Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith
Robert D. Anderson

Chapter 1
Prolegomenon to a Biography of the Child Joseph

One challenge in approaching Joseph Smith’s childhood and adolescence is the scarcity of primary sources for his early life. A little over six years before his murder in mid‑1844, Smith began “writing a history of this Church from the earliest period of its exist[e]nce up to this date”1 of April 1838. That manuscript, copied in 1839, is known as the Manuscript History of the Church, Book A‑1. This is Smith’s official version of his story. It was first printed in the church newspaper in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 18422 and, after his death, excerpted in the 1851 booklet The Pearl of Great Price, which contained other material as well. This history was canonized as scripture by the LDS church’s general conference of October 1880.

In it Smith documents his birth date (23 December 1805) and place (Sharon, Vermont), then goes directly to his family’s move from Vermont to Palmyra in upstate New York when “I was in my tenth year.” About four years later, the family moved two miles south into Manchester township “in the same county.” He lists eleven family members. Elsewhere he notes a childhood surgery and briefly describes the move to New York.3 In short, it is nearly impossible to form an image of Smith’s childhood based solely on his own writings. Even if one adds all of the known statements by Smith’s siblings, official census records, and comments by neighbors, this compilation leaves the period before Smith turned about fourteen comparatively blank and makes any effort to evaluate his adult life and accomplishments in the light of his childhood tenuous.

Fortunately, Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, dictated a biography of her famous son in 1844‑45, within a year after his death. She explained to her only surviving son, William, on 23 June 1845, almost exactly a year after the double murder of Joseph and his older brother Hyrum:

People are often inquiring of me the particulars of Joseph’s getting the plates, seeing the angels at first, and many other things which Joseph never wrote or published. I have told over many things pertaining to these matters to different persons to gratify their curiosity, indeed have almost destroyed my lungs giving these recitals to those who felt anxious to hear them. I have now concluded to write down every particular as far as possible.4

[2]Apparently she had already begun the task during the previous autumn by dictating her reminiscences to Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, a Nauvoo schoolteacher who described herself as a good note‑taker. Coray was aided by her husband Howard, who at one time assisted in compiling the official church history. “I wrote the book and my statements were faithful and true as far as I could learn at that time,” Martha later stated.5

The first draft was apparently finished by early 1845, then edited and polished between March and July 1845, probably by the Corays who added about 25 percent and deleted 10 percent.6 It is not clear to what degree Lucy assisted in these silent modifications. A copy of this enlarged modified history was made. At a church conference on 8 October 1845, Lucy “gave notice that she had written her history, and wished it printed.”7 Lucy was then seventy years old, in mourning from a series of family deaths, in frail health, and, sometimes of faulty memory.

One of two final copies, a “beautifully written, leather‑bound” volume, was taken to Salt Lake City with the Mormon pioneer trek that began in 1847 and remains in the church’s archives. The other, which Lucy retained, came into possession of her son‑in‑law, passed through two other sets of hands, and was finally purchased by Mormon apostle Orson Pratt who, with Lucy’s permission, published it in Liverpool, England, in 1853.8 The present location of this manuscript is unknown and it may have been destroyed. From England the published book was transported to Utah where it was used as a school textbook. By 1865 Brigham Young, in frequent disagreement with Pratt and dissatisfied with “inaccuracies” in the biography that tended to favor Joseph’s younger brother William (who was making claim to church authority), suppressed it. Various versions have been published subsequently by both Mormon and non‑Mormon groups and individuals.

The original unmodified preliminary draft was uncovered in the church archives in the late 1960s. Excerpts, sometimes lengthy, have since appeared in print, and Dan Vogel published the New York and Ohio portions of this memoir in 1996, side‑by‑side with the corresponding 1853 published version, with careful editing and annotations.9 This published comparison is my main reference for Joseph Smith’s early life.

In this book, I examine Lucy’s biography of her son, the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith’s life to age twenty‑four, raising questions, examining discrepancies, and offering interpretations. This chapter summarizes the traditional account of Joseph’s early life. The first part condenses his mother’s history,10 and then, beginning with the age of fourteen, Smith’s own story.

Joseph Smith’s Childhood and Youth

Joseph Smith was born into a poor family living in Vermont on 23 De-[3]cember 1805. He was the fourth living child, and his mother delivered six more children after him, one of whom died shortly after birth. Both parents came from good New England stock and were clearly religious, but dissatisfied and troubled. Joseph’s mother had been raised in a family with some religious dissension. Her mother was a staunch Congregationalist, but her father, although raised by a Congregational minister, believed in a more kindly “Universalism” which taught about a God of love and grace “who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.”11 Solomon Mack, Joseph’s maternal grandfather, converted to a more orthodox form of Protestantism shortly before his death. In a personal history, published and distributed at his own expense, he described his conversion.12 He saw a bright light he could not account for and heard someone call his name. He imagined Jesus weeping for Jerusalem. This conversion probably decreased religious tension in the home.

Lucy was the last‑born of his eight children. In 1796 at age twenty‑one, she married Joseph Smith, Sr., then twenty‑four. Joseph’s father, Asael Smith, had refused to join any church “because he could not reconcile their teachings with the scriptures and his reason.” Asael otherwise encouraged his children to “S[e]arch the Sciptures.”13 Thus both of the future prophet’s parents grew up in families with unanswered religious questions. Both parents had been stirred by the idea that the early “primitive” Christian church had been lost, and they were now “seeking” after it. Some seekers expected only “the restoration of God’s spirit and power among the true believers”; or, in other words, an idealized group of people who lived with Christian charity and the Holy Spirit in their lives. Others looked for a restoration of a literal ecclesiastic organization, doctrinal accuracy that agreed with the New Testament, and perhaps even apostles bearing the authority of Christ. How such a church might be found was never clear.14

Despite Joseph Sr.’s years of religious wandering, he did not subscribe to any particular church or faith. Within the family, his nighttime dreams were seen as inspired by God, and he looked to God to direct his life. Lucy attended various Protestant meetings but ended up believing that “there was not then upon the earth the religion which I sought.” The family was hardworking but plagued by misfortune and economic setbacks, not uncommon in those days for New England.15  Because of such financial woes, the family lost early possessions including a farm and had to move frequently.

Sometime between 1811 and 1813, while they were living in New Hampshire, misfortune struck again, this time when all of the children became ill with typhoid.16 One daughter nearly died; but the dedication and perseverance of the family pulled them through, even when the doctor abandoned hope. Apparently no one suffered permanent effects except Joseph, then between five and seven years old. (Lucy does not date the epi-[4]demic.) He developed a severe typhoid infection in his leg bones, a condition which often required amputation. Providentially, his family was near the fledgling Dartmouth Medical School, whose founder, Nathan Smith, was preeminent in the surgical treatment of typhoid osteomyelitis.17

The strength of both the family and young Joseph was demonstrated during this awful surgery, for Joseph reportedly refused alcohol as an anesthetic and also refused to be tied to the bed. Instead he resolved to bear the operation if his father would hold him during the procedure. The surgeon cut open his bone, to expose the trapped infection and allow the area to heal from within. The operation was a success and amputation was avoided.18 Joseph healed successfully at home for some time, then spent several months in Salem, Massachusetts, at the home of a paternal uncle, in hopes that the sea air would be ameliorative. While Joseph, as a youth and an adult, became a strong wrestler, could run without difficulty, and engaged in the hard physical labor of farming, clearing land, etc., he retained a slight limp.

When crop failures occurred for the following two years, the family’s economic situation slipped to what must have been day‑to‑day hunger. Joseph Sr. determined to leave New England for more promising farm country in upstate New York if the crops failed again. On the other side of the world in 1815, a volcanic explosion, Tambora in Indonesia, sent a cloud of ash circling the globe, affecting solar radiation for over a year.19 That year, 1816, is now remembered in New England history as the “year without a summer.” Joseph Sr. moved to the small town of Palmyra (pop. 3,500) in upstate New York in late 1816, sending for the family when he had located a residence. Joseph Jr., then about ten and a half years old, was still lame from his surgery although he was able to walk for hours as they made their way west.

In Palmyra, Joseph Sr. and his two older sons, Alvin and Hyrum, immediately hired out as farm laborers, while Lucy painted oilcloth and, with her daughters, made and sold pies, cakes, and rootbeer at public events.20 They lived in the village itself for a few years, then moved a few miles south where they rented or squatted in a small log cabin. As things improved, they moved again only some yards away, but over the line into Manchester township, began the purchase of land, probably built another log cabin, and started to build a farm house.21 During Joseph’s early adolescence, his mother describes him as a child of few words who “always seemed to reflect more deeply than common persons of his age upon everything of a religious nature.”22

Although Lucy does not comment on religion, the family had moved into an area of religious turbulence. Beginning around 1800 and extending through this period, the country was aflame with the peculiar religious revivalism referred to as “the Second Great Awakening.” Religious enthusi-[5]asms swept back and forth across upper New York, centered around Palmyra, until the area was called “the Burned‑over District.”23 The revivalism reached its zenith during the period of our interest, 1820‑30, and continued to 1850.

Joseph states, “Sometime in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion,” adding that he was “at this time in my fifteenth year.”24 The “unusual excitement” began with the Methodists, then involved other sects, notably Baptists and Presbyterians. Four members of Joseph’s family, including his mother, joined the Presbyterian church, while Joseph was partial to Methodism. He tells us that as converts filed off to different churches, bad feelings and confusion resulted among the denominations and religious leaders, destroying “good feelings one for another, (if they ever had any).” Because of feelings of “great uneasiness … confusion [from this] … strife [and] … tumult of opinions,” he was laboring under extreme difficulties. “Who of all these parties are right?” He read in the Bible that if anyone lacked wisdom, “let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Joseph was struck by the importance of this invitation from God, for “how to act I did not know and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had would never know, for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passage of scripture so differently as /to/25 destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” He decided to ask God which church to join.

Visible from the porch of the restored Smith farm house is a grove of trees on the far side of a small field. Tradition identifies this grove as the site of Joseph’s prayer, which he tells us in his official history took place “on the morning of a beautiful clear day early in the spring of Eighteen hundred and twenty.” When he began to pray, he was seized by a dark power “which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak.” He believed he was

doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me … not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world. … Just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar /of/ light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me, I saw two Personages (whose brightness and glory defy all description) standing above me in the air. One of /them/ spake unto me calling me by name and said (pointing to the other) “This is my beloved Son. Hear him.”

Joseph asked

which sect was right, (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) and which I should join. I was answered that I must join [6]none of them, for they were all wrong, and the Personage who addressed me said that all their Creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt. … He again forbade me to join with any of them. … When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on /my/ back, looking up into heaven.

Relating this experience to a Methodist minister, Joseph was surprised to receive a disdainful response:

It has often caused me serious reflection both then and since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy of a little over fourteen years of age and one who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.

Joseph compared himself to the apostle Paul who had also seen a vision and was ridiculed.

So it was with me, I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak /un/to me, or one of them did. And though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true. … “[W]ho am I that I can withstand God” or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen, for I had seen a vision, I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dare I do it, at least I knew that by so doing /I/ would offend God and come under condemnation.

Devout Mormons believe that this singular event was the most important moment in the history of humanity since the Resurrection, for it inaugurated the restoration of God’s only true church to the earth before the Second Coming. Joseph would be the man, under divine command and authority, to found the church his parents had been seeking. He would hardly be able to understand his calling at this young age, but his accomplishments before his death would, in the eyes of his followers, make him the third most important man who ever walked the earth, after Jesus and, perhaps, father Adam. The LDS church after his martyrdom would make the official declaration: “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it” (LDS D&C 135:3).

However, at this youthful moment Joseph knew only that he should not join any church but must await further heavenly instruction. He continued the “common avocations in life” for the next three years, acknowledging his susceptibility to “temptations … many foolish errors … weakness of youth, and the [corruption]26 /foibles/ of human nature.” “In making this confession,” he later clarified,

[7]no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins: a disposition to commit such was never in my nature; but I was guilty of Levity, & sometimes associated with Jovial company, &c, not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been; but this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, & is acqu/aint/ed with my native cheery Temperament. In consequence of these things I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections.

On 21 September 1823, about three and a half years after his first vision, Joseph knelt in prayer in his room to ask “forgiveness of all my sins and follies” with full confidence that God would respond. “While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday /when/ immediately a personage /appeared/ at my bedside standing in the air for his feet did not touch the floor.” Joseph described this figure with precision, including the exquisite whiteness of his loose robe and his naked hands, arms, and bosom. “[H]is whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning.” The heavenly being told Joseph that he was Nephi,27 a messenger from God, and that God had work for Joseph to do. Nearby was “deposited” a book written on golden plates that told of the “former inhabitants of this continent and the source from whence they sprang.” The messenger also said that the book contained “the fullness of the everlasting Gospel …  as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants.” Buried with the book were two (transparent) “stones in silver bows … /fastened/ to a breast plate” so that the book could be translated when Joseph looked through them. “The possession of these stones” made one a “seer” in ancient times. The angel quoted Bible verses from Joel, Isaiah, the Acts of the Apostles, and, with minor variations, Malachi. He warned Joseph of punishment if he did not keep these things hidden from others. “While he was conversing with me about the plates the vision was opened to my mind that I could see the place where the plates were deposited and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again when I visited it.”

The angel disappeared, then reappeared twice more, each time repeating his message “without the least variation,” warned Joseph to be prepared for temptations, and specifically warned him against using this information for wealth. Joseph must have no “other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom.” These visitations took the whole night. When the exhausted Joseph tried to work in the field the next day, his strength failed him and he fell unconscious while climbing a fence to go home. “The first thing that I can recollect was a voice speaking unto me calling me by name.” The angel had reappeared and told Joseph to tell his father about this visitation. Joseph Sr. immediately believed his son’s re-[8]port and declared that his experience was of God. Joseph left the field to go where “the plates were deposited, and owing to the distinctness of the vision which I had had concerning it, I knew the place the instant that I arrived there.”

Joseph met the angel at a hill two to three miles from his home. “On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box.” In this stone box were also “other things,” which included the two “seer” stones attached by silver bows to the breastplate. He was not allowed to take the plates but was commanded to meet the angel in precisely one year and each year thereafter “until four years from that time.”

During these four years, Joseph worked as a common farm laborer, but rumors spread that he had found something valuable through the means of folk magic. Employed by a wealthy farmer, he left Manchester and traveled 120 miles southeast to the border of Pennsylvania where he tried to help his employer find a lost Spanish treasure reportedly buried in the earth. He finally “prevailed with the old gentleman to cease digging after it. Hence arose the very prevalent story of my having been a money‑digger.” While in that area he met his future wife, Emma Hale, and asked her father for her hand in marriage. Isaac Hale refused, believing that Joseph deceived people in his activities as a money‑digger. As both young people were of age, Joseph, who did have his parents’ blessing, and Emma eloped and were married on 27 January 1827. They moved into his family home in Manchester. On the night of 22 September 1827, the angel let him take the plates, again warning him that he would be held responsible for their care until this angel/messenger “should call for them.” Immediately

the most strenuous exertions were used to get them from me. Every stratagem that could be invented was resorted to for that purpose. The persecution became more bitter and severe than before … but by the wisdom of God they remained safe in my hands until I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand, when according to arrangements the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him and he has them in his charge until this day [1838].

Because of this “persecution,” Joseph had to leave the family home and with his wife traveled back to her home in Pennsylvania. While he was there, his family in Manchester took in as a boarder a young schoolteacher named Oliver Cowdery. When the Smith family told this young man about Joseph’s discovery, he became intrigued. As soon as school ended in late March 1829, Oliver walked the 120 miles to Joseph’s residence and within two days began to act as scribe while Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon, using the miraculous means that God had provided. The majority of the translation took place between April and July 1829, a prodigious accomplishment.

[9]Joseph tells us little about this period. Two years later his older brother Hyrum suggested he tell a group of Mormons about the “coming forth” of the Book of Mormon. Joseph responded that “it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; and [he] also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things.”28 The printing of the book in Palmyra took about eight months, and was advertised for sale on 26 March 1830. The Book of Mormon was to be a “second witness” (after the New Testament) that “Jesus is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting Himself unto all nations.”29

To believing Mormons, the book represents the most objective evidence for Joseph’s divine mission and remains a major force in their lives, resisting attacks intended to diminish the “work of God.” Those who have tried to demonstrate the book as human‑made run into the issue of Joseph’s semi‑illiteracy and simple background in contrast to the size and complexity of the book. Joseph’s new Church of Christ, quickly nicknamed Mormon, was founded on 6 April 1830, less than two weeks after the Book of Mormon appeared.

Joseph tells this detailed and dramatic story of his early life with certainty. But despite this assurance, its details are not internally consistent. In this 1838 canonized version, Joseph said that he moved to Palmyra in his “tenth year,” which would be 1815, but in the 1842 version, he says he was “ten years old,” which would make it 1816. He adds that they moved from Palmyra to Manchester “about four years” later and that the revival connected with his first vision occurred “in the second year” after moving. These years add up to 1821 or 1822 at the earliest, and he would have been in his sixteenth or seventeenth year. Yet he announces without ambiguity that the revival and first vision were “early in the spring of Eighteen hundred and twenty” when he was in his “fifteenth year.”30

This problem was recognized as early as 1842, and Willard Richards added the qualifying phrase “or thereabouts” to these dates.31 But we can date the Smith family move to Palmyra and then to Manchester with some precision from road tax rolls, his mother’s biography, and other evidences. They probably arrived in Palmyra in late 1816 and appear on the road tax rolls for the first time in early 1817. These rolls and other evidences confirm their move to Manchester in 1822.32 The revival “in the second year” after this move would then have occurred in 1824, not 1820. There was no significant revival in or around Palmyra in 1820, nor in any year between 1818 and 1823.33

A Synopsis of the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon claims to be a divinely written historical document that begins during the Old Testament period when Jeremiah was prophesying in Jerusalem about 600 B.C.E. There another prophet named [10]Lehi (never mentioned in the Old Testament, although the word appears as a place name in Judges 15:19) is warned by God of the impending Babylonian captivity of the Jews (around 600 B.C.E.) and is commanded to leave Jerusalem with his family of four sons and an unspecified number (probably two) of daughters, taking along another family with five marriageable daughters and two sons. Lehi’s family is also commanded to take with them the “brass plates,” or scriptures containing what Joseph Smith apparently viewed as the Old Testament up to 600 B.C.E. plus a family genealogy.

For eight years this tribal group wandered in the “wilderness” near the Red Sea, experiencing numerous miracles, then settled on the shores of a “sea [of] many waters.” Here they built a boat in which they sailed across the Pacific to the Americas. But Lehi had a troubled family. His oldest two sons, Laman and Lemuel, were hostile, rebellious, and disobedient. His younger two sons, Sam and Nephi, were righteous. Even at this point, Nephi was becoming a great prophet, superseding his father. It is Nephi who narrates this first part of the Book of Mormon. After their arrival in America, the family tenuously remained together until the aged Lehi’s death, then the smoldering sibling rivalry broke out into murderous hatred. Nephi took his group away into the wilderness and founded a higher, complex civilization with metallurgy, art, culture, and true Christian worship. Laman and Lemuel established the opposing “Lamanite” nation that degenerated quickly into barbaric savagery. God cursed this group with a “skin of blackness,” thus explaining the origin of the Native Americans, and told Nephi that they would be a “scourge” to his descendants whenever these “Nephites” fell into sin. Furthermore, if the Nephites became too evil, the Lamanites would be allowed to destroy them.

After this detailed beginning, the generations pass more quickly. As these two nations expand over the next 600 years, the historical account is filled with wars, heroism, miracles, prophets, visions, martyrdoms, and so forth. This “Old Testament” section of the Book of Mormon differs from the Bible in an important way; during this time, the prophets preached an explicit belief in the yet‑to‑be‑born Jesus, a Christology similar to the salvationist Christianity of Joseph Smith’s day.34 The Nephites formed Christian communities, were baptized, received the “Holy Spirit,” and undertook extensive missionary work among the infidel Lamanites. The wars, during one period, became extreme, then miraculously stopped; then the Nephite nation became corrupt, thanks to an evil secret brotherhood of robbers and murderers.

As the time of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem approached, yet another prophet, warning the Nephites to repent, promised them dramatic signs: At Jesus’ birth, they would see a new star; the sun would set one night but there would be no darkness. This prophet also told them that, at Jesus’ crucifixion, they would be punished for their sins with natural catastrophes. [11]The Book of Mormon describes both the night without darkness at the birth and a gigantic geophysical holocaust at the death which convulses the land with earthquakes, fire, tidal waves, and lightnings. Many cities and “great cities” with their inhabitants were destroyed, leaving only a small percentage of the “more righteous.” A few days later, Jesus, now resurrected, appeared in the sky, cataloged the destruction, acknowledged that he had caused it, then descended to preach his gospel of love and kindness, including his Sermon on the Mount. He visited the survivors repeatedly over the next three days and established his church with twelve disciples.

For the next two centuries, these severely chastened people lived in complete harmony and happiness, integrated into one people (rather than Nephites/Lamanites). Then envy and unrighteousness returned, the people again divided into white Nephites and dark Lamanites, the Nephites refused to repent, and the next two centuries passed in fighting off, with increasingly less success, repeated short and sharp destructive attacks from the Lamanites. Hatred reigned supreme. God commanded the last great righteous prophet, Mormon, also an army general, to review the records of this 1,000‑year civilization and summarize it into a single book. He obeyed, inscribing his summary on metal plates. Then Mormon, along with 240,000 Nephite soldiers and their families, fought and lost a last genocidal battle at a hill called “Cumorah.” All were killed except for Mormon’s son, Moroni, who recorded this terrible scene and spent the next twenty years in hiding to avoid being killed. Completing his father’s record, he buried the “gold plates” in the hill Cumorah in what is now upstate New York, around 421 C.E. Fourteen centuries later, he reappeared as the angelic messenger who announced to Joseph Smith that he had been chosen to unearth and translate this record.

Joseph was then a seventeen‑year‑old uneducated and inexperienced farm boy living two or three miles from this hill. As already narrated, the angel met Joseph yearly for four years, then gave him the book in September 1827. Various impediments delayed work on the book until the spring of 1829, but it was printed by March 1830 and the Mormon church was founded less than two weeks later.

Naturally, this overview has omitted some elements important for this psychoanalytic study. While the history of the Nephites and Lamanites takes up 95 percent of the Book of Mormon, the book actually recounts three migrations from the Middle East to the New World, not just one. Around 200 B.C.E., the Nephites, migrating to avoid warfare with the Lamanites, encountered a second group (the Mulekites) who had also come from Jerusalem around 600 B.C.E. These people had failed to bring a copy of their scriptures with them and, as a result, were sliding into illiteracy, atheism, and savagery. The good king Mosiah of the Nephites taught these people to read, told them their sacred history, became their king, and [12]merged them with his own Nephites. As a separate group, they disappeared, and their story takes up only a few verses. However, they reported to the Nephites that, only a few months earlier, they had taken in a wanderer who was the last king of a gigantic civilization (the Jaredites). He had died “nine moons” later. This earlier civilization had left a record on its final battlefield where its two final factions had exterminated each other. A group of Nephite explorers soon discovered this record, described as twenty‑four gold plates. Translated miraculously by King Mosiah, it revealed the history of a group who had come to the promised land of America at the time of the Tower of Babel, prospered and grew, passed through cycles of righteousness and sin, and utterly destroyed each other in hand‑to‑hand combat. Their final battle, in which 2 million soldiers died, ended a 2,000‑year‑old civilization (ca. 2500‑600 B.C.E.) of probably 10‑15 million people.35 It also occurred at Cumorah. Moroni abridged this already abridged record as the book of Ether (Ether was their last surviving prophet). It takes up about 5 percent of the current Book of Mormon. These two “extra” migrations provide tantalizing clues to the psychological makeup of Joseph Smith.


1. Manuscript, the Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith, Jr., 34, in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992), 2:233.

2. Times and Seasons 3 (beginning 15 Mar. 1842): 726.

3. Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989), 1:230‑31, 265‑302, esp. 268‑69.

4. Lucy Smith to William Smith, in Richard L. Anderson, “Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision Through Reminiscences,” BYU Studies 9 (Spring 1969): 387.

5. M. J. Coray to Brigham Young, 13 June 1865, in Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), 1:228, hereafter cited as Vogel, Lucy Smith History.

6. See Richard L. Anderson, “The Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought  4 (Summer 1969): 13‑28; Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 87‑107, esp. 95; Shipps references the Anderson paper but it does not give the percentages. Anderson may have made them in personal communication. These are rough percentages, for the preliminary draft may be incomplete.

7. Address, 8 Oct. 1845, Times and Seasons 6 (1 Nov. 1845): 1014, in Anderson, “Circumstantial Confirmation,” 387. Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 229‑30.

8. Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853).

9. “Lucy Smith History, 1845,” in Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 227‑450. Most of the changes in the 1853 published version were critical in eliminating discrepancies between Joseph Smith’s own published history and evidences from other sources. This makes the “preliminary dictated manuscript” one of the most accu-[13]rate sources for Joseph’s early life. It provides enough raw material to begin a psychobiography and, in this case, correlation of Joseph’s life with the origin of the Book of Mormon.

10. Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 231‑339.

11. Dan Vogel, Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 25, quoting Russell E. Miller, The Larger Hope: The First Century of the Universalist Church in America, 1770‑1870 (Boston: Unitarian Universalist, 1979), 45‑46. See also Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 1‑70.

12. Solomon Mack, A Narraitive of the Life of Solomon Mack (Windsor: Printed at the expense of the author[, 1811]), 19‑21, reprinted in Richard L. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1971).

13. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New England, 124‑40, and Vogel, Religious Seekers, 26.

14. Vogel, Religious Seekers, 10‑11; Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 1‑70.

15. Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 241‑46.

16. Ibid., 247‑60.

17. LeRoy S. Wirthlin, “Nathan Smith (1762‑1828) Surgical Consultant to Joseph Smith,” BYU Studies 17 (Spring 1977): 310‑35, and “Joseph Smith’s Boyhood Operation: An 1813 Surgical Success,” BYU Studies 21 (Spring 1981): 131‑54; Reed C. Durham, Jr., “Joseph Smith’s Own Story of a Serious Childhood Illness,” BYU Studies 10 (Autumn 1970): 480‑82; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:268‑69n1.

18. Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 260‑69.

19. Ibid., 269‑70. Henry and Elizabeth Stommel, “The Year Without a Summer,” Scientific American 240 (June 1979): 176‑86.

20. Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton, 1867), 12‑18.

21. H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (San Francisco: Smith Research Associates, 1994), 1‑14.

22. Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 289, 286‑87. The 1853 published version adds that he was a “remarkably quiet, well‑disposed child.”

23. Whitney R. Cross, The Burned‑Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800‑1850 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1950), 3‑151; Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon; Robert N. Hullinger, Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 1‑48.

24. Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:265‑82.

25. Slashes indicate interlinear insertions.

26. “Corruption” crossed out.

27. Moroni is the name of the angel according to present‑day Mormon belief, but “Nephi” appears in the original manuscript and first printed version, Times and Seasons 3 (15 Apr. 1842): 753, and also according to his mother’s account in Vogel, Lucy Smith History, 63‑64. Unlike most of the editing between the 1844 and the 1853 versions, this change is important. Mary Musser Whitmer, mother of five of the eleven signatories attesting to the physical existence of the Book of Mormon gold plates, identified the angel as Nephi. “I have heard my grandmother (Mary M. Whitmer) say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by an holy angel, whom she always called brother Nephi.” John C. Whitmer, Statement, qtd. in “The Eight Witnesses,” Historical Re-[14]cord 7 (Oct. 1888), 621, qtd. in D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 157. The name was changed to Moroni in the 1878 edition of the Pearl of Great Price and in the 1902 edition of the History of the Church to fit other statements by Joseph Smith. Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:277n1, ascribes “Nephi” to a clerical error, but Quinn, Early Mormonism, 156‑57, observes that this explanation is inadequate given the published versions which Joseph Smith did not correct.

28.History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints, 2d ed. rev., 7 vols., ed. B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1951 printing), 1:219n.

29. The Book of Mormon (Palmyra, NY: E. B. Grandin, 1830), title page.

30. Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, for ten years old, 429; for 1820 revival and “fifteenth year,” 269‑72.

31. Ibid., 1:269n2, 274n1; Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 9n1.

32. Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 3‑8.

33. Ibid., 15‑41. Mormon historian Marvin S. Hill acknowledges the 1824 date in “The First Vision Controversy: A Critique and Reconciliation,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Summer 1982): 31‑47. Although Mormon apologetics continue to assert an 1820 Palmyra revival, there is simply no historical evidence to support it.

34. See, for example, Susan Curtis, “Early Nineteenth‑Century America and the Book of Mormon,” 81‑96, and Melodie Moench Charles, “The Mormon Christianizing of the Old Testament,” 131‑42, both in Dan Vogel, ed., The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scriptures (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990); Dan Vogel, “The Earliest Mormon Concept of God,” in Line upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, Gary J. Bergera, ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 17‑34; B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, Brigham D. Madsen, ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 284‑316.

35. As estimated by Mormon theologian and apostle Orson Pratt, Book of Mormon, 1914 ed., Ether 15, footnote “b,” as qtd. in Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, 164.