Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, 2003, Excerpts
The Book of Mormon has been much derided by non-Mormons since before it was even published. Critics point out that the gold plates, which would presumably prove the book’s authenticity, were conveniently returned to Moroni after Joseph completed his translation, and they haven’t been seen since.
In early nineteenth-century America, vestiges of a previous civilization – ruins such as the many Indian burial mounds near Joseph’s home – were everywhere. The Book of Mormon explained the origins of these ancient tumuli in a way that dovetailed neatly with both Christian scripture and a theory then in wide circulation, which posited that the American Indians were descended from the lost tribes of Israel. Joseph’s book worked both as theology and as a literal history of the New World.
The Book of Mormon appealed because it was so thoroughly American. Most of its narrative was set on the American continent. In one of the book’s most important moments, Jesus Christ pays a special visit to the New World immediately after His resurrection to tell His chosen people – residents of what would become America – the good news.