Hugh Nibley's Book of Mormon Challenge
from Hugh Nibley,
The Prophetic Book of Mormon
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,1989) pp. 220-21
It appears that it only took some 63 to 70 working days, April through July, 1829, to complete the entire translation of the Book of Mormon, a complex religious history covering 2,000 years and more than five hundred pages.
To demonstrate how astounding this is, Hugh Nibley once asked his Book of Mormon class at Brigham Young University,
"Since Joseph was younger than most of you and not nearly so experienced or well-educated as any of you at the time he copyrighted the Book of Mormon, it should not be too much to ask you to hand in by the end of the semester (which will give you more time than he had) a paper of, say, five to six hundred pages in length.
(edited by David Van Alstyne)
Call it a sacred book if you will, and give it the form of a history. Tell of a community of wandering Jews in ancient times; have all sorts of characters in your story, and involve them in all sorts of public and private vicissitudes; give them names - hundreds of them - pretending that they are real Hebrew and Egyptian names of circa 600 B.C.; be lavish with cultural and technical details - manners and customs, arts and industries, political and religious institutions, rites and traditions, include long and complicated military and economic histories; have your narrative cover a thousand years without any large gaps; keep a number of interrelated local histories going at once; feel free to introduce religious controversy and philosophical discussion, but always in a plausible setting; observe the appropriate literary conventions and explain the derivation and transmission of your varied historical materials.
Above all, do not ever contradict yourself! For now we come to the really hard part of this little assignment. You and I know that you are making this all up - we have our little joke - but just the same you are going to be required to have your paper published when you finish it, not as a fiction or romance, but as a true history!
After you have handed it in you may make no changes in it (in this class we always use the first edition of the Book of Mormon); what is more, you are to invite any and all scholars to read and criticize your work freely, explaining to them that it is a sacred book on a par with the Bible.
If they seem overly skeptical, you might tell them that you translated the book from original records by the aid of the Urim and Thummim - they will love that! Further to allay their misgivings, you might tell them that the original manuscript was on golden plates, and that you got the plates from an angel. Now go to work and good luck!"
for Latter-day Saints