Here is how the Prophet Joseph Smith explained the Book of Mormon: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (DHC 4:461; see also Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 194.)
Here is how the Lord addressed those who believed in the restoration (including us) in 1832: “And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received— Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—” (D&C 84:54-57.)
It makes no sense to ignore the Lord’s condemnation. It makes no sense to give primacy to what others have to say instead of remembering and studying the Book of Mormon.
It makes no sense to measure the truth of the gospel by another standard when the Book of Mormon was provided to us as the means to measure that truth.
The writers of the Book of Mormon departed from Jerusalem before the Jewish exile into Babylonian captivity. The first Book of Mormon writers avoided Babylon, and their descendants never knew a thing about it.
The Book of Mormon people migrating out of Jerusalem left the Holy Land at the end of the first temple period. They avoided the triumph of the Deuteronomists over the religion of the Jews. The Jewish Deuteronomists were innovators who repudiated and replaced the original religion with a new, apostate form of worship that dominated the second temple period. The Book of Mormon writers were spared from all that. They were gone before it happened.
Recall the “head of gold” in the king’s dream (as interpreted by Daniel) was the king of Babylon. (Daniel 2:32-38.) It is foretold that in the last days God’s work will provide a “stone” which will break down all the world’s false religious, economic, cultural and philosophical ideas. (Id., vs. 34-35.) As the restoration commenced with Joseph Smith, a book was translated “by the gift and power of God” which was written by authors who were never exposed to, or contaminated by the “head of gold,” or any other subsequent kingdoms of the world. The ONLY text we have that survives without corruption of false religious ideas from history is the Book of Mormon.
I have friends (and of course Hugh Nibley) who will think my statement, “The ONLY text” goes too far because there are earlier texts predating Babylon that were uninfluenced by it. Most notably Egypt. This is an opinion they are welcome to hold. I do not share it, however.
The Book of Abraham shows the path of Abraham crossing into Egypt. The language used on the brass plates (Mosiah 1:3, 5), and by the Nephites (Mormon 9:32), was Egyptian. They remind me that Egypt is significant somehow. But crossing paths and adopting language is not the same as certifying their religion and culture. There are plenty of reasons to question Egypt’s religious material.
Israel was taken out of Egypt. Even though there are Egyptian influences in the religion of Israel, it is certainly clear that Israel did NOT adopt Egyptian teachings wholesale, but included only carefully selected parts. They preserved some, abandoned others, and added still more. If Egypt represents an apostasy, then Israel represents a restoration.
There is no account of angels visiting the Egyptians or an ascent into heaven. The exception is Imhotep, but his story seems remarkably parallel to Joseph’s. Both were commoners. Both were employed by the Pharaoh. Both attained to high status despite their common birth. The tomb of Imhotep is “lost” despite efforts to locate it, and Joseph’s bones were taken from Egypt with the departure of the Israelites (Exo. 13:19). There are others, of course. But apart from questions about dating, their accounts are quite similar. If Imhotep and Joseph are not the same individual, a single exception does not destroy the general rule.
The ceremonies of Egypt spoke of “gods” but the gods did not visit them. After leaving Egypt, God sent to Israel a host of prophets who were ministered to by God and angels, including Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Malachi, and even His Son, Jesus Christ. These prophets came to Israel, not Egypt, to visit, teach, prophesy, minister and live.
Egypt fought against Israel and hoped to keep them in captivity. But the God of Israel fought for and delivered Israel from Egyptian enslavement. If there must be a choice between religions, then the choice ought to be settled by God’s deliverance of Israel by His own hand, and Egypt’s unsuccessful fight against the God of Heaven to prevent it.
Although Solomon’s temple was architecturally inferior to and much less elaborate than the temples of Egypt, God visited and accepted Solomon’s temple. (1 Kings 8:10-13.) There is no account before or after that time of God visiting and accepting the temples of Egypt.
The religion of Israel worked. The religion of Egypt did not. Heaven ministered to, visited with, sent angels to teach, and His Only Begotten Son to dwell with Israel. The Egyptians kept elaborate ceremonial complexity which awed their people, and preserved a false tradition generation after generation despite its powerlessness. It was impressive to men. It was ineffective to save.
Perhaps most importantly, after adhering to the original religion in the Americas, being instructed, warned and led by prophets who spoke with God, the Lord Himself, as a risen being, descended to visit with the people of the Book of Mormon. The religion of Israel also had the power to connect anew with heaven. Even after 600 years of difficulties and disputes, they still retained a religion with the vitality necessary for Christ to come to visit.
I studied the Book of Mormon for over two decades before being fully persuaded of its power. My sense of wonder increased over time. It was ONLY because I came to regard with tremendous respect the Book of Mormon that the Lord condescended to visit with me. The religion of the Book of Mormon saves. Through it, the only “stone” upon which it is safe to build will roll forth in the last days. That “stone” is Christ. (1 Peter 2:6.)