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When one is introduced to the Book of Mormon, he is oftentimes asked to pray to find out whether or not the Book of Mormon is true.

According to LDS theology, why is a person simply asked to pray about it, rather than looking at historical, archaeological, prophetical, and other fields of evidence that attest to the authenticity and divine authorship of the Bible? Also, how exactly is one expected to know whether or not God has confirmed that the Book of Mormon is true? How is God expected to answer the person's prayer?

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There is only one Gospel. Apparently the book of mormon presents a new gospel according to some mormon people I know. –  Matt Oct 22 '13 at 23:02

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To understand the answer, it's important to understand the actual invitation. It can be found in the last chapter of the Book of Mormon:

Moroni 10: 4-5

4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask 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.

5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

With this in mind, the answer is that historical evidence can always be disputed. There's an impressive corpus of "historical, archaeological, prophetical and other evidence and archaeological evidence" that testifies to the truth of the Book of Mormon, but like the evidence in favor of the Bible, it's all subject to interpretation. It's all made up of things that happened to other people who are dead now. They can't tell their own story, and we never truly know if we have all the evidence or not. New things are always turning up, and people come up with new theories and interpretations, sometimes based on reading the evidence, and sometimes based on reading something into the evidence that they want to be there.

But the witness of the Holy Ghost is testimony from God's spirit directly to yours. It's a very personal affair, and it didn't happen to someone else. It happened to you, and you know what you received from the Lord, and no alternate interpretation from some other person who hasn't experienced it can change the reality of that witness. Simply put, it's the only truly trustworthy evidence there is, because it comes directly from the only perfectly trustworthy source there is.

As to how one is supposed to recognize the answer, this will probably sound like a cop-out, but the best answer is "you'll know it when it happens." The problem is that any description requires a common frame of reference, and the witness of the Holy Ghost is a unique experience that isn't like anything that would be familiar to anyone who doesn't already have experience with it. It's often described as a strong feeling of peace, and a sensation of warmth, a "burning in your bosom" to use the scriptural language, but it's not the same as physical heat. But once one has experienced it, they truly know that they have received a testimony from the Lord.

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According to LDS history, Joseph Smith was meditating on James 1:5 when he had his first encounter with Jesus. That verse says:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

That guiding principle has underscored much of Mormon theology since - God gives wisdom to those who ask for it. As Mormons believe their scriptures to be wisdom from God, then asking God for the wisdom to see that is a natural extension.

This Christianity blog post by a certain Affable Geek may help with more insight on that meditation.

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Note: I asked this very question when I visited Jospeh Smith's boyhood home in Palmayra, NY. I'm not a Mormon, but I know what they say! –  Affable Geek Dec 7 '12 at 14:56
    
Why the Downvote? –  Affable Geek Dec 7 '12 at 18:05

Mormons don't "simply ask" people to pray about it, but to read the book, to make knowing whether it is true or not the focus of their desires, and then to pray and ask God, and "ponder it in their hearts", and if he has "a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ" (Moroni 10:3-5), he will know whether or not it is true.

Simply, because historical and archaeological sources are the wisdom of man, but the revelations of God can penetrate the heart. Testimonies of the Book of Mormon come just as Paul, in Galatians 1:11-12, received a testimony of the gospel and learned its truths:

11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.

12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

It is by the Spirit of God that one gains a true testimony. This can happen in any number of ways, according to God's will and the person's humility. Mormons don't really limit how God will answer another person's prayers. But almost universally, a feeling of peace will enter into their heart and mind.

As an aside, I think I understand why you included "prophetical" in your list along with "historical" and "archaeological" fields, in that you probably know that Mormons tend to discourage looking at Bible references for proof that the Book of Mormon is true. I think that is the difference. When one looks for "proof," their heart is not in the right place. When one seeks a divine witness, however, they are more ready for the sacred revelations of God.

Of course, this is not to say that scriptures should not be used as a reference. That would be foolish. Use the scriptures, study them, and use them to reinforce your own understanding, and enlighten your mind, and avoid deception.

Here's an official page describing how to know the Book of Mormon is true (scroll down).

Again, the best thing one can do to know whether it's true or not is to read the book with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ. It is not merely a matter of praying about it.

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I did not know that Mormons discourage looking at the Bible references for proof that the Book of Mormon is true. –  Narnian Dec 7 '12 at 15:16
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Again, why are the Bereans commended (Acts 17:11), and why did Jesus give many convincing proofs (Acts 1:3), and why are we commanded to test the spirits? Should we not be careful that we are not led astray, as the Bible warns that this will happen? –  Narnian Dec 7 '12 at 15:31
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Why did you put "know" in quotes in your question? Do you believe it is not actually possible? Why then are you asking it? I would argue that this question is at least as subjective of any of the answers you will get for it. –  Matt Dec 7 '12 at 15:39
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@Narnian Mormons do engage in apologetic work demonstrating the feasibility of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, But this is not attempting to prove anything. Just as Peter learned of Christ's divinity from the Father and not from Man (Matthew 16:16-17), So Mormons believe that knowledge of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon can only be given by the Father. Most in Christianity have similar beliefs regarding the authenticity of the Bible as a work of God and not merely of Man, since there are compelling reasons to believe the latter given by secular historians. –  Dougvj Dec 7 '12 at 15:57
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@Dougvj You should expand that comment into an answer. It would be the best one. –  JustinY Dec 9 '12 at 4:59

LDS teaching regarding seeking a divine confirmation of something frequently references the following passages:

Moroni 10:3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

This implies an examination of Biblical teaching with an attitude of worship rather than skepticism, and is before the cited injunction to pray.

Doctrine and Covenants 8:2 8:2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-8 7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. 8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

All these imply some degree of intellectual effort, not excluding examination of the historical, archaeological, and prophetical evidence available, but answers to prayer are matters of faith, not intellectual conviction alone.

It is not possible to specify exactly how a person will recognize a divine confirmation, because it may be unique to the individual.

Doctrine and Covenants 46:11-14 11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. 12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby. 13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. 14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

Believers report a wide variety of experiences.

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