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BYU Education Week: How the provenance of the Book of Mormon shows its authenticity

The Book of Mormon ‘is a work of art ... that God overshadowed to keep the record accounted for,’ said Steve Lundwall at BYU Education Week 2023

PROVO, Utah — The painting “Portrait of a Young Fiancée,” first believed to be created by a 19th-century German artist, was once valued at $20,000. But on closer examination of where the portrait came from, scholars discovered the piece was actually created by 16th-century inventor, philosopher and artist Leonardo da Vinci.

The painting was accordingly revalued at $160 million.

“Nothing changed about that painting,” said Steve Lundwall, a solo practitioner at Lundwall Law PLLC, who co-taught a lecture at Brigham Young University’s Education Week 2023. “What changed was people’s appreciation of its provenance. That’s it. And when people appreciated that, all of a sudden, they valued it. Now, let’s apply that principle to the Book of Mormon.”

He was joined by his wife, Rebecca Lundwall, an associate professor in developmental psychology at BYU. On Tuesday, Aug. 22, among the many classes of BYU Education Week, the duo taught about the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as seen through its provenance.

They explained how old records and documents get their legitimacy from “provenance” — or the tracking of ownership with historic material over time — and how the Book of Mormon’s provenance gives undeniable proof of its place in history.

A PowerPoint slide that says “Authenticity: The Book for an Age of Doubt.”
Steve and Rebecca Lundwall taught a class about the authenticity of the Book of Mormon at BYU Education Week 2023 on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, in Provo, Utah. | Joel Randall, Church News

The book’s chain of custody

“If you know the provenance story of a thing, book or art,” said Rebecca Lundwall, “and have evidence to back that provenance story up, that thing becomes monumentally more valuable.”

She said that provenance consists of two things: first, evidence to show the chain of custody of where something came from. Second, a detailed itinerary of it over time.

A historic document is considered authentic if proof of its origin can be shown, yet this can be difficult to find because records are lost and destroyed over time. Even the Bible’s provenance can be difficult to determine because it was compiled of many sources from various locations.

The Book of Mormon, however, has detailed documentation about who wrote each book, since the records were passed on to descendants. Mormon abridged the gold plates by referring to original sources kept through history. The passing on of these records continued until Moroni himself entrusted the Prophet Joseph Smith with the gold plates, “thereby keeping intact the provenance of that record,” said Steve Lundwall.

This is one reason the book of Omni includes many writers, even when some had not much to say. Rebecca Lundwall said, “I do think this was instruction for the custodians and scribes of the record to always document the passing on of the records, because God is trying to keep the provenance intact.”

Steve Lundwall said the Book of Mormon “is a work of art that took millennia to make, that God overshadowed to keep the record accounted for.”

Rebecca and Steve Lundwall teach a BYU Education Week class about the Book of Mormon’s provenance.
Rebecca Lundwall and her husband, Steve, teach how the Book of Mormon was passed down in a chain from generation to generation. They spoke in a class at BYU Education Week 2023 on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, in Provo, Utah. | Joel Randall, Church News

The hand of God in the book’s provenance 

“Provenance chains are so fragile,” Steve Lundwall continued. “Most of them busted up a long time ago. And this one would have busted up, except for the hand of God.”

For example, 24 gold plates now known as the book of Ether — which contained records of 32 generations — were lost after the civilization’s last people were destroyed. Yet God directed King Limhi’s people to find the plates by chance while they were searching for Zarahemla.

Precious history also would have been lost forever when Martin Harris lost 116 pages of the manuscript’s translation. However, knowing this, the Lord directed Nephi centuries earlier to repeat some information in the lost section, though he knew not why.

The book survived today because of Heavenly Father’s guidance and power. “Without the miracles of God,” said Rebecca Lundwall, “there would be no intact provenance of the Book of Mormon. ... God is taking a lot of trouble to keep this provenance record intact.”

A painting of Mormon sitting in bed and writing in the gold plates.
“Mormon Abridging the Plates,” by Tom Lovell. Steve and Rebecca Lundwall taught a class about the authenticity of the Book of Mormon at BYU Education Week 2023 on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, in Provo, Utah. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

‘He will manifest the truth of it unto you’

Steve Lundwall said that “God wanted a record that makes it very difficult to walk away from because it’s so persuasive and powerful.” And in addition to analyzing the Book of Mormon’s historical authenticity, an answer of its truth can be found through prayer.

Rebecca Lundwall read Moroni’s promise at the end of the Book of Mormon: “If ye shall ask [of the book’s truth] 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” (Moroni 10:4).

“It’s part of this Moroni promise,” said Steve Lundwall, “for us to put our mind in the right frame as we approach the Lord and ask for His guidance.”

Steve and Rebecca Lundwall teach a BYU Education Week class on how the Lord preserved the Book of Mormon.
Steve Lundwall and his wife, Rebecca, teach why the Lord preserved the Book of Mormon through history. The couple spoke in a class at BYU Education Week 2023 on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, in Provo, Utah. | Joel Randall, Church News
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