Book of Mormon: Day 264: Be a Historian

Today’s Reading: 3 Nephi 5

(Verse 11-18) And behold, I do make the record on plates which I have made with mine own hands. And behold, I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon, the land in which Alma did establish the church among the people, yea, the first church which was established among them after their transgression. Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life. And it hath become expedient that I, according to the will of God, that the prayers of those who have gone hence, who were the holy ones, should be fulfilled according to their faith, should make a record of these things which have been done—Yea, a small record of that which hath taken place from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem, even down until the present time. Therefore I do make my record from the accounts which have been given by those who were before me, until the commencement of my day; And then I do make a record of the things which I have seen with mine own eyes. And I know the record which I make to be a just and a true record; nevertheless there are many things which, according to our language, we are not able to write.

Did you know that one of the first commandments of God in this dispensation was “let there be a record kept among you” (D&C 21:1) and one of the first callings was church historian filled by Oliver Cowdrey? Have you ever thought of the scriptures not just in a spiritual sense, but in a historic sense?

I have a BA in history–I’ve always wanted to go into history. I love history–it’s all stories to me. But, after being trained in the ways of a historian (how to research, how to think, how to read, how to write like a historian), I can’t help but historically analyze just about anything and everything. And that includes the scriptures.

Mormon was quite the historian. He took both the large and small plates of Nephi, plus numerous other accounts, and synthesized them into what we now know as the Book of Mormon. I remember growing up seeing the picture of Mormon writing on the golden plates with scrolls all around him. What a bore, what a chore. I always thought. Then, my senior year of college, I had to write a 30 page history paper of my own chosen topic for my senior capstone. I spent most of the semester in the library, going through packet after packet of index cards. I loved it! Since I chose my own topic and chose my own thesis, I was enjoying the research–it was something that interested me.

However, I only ended up using about 1/3 of the notes I took. I had scoured book after book, primary source after primary source, article after article. But, I didn’t use all that I had. It either wouldn’t fit, or was a bit off topic and didn’t really have anything to do with my topic. But, that made my paper all the stronger.

This is just like Mormon–numerous times throughout the Book of Mormon, he mentions that he couldn’t write more: either there was just too much to include or God had told him not to include it. Mormon had a thesis just like any historical essay or book: “I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.” Hence, the subtitle of the Book of Mormon is “Another testament of Christ.” All that he has included teaches us, shows us, reminds us, proofs to us that Christ is our Savior and it is only through Him that there is eternal life.

However, record keeping wasn’t and isn’t just the duty of the prophets and writers of the scriptures, nor is it just the duty of the Church Historian. It is all of our duties. How many times have you heard General Authorities proclaim the importance of keeping records, family histories, writing in journals? It is all for the same reason that Mormon went through all the records his people kept. To teach us. To connect us to our past. To lead us into our future.

Become a historian. See as a historian. Write like a historian. The scriptures will make much more sense then.

Elder Marlin K. Jensen said,

I suggest that the history of the Church of Jesus Christ and its people deserves our remembrance. The scriptures give the Church’s history high priority. In fact, much of scripture is Church history. On the very day the Church was organized, God commanded Joseph Smith, “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you.”3 Joseph acted on this command by appointing Oliver Cowdery, the second elder in the Church and his chief assistant, as the first Church historian. We keep records to help us remember, and a record of the Church’s rise and progress has been kept from Oliver Cowdery’s time to the present day. This extraordinary historical record reminds us that God has again opened the heavens and revealed truths that call our generation to action…

No one has greater appreciation for the value of the Church’s history than President Gordon B. Hinckley. We love his delightful sense of humor, but his sense of history is equally keen. Inspiring stories and anecdotes from our past punctuate his writings and sermons. As our living prophet, he consciously emphasizes the past and the future to help us live more righteously in the present. Because of his teachings, we understand that remembering enables us to see God’s hand in our past, just as prophecy and faith assure us of God’s hand in our future. President Hinckley reminds us how members of the early Church faced their challenges so we, through the grace of God, can more faithfully face our own. By keeping our past alive, he connects us to the people, places, and events that make up our spiritual heritage and, in so doing, motivates us to greater service, faith, and kindness…His sterling character and prophetic wisdom provide persuasive proof for the benefits of remembering the Church’s history as well as our own. (“Remember and Perish Not”, April 2007 General Conference)

I have been keeping a journal since I was 10. I’m not perfect at it. Sometimes, I’ll only enter in a sentence or two. Sometimes, I’ll go months without writing in it. But, I try to remember. I write about what has happened in my life, updates with family, how I felt about things, world events, and spiritual experiences. I know that I can look back on my journals, as can my posterity, and learn something from it.

I give you two challenges this week:

  1. Write in your journal.
  2. As you read the scriptures, ponder them from a historian’s point of view–why would this particular part be included? What can we learn historically and spiritually about it?

If you do these two things, I promise you that your eyes will be open and you will be able to make more connections that ever in your life!

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I am an English and history teacher turned stay-at-home mom to Rhys, the rambunctious toddler. I was blessed to marry my college best friend. I am obsessed with all things medieval, Welsh, historical, and fantasy. I love to read, write, cook, run, and learn. I have recently come to love and appreciate living in the center of Utah and close to both sides of our family.

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