Mormon's work was a 'daunting feat,' scholar says

By Michael McKinlay

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Sept. 10 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

PROVO — When the prophet Mormon was compiling the records of his people, what sources did he use? What challenges did he face?

Scholar John L. Sorenson addressed these questions Sept. 8 at the Laura F. Willes Center Book of Mormon Lecture Series at BYU.

"Mormon had a powerful moral message and service to his people and God," Sorenson told a packed auditorium at the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center. "His labor has been to our gain."

In his 45-minute lecture, Sorenson discussed his research into what sources Mormon used to abridge the records of previous generations in the Americas. He argued that first and foremost, Mormon used the large plates of Nephi as his primary source because he didn't know all of the Nephites' history. In addition to the plates, Mormon used supplementary documents for more detailed accounts, such as the text of King Benjamin's discourse.

"Mormon sources had mysterious detail accounts," Sorenson said. "These details were very unlikely in the Large Plates of Nephi."

Mormon faced many challenges in his work, Sorenson said, including a limited record; producing and writing on metal sheets; the different writing styles and systems each author had; and time constraints.

"Mormon did not manufacture sources," Sorenson said. "He used sources that were available to him. It was a daunting feat considering he was also leading his troops to battle."

Sorenson also addressed how Mormon chose what to include in the abridgment.

"The prophet's aim was for his readers to grasp the prophecy and promises of those prophets before Mormon," Sorenson said. "Its base is what Lehi proclaimed in 1 Nephi 2:20: 'And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise.'"

In short, Mormon included what he knew was necessary for the future generations of his people.

Sorenson is a former anthropology professor at BYU and also an expert in Book of Mormon cultures and geography. He has written more than 200 books and articles and is closely involved with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies was established in 2007 as part of the Maxwell Institute.

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