One: We Get Our Bearings
The Old Testament was put together by the winners of history, especially by the reformers of the seventh and sixth century B.C., who edited it to make themselves the good guys. The Book of Mormon is an account of the religion of history’s losers, who called themselves the visionary men and whose religion was centered around visions in the temple.
If Biblical scholars realized what the Book of Mormon really was, they’d trample each other like Black Friday shoppers in a rush to the nearest bookstore to get their hands on a copy. Really, we ought to feel the same way, because it’s only through the Book of Mormon that we can hope to understand the Bible.
Let me explain what I mean. The Bible is a collection of very old books that together more or less tell the story of ancient Israel. I say more or less for two reasons. First, many of these books aren’t strictly history books, or don’t contain history in any ordinary sense, but instead are poems, or collections of wise sayings, or visions, or are liturgical texts—in other words, books that report, teach or were used in worship ceremonies. These books contain historical information, but only incidentally.
A word about ceremonies. I will try to use the word ‘ordinance’ in this book, because I think the people who read it are mostly going to be Mormons and that’s the Mormon term for what I mean, but I might also talk about ‘rites,’ ‘ceremonies,’ ‘rituals’ or ‘liturgy.’ I use all those words to mean the same thing: formal religious ritual, like baptism, confirmation by the laying on of hands or blessing and passing the Sacrament.
The Bible is also only more or less the history of ancient Israel because it has been damaged. Translation is one way it has suffered—with the best of intentions, there were things about the Bible, Old and New Testament, which the translators simply didn’t understand, either causing the translators to miss those points completely or forcing them to take their best guesses in respect of what they didn’t know, guesses which are often flat wrong. If you can read the Bible in the ancient languages, you’re always that much better off, but it doesn’t get you out of the woods.