In 1981, as a non-member of the LDS faith, I embarked on my quest to read the Book of Mormon cover to cover. Even then I found it curious how often a paragraph began with "And it came to pass--". It got a bit repetitive. Gratefully, the words that came AFTER that phrase were sufficiently captivating that I didn't miss the forest for the trees.
Not so with Samuel L. Clemens. In his 1872 book "Roughing It", which recounts his exploits as a young writer visiting the American West, he received a copy of the Book of Mormon (I believe directly from Brigham Young), and made the following observation: "'And it came to pass' was [Joseph Smith's] pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet." The statement is, of course, facetious, but represents a common observation and a minor stumbling block for investigators. It's only a small part of the author's diatribe, which reads more like a comedy routine than a sincere analysis.
For me, Samuel Clemens, i.e., Mark Twain, missed the forest for the trees.
In 1984 renowned non-LDS hieroglyphics expert, David Stuart, interpreted the Maya glyph shown here as "and now it happened," or "then it came to pass". It was first translated from inscriptions at the site of Palenque. The glyph is found on many Mayan inscriptions. It's intent, apparently, was to start a new idea or indicate a break between two ideas. Its inclusion on Mayan inscriptions is so frequent that, well, it gets repetitive. The phrase is also prevalent in the Bible, although not used as frequently as in the Book of Mormon. In any case, separating ideas in this way is not commonplace across the spectrum of written languages. But it is a recognizable pattern in Hebrew and (coincidentally) ancient Mayan.
LDS archeologist Bruce Warren noted Stuart's translation and highlighted it for Latter-day Saint scholars and apologists. That translation has not been altered or changed in the intervening years. Dr. Joseph Allen, in particular, celebrated and publicized this glyph, even immortalizing it as a bronze collectible. He gave me one of these, which I cherish, more as a memento to my memories of touring with Dr. Allen than for its scholarly significance.
So while this phrase may have seemed, even to my young eye, "over-used", who'd've thunk it would one day serve as evidence of the volume's authenticity, correlating as it does with ancient Mesoamerican literary form? In any case, the phrase certainly wasn't on my mind in 1981, as I put Moroni 10:3-5 to the test, kneeling to ask if the Book of Mormon was true. Maybe if I hadn't received an answer, I'd have set out mindlessly lampooning the book like Twain, belittling Joseph Smith's skills as a commercial author.
However, I DID receive an answer.
Now that I'm a professional author, I stand in awe of the Book of Mormon. Any attempt I could make to replicate it would be futile and transparent. I think Joseph Smith or his contemporaries would have found composing such a document from scratch transparent and futile as well. The only conclusion we seem to be left with is that the book is precisely what it purports to be: an ancient record brought forth by the gift and power of God.
It's apparently easy to miss the proverbial forest for all of its trees, particularly if one's motive for reading this volume is anything besides wanting to know if God's hand was, indeed, at the helm.
Reduced to a "pamphlet"? Clever. Mark Twain was nothing if he wasn't a humorist--a stand-up comedian for his times. It would be tempting to declare now that the joke is on him. However, instead of criticizing Mr. Twain, whose talents were legion and whose life was replete with trial and tragedy, I feel only sorrowful. He came SO CLOSE to obtaining a lifelong resource that could have spared him much pain--not by AVOIDING life's trials, but by comprehending them. And finally, he might have had in his possession a constant reminder that our pain is but an instant, and that inconceivable glory is just around the corner.
Or rather, it will "come to pass".