In the wake of the Aurora shootings, when Mitt Romney told the country that “we mourn with those who mourn,” most people listening agreed with the somber sentiment. But few outside of the candidate’s Mormon faith recognised that Romney was quoting the Book of Mormon, the sacred text of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Although curiosity about the Mormon Church has reached a fever pitch with Romney’s ascension as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, most people remain relatively clueless about the American-born religion.
To find out more about Mormons and their beliefs, Business Insider traveled to upstate New York earlier this month for the Hill Cumorah Pageant, the flagship pageant of the LDS Church, which takes place on the hill where Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, is believed to have found the Golden Plates that he later translated into the Book of Mormon.
Despite the almost entirely Mormon cast and audience, the Hill Cumorah show, America’s Witness for Christ, is actually written for non-Mormons. It amounts to a Book of Mormon 101 course, depicting pivotal scenes from the church’s seminal sacred text, which Mormons believe to be a “record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas” and consider to be a “volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible,” according to the Book of Mormon introduction.
We’ve broken down the story here in photographs. While it should not be taken as a comprehensive account of the Book of Mormon, it’s an easy-to-digest intro for those who aren’t quite ready to take on the whole tome yet.
The Book of Mormon gives the account of the people of Lehi, a prophet who lived in Jerusalem in 600 B.C. According to the Book of Mormon, the people of Lehi are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.
One day while praying, Lehi saw a pillar of fire and had a vision of God, Christ, and the 12 Apostles. God warned Lehi that Jerusalem's destruction is imminent.
So Lehi and his family — including his four sons, Laman, Lamuel, Sam, and Nephi — leave Jerusalem in exile in the wilderness.
The brass plates show that Lehi is a descendant of Jacob and Joseph, prophets from the Old Testament.
Don't worry too much about Ishmael -- he dies soon.
On the way back, Laman and Lamuel try to kill Nephi again but Ishmael's daughters convince them against it.
In one of the most important moments in the Book of Mormon, Lehi receives a vision of a tree with white fruit. He also sees a 'strait and narrow path' with a rod of iron running along it, as well as a 'mist of darkness' and a 'great and spacious building.'
In the vision, Lehi, his wife, and his sons Nephi and Sam eat the fruit, but Laman and Lamuel refuse.
Translation: Nephi and Sam are saved, but Laman and Lamuel refuse salvation.
According to the interpretation, the Vision of the Tree of Life symbolizes the plight of mankind: The tree and the fruit are salvation, the path is the path to salvation, the rod of iron is the 'word of God,' mist is the Devil and temptations, and the building is the pride of humanity.
Nephi is also shown past and future events, including:
- The life of Jesus and the 12 Apostles
- The discovery of America by a 'man' who 'went forth upon the many waters' and found the people of Nephi (a.k.a. American Indians)
- The American Revolution
- The writing of the Bible
- The formation and destruction of a 'great and abominable church'
- Christ's return to Earth
Nephi's vision also tells him that his descendants will know the gospel, but will ultimately succumb to wickedness and be wiped out. The descendants of his brother Laman won't know the gospel but they will survive, and ultimately learn the gospel through the Book of Mormon.
Nephi writes down this vision, and the history of his ensuing travels, on brass plates.
*An earlier version of this slide stated that Nephi's vision included 'the formation and destruction of the Catholic Church.' This is incorrect. The Book of Mormon does not specify the denomination of the church in Nephi's vision. We regret the error.
Laman and Lamuel mock Nephi for wanting to build a ship — but he reminds them that God has commanded it.
But Laman and Lamuel act up again during the voyage, and tie Nephi to the mast of the ship. The Lord steps in and causes a storm until they repent.
The family splits up into two branches -- the Nephites and their enemies, the Lamanites.
Over several hundred years, the Nephites grow wicked. Their kingdom in America is ruled by the evil King Noah.
Around 150 B.C., another prophet, Abinadi, appears in King Noah's court and tells the Nephites to repent.
Meanwhile, Abinadi's prophesies come true: The wicked Nephites are captured by the Lamanites, and King Noah is burned to death.
A few years before Christ is born, another Mormon prophet, Samuel the Lamanite, visits the Nephites to warn them that they must repent before the coming of Christ. But they wont let him into the city, so Samuel is forced to give his message from the top of the city walls.
Samuel prophesies that destruction will come upon anyone who doesn't repent and accept Jesus Christ as their saviour .
Samuel's appearance signifies the shift of righteousness, from the Nephites to the Lamanites.
Samuel prophesies that there would be no darkness on the night Christ was born — five years later, his prophesy comes true, on the day that the believers are set to be put to death by the unbelievers.
*Correction: An earlier version of this slide incorrectly stated that Samuel prophesied that there would be no light on the night Christ was born. Obviously, that would be redundant. We apologise for the error.
Then, on the day Christ is crucified in Jerusalem, there is death and destruction in Ancient America.
He gives the Ancient Americans a breakdown of what he taught in Jerusalem, and delivers a version of his Sermon on the Mount.
He also organizes his Church in America, appointing a second set of Twelve Apostles to carry out his message on this continent.
But 200 years later, the Nephites and Lamanites divide once again, and most of them reject Christ's gospel.
In 1823, Moroni returns as an angel and appears before the young Joseph Smith. He tells Joseph Smith about the golden plates.
Smith translates the plates into what is now called the Book of Mormon. In 1830, he fulfils the prophesies in the book and establishes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which Mormons believe is the restoration of Christ's original church on Earth.
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