You can learn all you need to know about the Mormons by watching the South Park episode "All about the Mormons" (which does exactly as it says on the tin, and quite hilariously so), but if you're terminally curious like me, and want to know more about their Good Book, then feel free to join me while I plough my way through. It looks like another rough ride, as Smith tries very hard to use the same kind of language and storylines the bible does (like I said: this is essentially a White Man's Bible), but I guess some people need challenges. As with the bible, I am simply curious as to why people would choose to believe that theirs is the only viable/true faith. (The answer is probably "social pressure"; if you just read any of these books, you'll hardly be converted on the spot, they are just too ridiculous and far-fetched. But add a LOT of social pressure, the fear of ostracism, banishment, afterlife torture or thislife corporeal punishment, and it might just work. Oh yeah, and of course you should get 'em while they're young: inculcation starts at conception.)
Thankfully, the BoM is a lot thinner than the bible, but it still looks like I've got another year of headaches ahead. (Perhaps I'm a bit of a masochist?) Problems already start on the front cover, where the words INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER are stamped in large and friendly letters. Ehm... if you've got a holy book, dictated or written by a god, should it really need that on the cover? Looks a bit desperate: "No really, we sell loads of these, they're fantastic!!!" In smaller type, the cover helpfully adds "The landmark bestselling text that influenced and inspired millions of readers worldwide" (I'm a bit disappointed at the absence of at least three maniacal exclamation marks at the end of this announcement, but maybe that was too much to ask for?); of course, you could say the same about the collected works of Shakespeare, the Harry Potter books and quite possibly 50 Shades Of Grey... hell, even The Celestine Prophecy probably "influenced and inspired" its fair share of people looking for any murky spot of light to slightly warm their drab existence. (Other editions have the equally bewildering "another testament of Jesus Christ" on the front cover, reminding me of the Bad Religion song "American Jesus".) Anyway, with a second "bestselling" on the cover to really ram home the point, this book all but screams at an audience of intellectual nincompoops: welcome to Trumpland. I am somehow convinced that this kind of book could never be written by a European author - at least, not with the same success. As stated before, for some things you just need the USA.
If you've stopped inbetween to look up that South Park episode, you'll know by now (or maybe you already knew) how Joseph Smith, tipped off by an angel named Moroni, "found" some golden plates, covered in strange writing of "reformed Egyptian", whatever that may mean. With the help of some "seer stones" he was able to translate the plates by sticking both plates and stones into a hat, which magically and obligingly changed the strange hieroglyphs into good old English, in a style remarkably reminiscent of the King James bible translation. As he sadly couldn't write, he enlisted the help of his neighbour Martin Harris, who wrote down all that Smith saw. Need I say that Moroni had forbidden Smith to show the plates and stones to other people? Their gaze might presumably corrupt the material. And after finishing the translation, they mysteriously ascended to the heavens, so no one has actually ever seen them? I don't know about you, but this kind of story sets off all kinds of alarm bells in my head. Mrs Harris, who wasn't as stupid as her husband, also smelled small rodents. She cooked up a clever ruse: hiding some pages and sending her hubby back to Smith for a new translation. If it was genuine, she reasoned, the text would be exactly the same on second translation, right? (A scientific mind; as usual, it was the women doing the actual thinking.) Smith relucantly loaned the pages to Harris; somehow, they disappeared. As it apparently wasn't possible to translate them again (the seer stones only had the power to translate once then?), these pages are now considered a "lost" book. Somehow, that convinced Harris (who probably wasn't the brightest light bulb anyway); he even pawned his house in order to procure the printing costs. His wife was far from happy about all that, I'm sure. Nevertheless, Smith continued with another scribe.
As there were probably more people like mrs. Harris, Smith thought it prudent to include the "testimonies" of eye witnesses to boost his credibility - three carefully chosen people who actually saw and handled the golden plates (the seer stones were still no go). There - if that doesn't convince you of the text's authenticity, what will? Well, obviously, in the time-honoured Hollywood tradition: more witnesses! So we've got additional testimony of a further eight totally reliable witnesses - and there's no need to be cynical, it is a complete coincidence that they are all direct kin of the first three! (Which prompted Mark Twain to quip "I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified" - Whitmer being one of the first three.) Nice little detail: Joseph Smith, plus 3 plus 8 witnesses, equals 12. More number games, to continue the biblical tradition. I guess Smith felt the need to offer a really solid claim to veracity, to trump (an interesting verb these days) the previous Good Books. (We just have to tacitly assume that the old testament was written by YHWH, although it is never explicitly stated; the new testament's authors are the apostles; and Mohammed has his infallible and utterly convincing proof with "a 100 wise men could not produce a single page of such beauty in a 100 years, so all I say is true".) And so our second journey begins...