Several years ago, while I was reading a commentary on 2 Kings, I felt a kind of empathy as I watched the author struggle to make sense out of some passages he could not understand. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had just one pristine document that dated back to the First Temple Period, and that we could trust it to teach us about the ancient Israelite religion?” I leaned back in my chair and responded to my own wish: “Yes, we do! First and Second Nephi, and even the entire Book of Mormon.” Not only does the book’s origin date to the time of Solomon’s Temple, but 1 Nephi is one of the most beautiful epic poems in the English language.
As years passed, I devoted my studies more and more to the Book of Mormon and to the life and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith who translated it.
Except for my father, the Prophet Joseph was the first man I ever loved. As a boy, even before I knew Joseph Smith’s history, I thrilled when I heard his name. As a teenager, I read everything I could find about him. As an adult, I have published two books about him. One, Joseph and Moroni, is a carefully documented look at the friendship that developed between those two remarkable persons. It tells how the angel taught the boy to be a prophet.
The other book, The Murder of the Mormon Prophet, is a history of the political events that swirled around the Prophet Joseph during the last years of his life. Although I never much enjoyed writing this book, I felt that out of my love for the Prophet I had to correct inaccuracies some historians were writing about him. I had heard Hugh Nibley say that when one writes, even though some might challenge one’s conclusions, the writing must be so well documented that none can challenge its scholarship. It took me thirty years to research and write the book. As is Joseph and Moroni, The Murder of the Mormon Prophet is a declaration of my testimony of the divinity of the Prophet’s call.
The more I studied the Book of Mormon, the more I realized that it is an ancient Israelite temple text. That is, every sermon in the book is founded upon the Nephite temple experience and on the Psalms that were much of the ceremonial foundation of Nephite theology. The focal point of their most important annual ceremony was Psalm 2, where the king testifies, “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee.” That Psalm was sung as part of the ancient coronation ceremony, when the earthly king was adopted as son and heir of Jehovah and was anointed priest and king. In conjunction with the king’s anointing, every man in the congregation was symbolically adopted as a child of God and anointed as a sacral king and priest. As such, each was symbolically invited to come into the Holy of Holies where God was. The message of that Psalm runs like a golden thread through the entire Book of Mormon. King Benjamin’s sermon focuses on how to become a child of God. Abinadi’s teachings to Alma are also about what one must do to become a child of God. The high point of the Savior’s beatitudes is, “And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called [named] the children of God.” The conclusion of Moroni 7 is: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.”
The context and power of that message is the subject of my third book, coauthored with my dear friend Stephen D. Ricks. It is called, Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord? The Psalms in Israel’s Temple Worship in the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon. That book is our testimony that the Book of Mormon does in fact contain the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is my sure testimony that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets and is therefore the word of God, that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other book.” (Getting nearer to God is also how one describes the purpose of the ancient temple.) Most important of all, I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God. I have tasted of his love and know it to be the most precious of all things.
Posted February 2010 on FairMormon.org
LeGrand L. Baker was born on his grandfather’s ranch in Boulder, Utah, then grew up on a small farm in Utah Valley. After graduating from Brigham Young University he received a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in American History—concentrating on the period of the American Revolution and the writing of the Constitution. He recently retired from BYU, where he had been Curator of the Wells Freedom Archives and adjunct professor of history. At BYU he taught American Constitutional History for many years. While a graduate student at UW, he taught Church History and Doctrine in the LDS Institute, and he has taught in Education Weeks. At BYU he taught many religion classes, and especially enjoyed teaching about the Book of Mormon. He has taught Gospel Doctrine class in Sunday School for a cumulative total of well over thirty years, in every ward and branch he has lived in since he returned from an LDS mission in England.
His articles have appeared in The Improvement Era and the Ensign, and he is the author of Murder of the Mormon Prophet: Political Prelude to the Death of Joseph Smith (2006) and Joseph and Moroni: The 7 Principles Moroni Taught Joseph Smith (2007), and the coauthor, with Stephen D. Ricks, of Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord? The Psalms in Israel’s Temple Worship in the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon (2010).
LeGrand and his wife Marilyn have four children and fourteen grandchildren.