Joseph Smith claimed that God had appeared to him in a vision and told him to restore the True Church. Joseph was then to wait until he received further instruction.
That instruction came when he began receiving late-night visits, on the Autumnal Equinox of 1823, from a spirit calling himself "Moroni." Moroni claimed to have been a soldier of the white-skinned Nephites, former inhabitants of the North American continent.
The Nephites, Moroni supposedly said, were descendants of a Jew named Lehi, who left Jerusalem with his family to escape the destruction of Jerusalem about 600 BC Under the direction of God, this family constructed small covered boats and sailed to the New World, landing in South or Central America.
Some of the descendants of Lehi were evil and God cursed them with a dark skin. These became the progenitors of the American Indians.
The more righteous descendants of Lehi, Nephites, warred against the unrighteous descendants, Lamanites, and were driven eastward across North America to western New York where Moroni buried gold plates containing the records of his people.
Now Moroni said that God had directed him to return to the earth and deliver the plates to Joseph, who would be enabled to translate "by the gift and power of God," and to publish them as the Book of Mormon. (After publication, the plates were taken to heaven.)
Two affidavits were bound into the front of the Book of Mormon when it was published in 1830: The Testimony of the Eight Witnesses and the Testimony of the Three Witnesses. Both these documents swore to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
All Three Witnesses and all of the Eight Witnessesexcept the Smithsfell out with Joseph Smith and left the Church. One of the witnesses, Martin Harris, later rejoined the Church.
The Book of Mormon continues to be one of the most crucially distinctive facets of Mormonism. Every active Latter-day Saint will "bear his testimony" that he knows the Book of Mormon is true. Investigators of Mormonism are told to read the Book of Mormon and then take the Moroni 10:4 challenge:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.