The accounts behind how we got our scriptures rival anything Hollywood could invent. A remarkable history, one full of emotion and sacrifice, lies behind the printed words we now enjoy.
People dedicated - and sometimes risked - their lives so the scriptures would not only survive but also would be available to everyone. Many stories of heroism and dedication lie behind the Standard Works.- In 67 A.D., Jews living in Palestine revolted and faced the wrath of the Roman empire. In this crisis a teacher, Johanan ben Zakkai, had himself smuggled out of besieged Jerusalem - by some accounts in a coffin - and made contact with the Roman leaders. He gained permission to establish a school in nearby Jamnia with a group of refugee rabbis. When Jerusalem fell and was burned in A.D. 70, its temple was destroyed and the temple scriptures taken as loot.
The small school in Jamnia became a religious center. The scriptures preserved there became the portable homeland of the Jews. In that same city, about A.D. 90, scholars established the canon of the Old Testament.
- In 1525, William Tyndale, an Englishman in exile, completed his translation of the New Testament from Greek into English. This was during the Reformation, and Tyndale had fled to Germany to finish his task. He did his work underground and often in danger of arrest from the local authorities. The completed translation was smuggled back to England in bales of cotton, sacks of flour and bundles of flax. It was hugely popular, but those who sold it were often fined and its readers imprisoned.
Tyndale himself was eventually imprisoned outside Brussels. Tried for heresy, he was condemned and executed, his body burned at the stake. Today, he is often called the father of the English Bible, and much of his work ended up in the later King James version so familiar to us.
- Somewhere between A.D. 400 and 421, Moroni, a Nephite general and prophet, wrote what would be the final book in the Book of Mormon. His father, Mormon, had been charged with compiling the history of his people from a trove of written documents but was now dead, killed in battle. Moroni completed the task. As he began his own book, Moroni wrote: "I had supposed not to have written more, but I have not as yet perished; and I make not myself known to the Lamanites lest they should destroy me. For behold, their wars are exceedingly fierce among themselves; and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ. And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ; wherefore, I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of my own life." (Moro. 1:1-3.)
Hiding from his enemies, wandering the countryside, Moroni made sure that the sacred scriptural records in his trust were hidden so well they would not be discovered. Then, 1,400 years later, he returned as a resurrected being to guide Joseph Smith to them, and to instruct on their care and interpretation.
Those scriptures, another testament of Jesus Christ, are today the keystone of the worldwide Church. They became the road to salvation for millions, but their translator, Joseph Smith, lost his life at the hands of a bigoted mob.
- On July 20, 1833, a mob broke into the printing offices of the Church in Independence, Mo., threw out a family living there, and tossed the press, paper and type out of a second floor window. They destroyed as much as they could of the new Book of Commandments, leaving only five 32-page signatures of the book, enough to print about 100 copies. This was the predecessor to today's Doctrine and Covenants, a revered collection of modern revelation.
Countless other stories surround the scriptures, each set of which has its own powerful history. Nameless monks painstakingly copied them by hand in monasteries throughout Europe. Ancient scribes treated them with reverence in the dusty lands of Israel. Members of the new Christian Church hid with them in the catacombs of Rome. Scholars learned to read ancient manuscripts in forgotten languages to translate them.
Clearly, the scriptures must have their own innate power to inspire such devotion. Because they came to us with great difficulty and sacrifice, we should appreciate them not only for their content, but also for their impact on our lives.
Christ was very direct about the scriptures. He told the Jews: "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." (John 5:39).
A saying commonly used by educators is relevant here: A man who will not read is no better than a man who cannot read. In the same spirit, the sacrifices and devotion of millions who brought us the scriptures are of no value to us if the books remain closed.