Mathoni, and Mathonihah, his brother, and Kumen, and
Kumenenhi, and Jeremiah, and Shemnon, and Jonas, and Zedekiah, and
Isaiah; now these were the names of the disciples whom Jesus had chosen.

In order that the reader may observe how much more grandeur and
picturesqueness (as seen by these Mormon twelve) accompanied on of the
tenderest episodes in the life of our Saviour than other eyes seem to
have been aware of, I quote the following from the same “book”—Nephi:

And it came to pass that Jesus spake unto them, and bade
them arise. And they arose from the earth, and He said unto them,
Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, My joy is full.
And when He had said these words, He wept, and the multitude bear
record of it, and He took their little children, one by one, and
blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. And when He had done
this He wept again, and He spake unto the multitude, and saith unto
them, Behold your little ones. And as they looked to behold, they cast
their eyes toward heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw
angels descending out of heaven as it were, in the midst of fire; and
they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were
encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them, and
the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that
their record is true, for they all of them did see and hear, every man
for himself; and they were in number about two thousand and five
hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children.

And what else would they be likely to consist of?

The Book of Ether is an incomprehensible medley of if “history,” much
of it relating to battles and sieges among peoples whom the reader has
possibly never heard of; and who inhabited a country which is not set
down in the geography. There was a King with the remarkable name of
Coriantumr, and he warred with Shared, and Lib, and Shiz, and others,
in the “plains of Heshlon”; and the “valley of Gilgal”; and the
“wilderness of Akish”; and the “land of Moran”; and the “plains of
Agosh”; and “Ogath,” and “Ramah,” and the “land of Corihor,” and the
“hill Comnor,” by “the waters of Ripliancum,” etc., etc., etc. “And it
came to pass,” after a deal of fighting, that Coriantumr, upon making
calculation of his losses, found that “there had been slain two
millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children”—say
5,000,000 or 6,000,000 in all—“and he began to sorrow in his heart.”
Unquestionably it was time. So he wrote to Shiz, asking a cessation of
hostilities, and offering to give up his kingdom to save his people.
Shiz declined, except upon condition that Coriantumr would come and let
him cut his head off first—a thing which Coriantumr would not do. Then
there was more fighting for a season; then four years
were devoted to gathering the forces for a final struggle—after which
ensued a battle, which, I take it, is the most remarkable set forth in
history,—except, perhaps, that of the Kilkenny cats, which it resembles
in some respects. This is the account of the gathering and the battle:

And it came to pass that they did gather together all the
people, upon all the face of the land, who had not been slain, save it
was Ether. And it came to pass that Ether did behold all the doings of
the people; and he beheld that the people who were for Coriantumr, were
gathered together to the army of Coriantumr; and the people who were
for Shiz, were gathered together to the army of Shiz; wherefore they
were for the space of four years gathering together the people, that
they might get all who were upon the face of the land, and that they
might receive all the strength which it was possible that they could
receive. And it came to pass that when they were all gathered together,
every one to the army which he would, with their wives and their
children; both men, women, and children being armed with weapons of
war, having shields, and breast-plates, and head-plates, and being
clothed after the manner of war, they did march forth one against
another, to battle; and they fought all that day, and conquered not.
And it came to pass that when it was night they were weary, and retired
to their camps; and after they had retired to their camps, they took up
a howling and a lamentation for the loss of the slain of their people;
and so great were their cries, their howlings and lamentations, that it
did rend the air exceedingly. And it came to pass that on the morrow
they did go again to battle, and great and terrible was that day;
nevertheless they conquered not, and when the night came again, they
did rend the air with their cries, and their howlings, and their
mournings, for the loss of the slain of their people.

And it came to pass that Coriantumr wrote again an epistle unto Shiz,
desiring that he would not come again to battle, but that he would take
the kingdom, and spare the lives of the people. But behold, the Spirit
of the Lord had ceased striving with them, and Satan had full power
over the hearts of the people, for they were given up unto the hardness
of their hearts, and the blindness of their minds that they might be
destroyed; wherefore they went again to battle. And it came to pass
that they fought all that day, and when the night came they slept upon
their swords; and on the morrow they fought even until the night came;
and when the night came they were drunken with anger, even as a man who
is drunken with wine; and they slept again upon their swords; and on
the morrow they fought again; and when the night came they had all
fallen by the sword save it were fifty and two of the people of
Coriantumr, and sixty and nine of the people of Shiz. And it came to
pass that they slept upon their swords that night, and on the morrow
they fought again, and they contended in their mights with their
swords, and with their shields, all that day; and when the night came
there were thirty and two of the people of Shiz, and twenty and seven
of the people of Coriantumr.

And it came to pass that they ate and slept, and prepared for death on
the morrow. And they were large and mighty men, as to the strength of
men. And it came to pass that they fought for the space of three hours,
and they fainted with the loss of blood. And it came to pass that when
the men of Coriantumr had received sufficient strength, that they could
walk, they were about to flee for their lives, but behold, Shiz arose,
and also his men, and he swore in his wrath that he would slay
Coriantumr, or he would perish by the sword: wherefore he did pursue
them, and on the morrow he did overtake them; and they fought again
with the sword. And it came to pass that when they had all fallen by
the sword, save it were Coriantumr and Shiz, behold Shiz had fainted
with loss of blood. And it came to pass that when Coriantumr had leaned
upon his sword, that he rested a little, he smote off the head of Shiz.
And it came to pass that after he had smote off the head of Shiz, that
Shiz raised upon his hands and fell; and after that he had struggled
for breath, he died. And it came to pass that Coriantumr fell to the
earth, and became as if he had no life. And the Lord spake unto Ether,
and said unto him, go forth. And he went forth, and beheld that the
words of the Lord had all been fulfilled; and he finished his record;
and the hundredth part I have not written.

It seems a pity he did not finish, for after all his dreary former
chapters of commonplace, he stopped just as he was in danger of
becoming interesting.

The Mormon Bible is rather stupid and tiresome to read, but there is
nothing vicious in its teachings. Its code of morals is
unobjectionable—it is “smouched” from the New Testament and no credit

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