Perhaps the first question the title page throws up is who wrote it? Concerning the title page, Joseph Smith said:
The title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated, the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general [i.e., from right to left]; and that said title page is not by any means a modern composition, either of mine, or of any other man who has lived or does live in this generation1
As the title page says that the book was sealed by the hand of Moroni, it suggests that the author was Moroni himself.
I think it’s worth taking time to consider authorship wherever we are reading in the Book of Mormon. It isn’t written by an impersonal, omniscient narrator. Grant Hardy makes the point that “the starting point for all serious readers of the Book of Mormon has to be the recognition that it is first and foremost a narrative, offered to us by specific, named narrators. Every detail and incident in the book has to be weighed against their intentions and rhetorical strategies.”2 So it is worth considering Moroni’s intention in writing the title page.
There are three main narrators in the Book of Mormon – Nephi, Mormon and Moroni. They are all name-checked in the title page, i.e. written by the hand of Mormon; upon the plates of Nephi; sealed by the hand of Moroni. Moroni also obliquely refers to Joseph Smith, i.e. to come forth by way of the Gentile.
The text is framed by repetition of the target audience: 1. Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile… 2. Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel… and also… the Jew and Gentile… i.e. the audience is a remnant of Israel, and also the Jew and Gentile.
It would also seem that the purposes of the book are different for these different audiences. For the remnant of Israel, it would seem the primary purpose is to remind them of what the Lord has done for their fathers and to teach them of the Lord’s covenants. For Jew and Gentile, it is to convince them that Jesus is the Christ. Fathers, covenants and Christ – we’ll keep these overarching purposes in mind as we study the book.
Some questions to consider:
In the first paragraph there is a motif that is repeated twice: sealed – hid up unto the Lord – to come forth – gift of God – interpretation. Why do you think this motif is repeated? What do you think the phrase “unto the interpretation thereof” means? We typically talk about translation. Does Moroni’s use of the word interpretation in the title page affect how we understand what Joseph meant by the word translation?
There are no details provided about Nephite and Lamanite origins. In contrast, the origin story of the people of Jared is outlined, i.e. scattered at the time the Lord confounded their language when the people were building the tower of Babel. Why do you think these Jaredite details are provided?
Grant Hardy says Terryl Givens identifies the following themes in the Book of Mormon: “1) personal revelation, 2) a focus on Jesus Christ, 3) wilderness and varieties of Zion, 4) new configurations of scripture, and 5) the centrality of family.”3 Do you think this is an accurate description of the themes of the book? Is there anything you would add to or take away from this list?
- B. H. Roberts. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1:71
- Grant Hardy. Understanding the Book of Mormon, xv