Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, 2003, Excerpts
The narrative inscribed on the golden plates, translated by Joseph Smith as The Book of Mormon, is the history of an ancient Hebrew tribe, headed by a virtuous man named Lehi. In raising his large brood, Lehi drummed into the heads of his offspring that the most important thing in life is to earn God’s love, and the one and only way to do that, he explained, is to obey the Lord’s every commandment.
Lehi and his followers abandoned Jerusalem six hundred years before the birth of Christ, just ahead of the last Babylonian conquest, and journeyed to North America by boat. In the New World, alas, long-simmering family jealousies flared. Lehi had always favored his youngest and most exemplary son, Nephi, so it shouldn’t have surprised anybody when the old man bequeathed leadership of the tribe to him. But this infuriated Nephi’s miscreant brother Laman, causing the tribe to split into two rival clans after Lehi’s passing: the righteous, fair-skinned Nephites, led by Nephi, and their bitter adversaries, the Lamanites, as the followers of Laman were known. The Lamanites were “an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, whose behavior was so annoying to God that He cursed the whole lot of them with dark skin to punish them for their impiety.
Shortly after the resurrection of Christ, according to The Book of Mormon, Jesus visited North America to share His new gospel with the Nephites and Lamanites and to persuade the two clans to quit squabbling.
Tensions continued to build, eventually sparking a full-blown was that culminated, around A.D. 400, with a brutal campaign in which the reprobate Lamanites slaughtered all 230,000 of the Nephites [which explains why Columbus encountered no Caucasians when he landed in the New World in 1492]. The victorious Lamanites survived to become the ancestors of the modern American Indians, although eventually these “red sons of Israel” lost all memory of both the Nephites and their Judaic heritage.
The leader of the Nephites during their final, doomed battles had been a heroic figure of uncommon wisdom named Mormon; the last Nephite to survive genocidal wrath of the Lamanites was Mormon’s son Moroni, whose account of the Nephites’ demise makes up the final chapters of The Book of Mormon. This same Moroni would return as an angel fourteen centuries later to deliver the golden plates to Joseph Smith, so that the blood-soaked history of his people could be shared with the world, and thereby effect the salvation of mankind.