When I was young (early teens?), I recall that I stumbled on a paperback copy of the Book of Mormon that belonged to my mom. I tried reading it way back then, but got bogged down in all of the pseudo-King James language. A few years after that, my girlfriend's college roommate was a recent convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She (the girlfriend) got really jazzed about Mormonism for a little while; meanwhile, I did what I often do when I want to know more about a subject. I went to the library, specifically Sheean Library at Illinois Wesleyan University, where I was a senior. What I read about Mormonism at the time convinced me that I wasn't really interested in becoming one. But I did find much of the history quite fascinating. As it turned out, neither myself nor my girlfriend became Mormons.
But all these years later, my fascination with Mormons, Mormon history, and the Book of Mormon continues. Let me make it clear, I have too many profound theological differences with Latter-day Saints to ever consider converting to that faith. However, I have found that Mormon missionaries are delightful to talk to, despite how young they usually are (generally, around 18 or 19 years old). Other Mormons who I've met over the years confirm my impression of them as a kind, sincere group of people. In fact, they are so cheerful and all-American, it's actually difficult to believe that they once were seen as a very un-American outsider group. They were driven out of Illinois, Missouri, and other Midwest states by angry mobs. The founder of the movement was shot to death at a jail in Carthage, IL, where he had been a prisoner.
I often wonder how differently things would have developed for the Mormon movement if they hadn't been shunned by their neighbors? Would the LDS Church have ended up on the dustheap of history, simply one of many religious movements to rise and fall in America? Maybe. But that's not how things ended up working out. Joseph Smith, seen as a dangerous con-man by many of his contemporaries, managed to create a movement--indeed, an entire religion--that far outlived him. Even though Mormons generally believe Smith to have been an inspired prophet of God, and the Book of Mormon to be "another testament of Jesus Christ," I can't agree with that interpretation of the book. Rather, the Book of Mormon, which is so central to the faith of 15 million Mormons, always strikes me as a bizarre, if extremely creative, imitation of the King James Bible. There are hundreds of repetitions of biblical-sounding phrases like "and it came to pass" and "wo unto" (always with that idiosyncratic spelling of "woe"). Indeed, there are huge chunks of the book of Isaiah lifted almost wholesale from the King James Version of the Bible. So it sounds kind of biblical, in a "fan fiction" kind of way.
(adj.) wild and frenzied; from Greek κορυβαντες (Korybantes)