Like the Bible, The Book of Mormon is an Jewish/Israelite Book. There is a common misconception among Mormons that if someone is a Jew they therefore must be of the tribe of Judah. This definition is only partially correct. After the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. By the time of Lehi the Northern Kingdom (Ephraim, the Ten Tribes, etc.) had been taken into captivity for approximately 200 years.
At the time of their destruction and captivity, many from the Northern Kingdom of Israel fled to the Southern Kingdom of Judah for protection. As a result, many Manasseh-ites, Ephraim-ites, and others settled in and around the southern Kingdom of Judah. Over a period of time, the term Jew did not only refer to those of the actual tribe of Judah, but all of those Israelites who settled and affiliated with the Southern Kingdom of Judah. So a Jew can be a descendant of Judah or they may also be any member of the House of Israel who settled in the Southern Kingdom. For example, the Apostle Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1) and Matthew was a Levite, but they were both considered Jews as they were from the Southern Kingdom. This statement can be demonstrated by Nephi’s comment:
“I have charity for the Jew—I say Jew, because I mean them from whence I came.” (2 Nephi 33:8)
So, the Book of Mormon is the story of a man named Lehi and his family who were part of the southern Kingdom of Judah. While he was of the tribe of Manasseh by lineage he would still be considered a Jew as he was a member of the Southern Kingdom. Lehi and his family being Jews (members of the Southern Kingdom) would have been fully versed in the Hebrew language, customs, and the scriptures of the Jews:
Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah, for I came out from Jerusalem, and mine eyes hath beheld the things of the Jews (southern kingdom), and I know that the Jews (southern kingdom) do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews (southern kingdom) like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews (southern kingdom). (2 Nephi 25:5)
The Book of Mormon as a Jewish/Israelite record is heavily dependent on the language, customs, and the scriptures of the Jews for correct interpretation. The heart of all Israelite scripture is the Torah, often called the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Without the Torah and the Heart of the Covenant, people approach the Book of Mormon with their Christian/Pagan Eyeglasses on rather than Messiah/Hebrew glasses. As a result the covenant message of the Book of Mormon becomes twisted into a pseudo born again Christian document with weird names and a nice message about Jesus. When viewed through an Israelite paradigm and covenant lenses, the message of the Book of Mormon is unveiled as a message to the descendants of the House of Israel, the promises made to them, and their role in bringing forth Zion and the Restoration of All Things.
The Plates of Laban – The TaNaK
The Torah contains God’s laws and instructions given to all Israel as a roadmap for a Zion (a marked or set apart) people. As a result of Israel disregarding the commandments of God (Yehovah), the people continually fell into a state of iniquity (lawlessness). The importance of the Torah cannot be overstated to an Israelite because it contains the Heart of the Covenant Relationship between God and his people Israel. Without this Heart, the life giving blood of the Spirit of God cannot flow to the body of his people.
When God commanded Lehi to send his sons to obtain the Plates of Laban he did so knowing that the plates of Laban contained the Torah (Five Books of Moses), the writings of the Prophets (Neviim), and other historical writings from the Jews (Ketuvim):
“And after they had given thanks unto the God of Israel, my father, Lehi, took the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, and he did search them from the beginning. And he beheld that they did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents; And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah; And also the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah.” (1 Nephi 5:10-13)
In Judaism the Plates of Laban would then fall under a Hebrew acronym called the TaNaK:
T = Torah – First Five Books of Moses
N = Neviim – The Prophets/Writings of the Prophets
K= Ketuvim- Historical Records such as Kings, Chronicles as well as writings like Psalms, Proverbs, etc.
The importance of these brass plates cannot be overemphasized. The Torah and the writings of the prophets contained on these plates allowed them to preserve their language, history, and laws. More importantly, it preserved the foundation upon which God established his covenant and the principles that enabled the Nephites to obtain the blessings of God’s covenant.
“And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise. Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law. And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass. And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records according to his commandments.”
On September 22, 1827 a trumpet was sounded in prophetic fulfillment of an ancient appointed time:
“Son of man, take a piece of wood and carve on it these words: ‘This represents Judah and its allied tribes.’ Then take another piece and carve these words on it: ‘This represents Ephraim and the northern tribes of Israel.’ Now hold them together in your hand as if they were one piece of wood.
When your people ask you what your actions mean, say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take Ephraim and the northern tribes and join them to Judah. I will make them one piece of wood in my hand.’
“Then hold out the pieces of wood you have inscribed, so the people can see them. And give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: I will gather the people of Israel from among the nations. I will bring them home to their own land from the places where they have been scattered. I will unify them into one nation on the mountains of Israel. One king will rule them all; no longer will they be divided into two nations or into two kingdoms.