Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet
by Dan Vogel
The Book of Mormon Project,
[p. 111]Joseph and Emma were no doubt relieved to escape the danger and persecution that had begun to engulf them in Manchester. Yet, Emma may have been alone in her optimism about their prospects in Harmony. For her, the move brought the familiar surroundings of her hometown and the protection of her family. She may have believed that by removing Joseph from the influence of his father and other treasure seekers, this would aid in her husband’s reformation and allow him to concentrate on the more pressing needs of his own family. Little did she suspect that his activities would again turn such favorable circumstances to ruin.
For a time, Joseph and Emma lived with her parents. Isaac Hale said he “was informed they had brought a wonderful book of plates down with them. I was shown a box,” he said, “in which it is said they were contained, which had, to all appearances, been used as a glass box of the common sized window-glass,” about 10 x 12 inches. “I was allowed to feel the weight of the box,” Hale said, “and they gave me to understand, that the book of plates was then in the box—into which, however, I was not allowed to look.”1
Smith probably said the plates would be shown to a few chosen individuals at some future time because Hale asked “who was to be the first who would be allowed to see [them]?” Perhaps sensitive to Emma’s feelings, Isaac reported only that Smith said it was to be “a young child.” Other residents of Harmony were less reserved. Sophia Lewis, the wife of Levi Lewis, who was a relative of Isaac Hale’s wife, remembered that Smith said “the book of plates could not be opened under penalty of death by any other person but his (Smith’s) first-born, which was to be a male.”2 Joshua McKune, who married Esther Lewis, a niece of Isaac Hale’s wife, said Smith “told him that (Smith’s) first-born child was to translate the characters, and hieroglyphics, upon the plates into our language at the age of three years.”3 By this time, Emma was [p. 112]three to four months pregnant. While Smith correctly predicted the infant’s sex, he did not foresee that the child would die shortly after birth.
The reports of the Harmony neighbors and relatives are supported by Willard Chase, who independently recalled what Martin Harris said following his return to Palmyra, having just spent the spring of 1828 in Pennsylvania as Smith’s scribe. Harris said that “the prophet’s wife, in the month of June following would be delivered of a male child that would be able when two years old to translate the Gold Bible.”4 It is difficult to imagine what Smith might have had in mind for the child, but the claim that he would “translate the Gold Bible” is problematic because the translation had already commenced prior to the baby’s birth. Perhaps it was meant that the child would translate another record.
Regardless, Isaac became irritated by the idea of the plates being in his home and informed his son-in-law that “if there was any thing in my house of that description, which I could not be allowed to see, he must take it away; if he did not, I was determined to see it. After that,” Hale said, “the plates were said to be hid in the woods.”5
Joseph and Emma soon moved into a small one-and-a-half-story house formerly occupied by Emma’s older brother, Jesse, who had recently acquired his own farm.6 The house sat at the south end of a 13.5-acre strip of land running north of the house and south to the Susquehanna River. On the north side of the road, opposite the house, sat a barn.7 About 450 feet west was Isaac Hale’s residence, just beyond was Nathaniel Lewis’s, and some 250 feet east of Joseph’s and Emma’s home was the McKune cemetery.
Frederick G. Mather described the Smith home after visiting Harmony in July 1880 as “a partly-finished house, twenty-six feet broad, eighteen feet deep and fourteen feet in the posts.”8 Rex B. Hawes, who lived in the house from 1896 to 1909, said the Smith home was “built of lumber, having two rooms downstairs. The floor downstairs was of beautiful hardwood maple. When entering the house, one came into a hallway, and there a stairway led up to an attic or loft; the east end of this loft was boarded off into a room with a window looking toward the east. I was told that Joseph Smith did a lot of writing in this room. Another stairway, underneath the attic stairway, led down to the cellar underneath the house. There was a nice fireplace at the west end of the house.”9
Once the Smiths were comfortably situated, the plates came out of their hiding. Joseph had by this time procured a trunk for the plates, which was said to have been made by Benjamin Wasson, Emma’s brother-in-law from Colesville.10 Emma told one interviewer that the plates “lay under our bed for a few months but I never felt the liberty to look at them.”11 Occasionally, Joseph left them on the table, giving Emma an opportunity to feel them through a cloth covering. “I felt of the plates, as [p. 113]they lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape,” she recalled. “They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.”12
Smith began copying some of the characters from the plates a short time after his arrival in Harmony. Recalling this event in 1838, he said, “I copied a considerable number of them and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father in the month of December , and the February following.”13 In February, Martin Harris came to take samples of characters to some experts in ancient languages in New York City and elsewhere. In his 1832 account, Smith related the circumstances that had brought Harris to Harmony: “The Lord appeared unto [Harris] in a vision and showed unto him his marvelous work which he was about to do and he immediately came to Susquehanna and said the Lord had shown him that he must go to New York City with some of the characters so we proceeded to copy some of them.”14 Harris later reported that Smith “copied” the characters while shielded from view by a curtain hung across the corner of the room.15
Smith’s transcription of Book of Mormon characters, commonly referred to as the “Anthon Transcript,” is presently in the archives of the Community of Christ (formerly Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) in Independence, Missouri. The seven lines of about 225 characters are written on a sheet of paper similar to that used to record the Book of Mormon manuscript and measures approximately 8 x 3¼ inches. At the top of the document is written “Caractors,” apparently in Joseph Smith’s handwriting. Far from being haphazard jottings, an examination of the document reveals patterns and couplings of characters.
It would later be announced that the language and script inscribed on the gold plates was “reformed Egyptian” (Morm. 8:32). This made some sense in Smith’s day because scholars had long made comparisons between Mayan glyphs and Egyptian hieroglyphics,16 and the characters Smith copied from the plates for Harris resembled Egyptian hieratic and demotic scripts—examples of which were available in Smith’s day.17 Other symbols were different but bore enough of a resemblance to Old World characters to be noticed by the experts but different enough to be unreadable. To this day, the script remains anomalous and undecipherable.18
Harris visited scholars in a number of cities including Utica, Albany, and New York City. In Manhattan, he solicited the opinion of the well-known authority on American antiquities, Samuel L. Mitchell, who nevertheless declined to offer an opinion and instead directed Harris to Charles Anthon, Columbia University’s renowned classical scholar and linguist. Exactly what transpired between the two men would soon become a matter of legend.
[p. 114]Anthon was alone when Harris showed him the facsimile of characters. His memory of the transcript differs somewhat from the document in the Community of Christ archives in that he said it “consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns. … Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, … and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks.”19 He could not say if the characters had been deliberately obscured but concluded that the facsimile had “evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets” and that the curious circle had been “evidently copied after the Mexican Calendar given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived.” Anthon was certain the document “contained any thing but ‘Egyptian Hieroglyphics.’”20
It seems unlikely that Anthon would have invented this description of the characters even if he could not remember precisely what he had seen six years previously. If nothing else, the document could be produced and his lie would be exposed. Anthon’s description of “a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks” seems supported by an unidentified “informant” who told Orsamus Turner that upon returning to Palmyra Martin Harris had exhibited “the manuscript title page” of the Book of Mormon and remembered that it contained “concentric circles, between above and below which were characters.”21 Among the holdings of the LDS Church archives in Salt Lake City is an undated page in Oliver Cowdery’s hand that is identified, similar to the document in the Community of Christ archives, as “Characters on the book of Mormon.”22 This document bears four symbols not present on the Anthon transcript, suggesting that Smith may have prepared more than one set of characters or that the Anthon fragment was detached from a larger document.
Anthon said that he recognized characters from various ancient alphabets including “Egyptian, Chaldeak, Assyriac, and Arabic” but that others were unfamiliar. Encouraged by this, Harris asked Anthon to make a statement in writing. According to Smith’s 1838 history, Anthon complied, but upon inquiring further about the source of the characters and learning of Smith’s claims regarding the record, he destroyed the testimonial he had just signed, saying “that there was no such thing now as ministering angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him, he would translate them.”23
In 1834 and 1841, an obviously annoyed Anthon responded to the Mormon use of his name. In 1834 he said he had “declined giving” Harris a written opinion of the characters. In 1841 he admitted having given Harris a statement—“without any hesitation”—but said that his assessment of the characters was essentially negative. [p. 115]According to Anthon’s memory, “the marks in the paper appeared to be merely an imitation of various alphabetic characters, and had in my opinion no meaning at all connected with them.”24 More likely, Anthon’s initial assessment of the characters was more positive than he would later admit. Otherwise, it is doubtful that Harris would have requested a written statement.
In his 1838 account, Joseph Smith claimed that Anthon had not only pronounced the characters genuine but had said the “translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian.”25 Anthon denied that he was ever shown a translation or that he would have been able to confirm a translation had he been presented with one. In this regard, it is interesting that Smith’s own 1832 account emphasized the linguist’s inability to read the characters in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prediction that the learned would not be able to read the “words of a book that is sealed” (Isa. 29:11).
Upon returning to Palmyra, Harris told the Reverend John A. Clark that Anthon “thought the characters in which the book was written very remarkable, but he could not decide exactly what language they belonged to.”26 A Rochester newspaper reported in 1829 that Harris claimed “he went in search of some one to interpret the hieroglyphics, but found that no one was intended to perform that all important task but Smith himself.”27 John H. Gilbert, who set type for the Book of Mormon, reported that Harris returned from New York City “satisfied that ‘Joseph’ was a ‘little smarter than Prof. Anthon.’”28 In 1870 Harris reportedly said that “the most learned men had exhausted their knowledge of letters in the vain effort to decipher the characters.”29
Smith’s reworking of Isaiah’s prediction to emphasize the inability of the learned to read the book appeared in the Book of Mormon itself (2 Ne. 27:15-18). Moroni declared that “none other people knoweth our language” (Morm. 8:32, 34). According to Oliver Cowdery’s 1835 history, the angel told Smith in 1823 that the plates “cannot be interpreted by the learning of this generation.”30 E. D. Howe solicited Anthon’s statement in 1834, not because the Mormons were saying he had verified Smith’s translation, but because they were claiming that he had pronounced the Book of Mormon characters true “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics.”31
The difference between Smith’s 1832 and 1838 recitals of the Harris/Anthon interview necessitated a change in the interpretation of Isaiah. According to the 1832 version, Harris took the characters to Anthon “saying read this I pray thee and the learned said I cannot but if he would bring the plates they would read it but the Lord had forbid it.”32 In this instance, Isaiah 29:11 was fulfilled because the learned could not read the words of the book. In the 1838 version, Anthon reads the characters and verifies Smith’s gift of translation. This shifting account of the interview drifted from the original interpretation of Isaiah so that the passage was no longer fulfilled. [p. 116]Therefore, the 1838 account placed the words from Isaiah “I cannot read a sealed book” into Anthon’s mouth.
The shift in meaning provided support for Smith’s ability to translate, which would become of continuing interest after Smith purchased and translated some Egyptian papyri in 1835-36. More threatening were the disaffections of several church leaders in 1838, among whom were Apostles Luke Johnson and John Boynton, as well as member of the First Quorum of Seventy Warren Parrish, who had publicly renounced the Book of Mormon that March.33
Of course, Anthon did not seriously offer to translate the plates. More likely, he wanted to determine the truthfulness of Smith’s claims. When he learned that Smith kept the plates in a “trunk,” the professor said he “advised [Harris] to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined,” and “if the plates proved to be of gold, which I did not believe at all, to sell them immediately.” Harris said he feared the “curse of God” would come upon him and his children if he did so. Anthon continued to press him, and Harris said he would do it only if the professor agreed to take the curse upon himself. “I would do so with the greatest willingness,” Anthon said, “and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him [Harris] from the grasp of rogues.”34
Although Anthon’s skepticism was pronounced, Harris returned to Palmyra a devoted follower of Smith. Anthon’s inability to read the characters or identify them with any particular language impressed Harris, especially since Anthon admitted that some of the markings were similar to ancient scripts. In Harris’s mind, this was evidence that Smith had in his possession an authentic ancient record, and he returned from the East willing to dedicate his time, energy, and money to the project. Smith’s facsimile had achieved the desired effect.
Back in Palmyra, Lucy Harris was causing the Smiths some distress. Apparently, Martin had left for Pennsylvania and the East without informing his wife, who blamed the Smiths for her domestic troubles. Lucy Smith remembered being confronted by an enraged Mrs. Harris, who suspected that the Smiths had something to do with her husband’s absence. When she accused the family of trying to defraud her husband, Lucy reminded her that they had not asked her for money and that if they really had been after money, they could have easily gotten more than they had. Mrs. Harris left in a huff, “determined to have satisfaction in some way for the slight which she had received.”
When Martin returned, his wife prepared a separate bedroom for him downstairs. The Harrises’ troubled marriage was faltering under the added stress of Martin’s involvement with the gold bible.
Still enthusiastic about the results of his trip, Harris began displaying the facsimile [p. 117]of characters to his friends and associates. John A. Clark had served as pastor of Palmyra’s Zion’s Episcopal Church from 1824 to 1826 and was still living in Palmyra when Harris visited him in 1828. Clark remembered Harris as a well-to-do farmer who had occasionally attended services at his church. He directed Harris to his study and closed the door behind them, upon which Harris began relating the circumstances of how Smith procured the plates. Taking a paper from his pocket, Harris carefully opened it to show Clark the characters. Clark later recalled, “The whole thing appeared to me so ludicrous and puerile, that I could not refrain from telling Mr. Harris, that I believed it a mere hoax got up to practice upon his credulity, or an artifice to extort from him money.” But Harris could not be deterred. “My ignorance of the characters in which this pretended ancient record was written,” Clark said, “was to Martin Harris new proof that Smith’s whole account of the divine revelation made to him was entirely to be relied on.”35
Mrs. Harris was increasingly irritated by this gullibility on her husband’s part and devised a scheme to show Martin that his facsimile was in no way proof that Smith’s plates were real. Lacking the ingenuity to make her own sample of characters, Mrs. Harris asked Flanders Dykes, a young man hoping to marry the Harrises’ daughter, Lucy, if he would secretly make a copy of Martin’s facsimile. Dykes complied. Then Mrs. Harris waited for an opportune moment to display them.
In late February or early March 1828, Martin Harris set out for Pennsylvania with the intention of becoming Smith’s scribe. This time, Mrs. Harris insisted on accompanying her husband. During the trip, Martin showed his transcription of characters to a group of people. When he did so, Mrs. Harris pulled from her pocket an exact copy, informing them that “Joe Smith was not the only one that was in possession of this great curiosity, that she herself had the same characters and they were quite as genuine as those displayed to them by Mr. Harris.”36
When they arrived in Harmony, Mrs. Harris announced that she had come to see the plates and that she would not leave until satisfied. The next morning, Smith secretly removed the plates from the house and buried them in the nearby woods. Mrs. Harris spent the day ransacking the entire house, opening every trunk, looking for them. On the third day, she expanded her search to the barn and woods. After spending the greater part of the morning and afternoon wandering in the snow and cold, perhaps looking for evidence of freshly dug earth, she finally returned to the house. As she warmed herself by the fire, she asked Emma if snakes ever troubled them during the winter. Mrs. Harris had seen “a tremendous great black snake [that] stuck up its head before me and commenced hissing at me.” Perhaps she had hallucinated, but more likely, this was another story intended to suggest that Smith’s book was evil.37
Her presence in the Smith home became so disrupting that she was finally asked [p. 118]to leave. Rather than return to Palmyra, Mrs. Harris rented a room in a nearby house where she continued to embarrass Joseph and attack his reputation. According to Lucy Smith, the woman began declaring publicly that Smith “was a grand impostor that he had deceived her husband with his specious pretensions and was exerting all his deceptive powers in order to induce Mr. Harris to give his property into Joseph’s hands that he might by robbing her husband make himself rich.”38
After about two weeks, it became clear that no translating could be done as long as Mrs. Harris remained nearby. It was therefore determined that Martin should take his wife home and return alone in the spring.
Upon returning to Palmyra, Mrs. Harris moved her furniture and other belongings out of the house and deposited them with friends,39 constituting a preliminary separation for the couple.40 A complete separation would occur in 1831 when Martin followed Smith to Ohio and Lucy Harris remained in Palmyra.
By the time Harris was able to get back to Harmony in the spring, Smith had already begun dictating the opening portion of the plates to Emma, which he later described as “the Book of Lehi … an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon.”41 Smith’s history of the American Indian began with the ministry of this Jewish prophet, not mentioned in the Old Testament, who lived in Jerusalem about 600 B.C. Warned of the city’s impending destruction by Babylonian invaders, Lehi and his family escaped into the wilderness where they were joined by another family and then guided by the “hand of the Lord” to sail to and colonize the New World.
There would be evidence of several alter-egos in Smith’s dictation, but the book’s compiler and editor, named Mormon, would be the closest to Smith’s own self-perception. Having witnessed the near destruction of the Nephite nation, Mormon received a command to abridge his people’s history. With Mormon as the editor of Nephi’s multi-authored record, there was flexibility to skip over some of the years with brief statements, to quote prophets directly, or to interject commentary as needed. The effect was much like having an omniscient third-person narrator in a novel. Smith’s decision to have Mormon as editor, redactor, and abridger may have been inspired by a passage in the Apocrypha: “All these things, I say, being declared by Jason of Cyrene in five books, we will assay to abridge in one volume. … To stand upon every point, and go over things at large, and to be curious in particulars, belongeth to the first author of the story: But to use brevity, and avoid much laboring of the work, is to be granted to him that will make an abridgement” (2 Macc. 2:23, 30-31). As a model of such abridgment, one had to look no farther than the historical books of the Old Testament: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
[p. 119]Of this initial period of dictation, Emma recalled: “When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out.” She remembered particularly that on one occasion Joseph had trouble pronouncing “Sariah,” Lehi’s wife, and had to spell it out, after which she pronounced it for him.42 The name was a variation of Sarah, but the delay was due to a difficulty Smith sometimes encountered in inventing new names.
On another occasion, while Emma was taking dictation, Joseph “stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, ‘Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?’ When I answered, ‘Yes,’ he replied ‘Oh! I was afraid I had been deceived.’”43
This mix of ignorance and fluent dictation convinced Emma that her husband operated under divine inspiration. She later told her son Joseph III, “I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the [Book of Mormon] unless he were inspired. For when acting as his scribe he would dictate to me hour after hour, and when returning after meals or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this, and for so ignorant and unlearned as he was it was simply impossible.”44
Emma overstated the case for Joseph’s illiteracy, claiming that he “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon.”45 Certainly, Smith had less schooling than his wife, but he managed to write reasonably well. After examining several letters from the early period of Smith’s life (1831-32), historian Dale Morgan concluded that they exhibit “a flair for words, a measure of eloquence, and a sufficient degree of schooling.”46 William Smith challenged the view that his brother was “unlettered” as a “mistake,” remembering that Joseph “wrote [in] a plain intelligible hand.”47 Still, Smith’s talent lay not in correct orthography but, while telling a story, in his sense of narrative and ability to create memorable images.
The book Joseph dictated abounds with examples of his poor grammar and Yankee dialect as well as his penchant for digression, redundancy, and wordiness. Rarely are his characters’ inner moral conflicts reflected. Most often we encounter flat, uncomplicated, two-dimensional heroes and villains. Generally the plots are simple and frequently improbable. However, the point was not to produce a literary masterpiece, although there are occasional passages exhibiting the lyrical quality of romantic writers of the era as well as the rhetorical style of the area’s preachers.48 Rather, Joseph was creating new scripture that would command the exercise of faith.
In crafting this new scripture, Smith naturally drew upon the language of the [p. 120]Bible, which for him was the authorized or King James Version. His use of the Bible went beyond language and included direct borrowing of entire chapters with only slight variation. In many instances, he created anachronisms by quoting biblical passages his New World prophets could not have known about.
Discarding both plates and spectacles, Smith now moved from behind the curtain and began dictating to Emma in the open, reverting to his seer stone and hat. Describing his method of dictation, Emma recalled: “In writing for Joseph Smith, I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it and dictating hour after hour, with nothing between us.”49 Confident in his abilities and memory, Smith decided he gained nothing from dictating behind the curtain. In the open, he could easily dismiss any claim that he was simply reading from a manuscript.
In removing the curtain, he may have also hoped to discourage intruders. As in Manchester, he soon began to be dogged by the curious and skeptical. “The people began to tease him to see the book,” Joseph Knight recalled, “and to offer him money and property and they crowded so hard that he had to hide it in the mountain.”50 Brother-in-law Michael Morse remembered that “the Hale boys had a peek at Joseph and was seeking to annoy him more or less, at different times.”51 With the plates safely sequestered, Smith could now dictate without fear of exposure.
This procedure was consistent with his abilities. During this initial phase of translation, he dictated less than two pages of manuscript per day.52 Later, after the arrival of Oliver Cowdery, the average jumped to more than eight pages per day.53 This would have occupied no more than several hours a day, with the remainder of the time available to contemplate the next day’s subject.
The procedure was also consistent with Smith’s habits. He did not possess a writer’s soul and seldom, if ever, recorded in advance his own sermons or took pleasure in a well-crafted essay. This demanded too much discipline. He preferred to accumulate ideas and images and then share them with others as more or less spontaneous musings and montages. His dictation had the fluency and tone of a gifted, spirit-filled preacher delivering his sermon impromptu and unrehearsed.
Where Smith had previously relied heavily on his personal charisma, he felt diminished when expressing himself in writing. Some of his insecurity is reflected in the words of Nephi, who complains that he is not “mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost, the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Ne. 33:1).
Dictating to scribes mostly impromptu and without the aid of notes, the narrator was not entirely unprepared. God’s dealings with Native Americans was, after all, a topic that had preoccupied him for more than five years. He had been rehearsing the [p. 121]stories since at least 1823 when he held his family spellbound with his accounts of the area’s original inhabitants.
Before commencing with the project, Smith already had the historical framework of the book in mind. He knew, for instance, when and where the story would begin and approximately when and where it would end. For this framework, he drew on two popular theories which were reshaped to suit the purposes of the book.
The first theory concerned the origin of Indians in the New World, which by Smith’s time had generated considerable speculation and debate. Discovery of the American Indian had created a theological puzzle for biblical literalists who wondered how the Americas had been populated after the Flood by people who were apparently distinct from any counterpart in the Old World. Skeptics and deists, hoping to cast doubt on the Bible’s authority, exploited the situation by suggesting that the American aborigines were pre-Adamites who represented a completely different creation from Adam. If the New World population was unrelated to Adam, they reasoned, was it not also free from the effects of the Fall and, hence, did not need Jesus’ atonement? Prior to the discovery of America, the pre-Adamite controversy had raged in Europe over African and Asian populations. Discovery of ancient civilizations in America provided philosophers with what they perceived to be conclusive proof for their pre-Adamite theory.
To defend themselves against this attack, the faithful turned to the Bible and to the Apocrypha. The dispersion from the tower of Babel was one obvious possibility for the origin of ancient Americans. According to Genesis, the Lord confounded the language of the tower’s builders and “scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth” (Gen. 11:8). But to many apologists, the Babel theory seemed inadequate since it did not explain the existence of the Law of Moses and other Jewish-like customs which they believed were observable among various Indian tribes.
Early writers experimented with several possible Jewish migrations: a flight from Sennacherib about 700 B.C., navigation during the time of Solomon, and a flight from the Romans when Jerusalem was destroyed around A.D. 70. The theory which received the greatest support and captured the popular imagination of many in Smith’s day identified Indians with the lost ten tribes of Israel. The situation was such that Josiah Priest could write in his book, American Antiquities, published in Albany, New York, in 1833: “The opinion that the American Indians are descendants of the lost ten Tribes, is now a popular one, and generally believed.”54
This theory was based on the apocryphal book 2 Esdras (written about A.D. 100), included in some nineteenth-century editions of the Bible, where mention is made of the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel around 734 B.C. Ezra is told by an angel that after being carried captive into Assyria, the ten tribes [p. 122]“took this counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a further country, where never mankind dwelt” (13:40-41).
Despite general acceptance of the ten tribe theory, not all scholars agreed, especially those who questioned the propriety of relying on an apocryphal book, the authority and inspiration of which had increasingly come under attack. Acceptance of the Apocrypha was becoming a distinguishing feature between Catholics and Protestants, and in 1827 the American Bible Society removed it entirely from their editions of holy writ.55 Because the ten tribe theory required that America be uninhabited, proponents also found themselves at odds with tower of Babel theorists.
To settle the controversy, Smith switched the location of the Israelitish departure from the northern kingdom of Israel to the southern kingdom of Judah, specifically to the capital city of Jerusalem, and changed the time from 734 to 600 B.C. in order to have the migration party leave prior to the Babylonian captivity, which the author believed occurred about 600 B.C.56 This innovation made the task easier because a southern migration placed the story within familiar ground and allowed the narrative to draw from Old Testament prophets, especially Isaiah, whom the northern kingdom would not have known. To write about a northern migration would have required more inventiveness.
Free of the restrictions imposed by Esdras, a reconciliation of opposing views could be introduced by including mention of an earlier migration to America from the Tower of Babel, thus retaining the concept of an ancient settlement in America as well as allowing the later introduction of Jewish traits among New World populations.
To end the history, Smith drew on the commonly accepted mound builder myth. It was thought that the numerous earthen burial and fortification mounds that colonists found in the Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes region were remnants of a once great nation of white-skinned Christians. These ancient American Christians were destroyed by the ancestors of the savage Indian, according to the myth.57 By counting the rings on trees that grew on some of the mounds, antiquarians in the early nineteenth century estimated that this genocidal war had occurred over a thousand years earlier.
The mound builder myth explained Indian origins. Those who considered Indians to be primitive, lazy savages postulated a second migration after the migration of the white-skinned, peace loving, civilized Christian agriculturalists. The ancestors of the dreaded Indians were thought to have crossed the Bering Strait from Asia. In contrast to the mound builders, this second group of migrants were dark-skinned, nomadic hunters who eventually annihilated the white-skinned Christians of the Great Lakes region. The mound builder myth embodied the values, ideals, and [p. 123]aspirations of the colonists along with their assumptions, prejudices, and fears—all tending to reinforce and justify their harsh treatment of Native American populations.58
Those who identified Indians with the lost ten tribes attempted to rescue them from the negative consequences of the mound builder myth. Rather than seeing them as subhuman or inherently savage, proponents of the ten tribe theory saw them as potential converts worthy of salvation. They linked Indians with Old Testament prophecy regarding the gathering and restoration of Israel, suggesting that Native Americans might represent the last mission field before Jesus’ return. This was the view of Ethan Smith, a Congregational clergyman who published View of the Hebrews: or, The Tribes of Israel in America in Poultney, Vermont, in 1823 and 1825. “If our natives be indeed from the tribes of Israel,” he wrote, “American Christians may well feel, that one great object of their inheritance here, is, that they may have a primary agency in restoring those ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel.’”59
In View of the Hebrews, the Reverend Smith united the mound builders and their Indian destroyers into branches of the same race. Conforming to the restriction imposed by Esdras, he discarded the assumption of two migrations in favor of a single exodus from northern Israel, the resulting population subsequently dividing into two warring nations. In this view, Native Americans were not inherently savage but were rather conditioned by environment and tradition.
Joseph Smith was not under the same restrictions as the Reverend Ethan Smith, but he nevertheless retained the notion of a single migration party reaching America and that the mound builders had been destroyed by their own kinsmen. Joseph Smith rejected the ten tribe theory while also deriving inspiration from it.
Between the origin and destruction of ancient American civilization, Joseph had roughly 1,000 years of history to cover—600 years before Christ and 400 years after. In the early part of the story, time is measured according to how many years have passed “from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem.” This system is followed until the 509th year, at which time the reign of the kings ends and that of the judges begins. Thereafter, the years are numbered according to “the reign of the judges” (Mosiah 29:44-47; Alma 1:1). This latter system dominates the record for exactly 100 years until the 609th year from the time Lehi left Jerusalem (3 Ne. 2:5, 6). At this point, time is reckoned by years since the appearance of a new star accompanying Jesus’ birth—thus A.D. 9 (3 Ne. 2:7-8). The last date mentioned is for Moroni’s farewell in A.D. 420. It is on this chronological structure that Smith hung his various narratives.
In early spring 1828, Martin Harris arrived in Pennsylvania to replace Emma as Joseph’s scribe. Harris’s description of Smith’s method of translation was the same as Emma’s—Joseph utilizing a stone in a hat. Harris understood that the translation was [p. 124]a mechanical process involving the appearance of English words in the stone, although he said that Smith had to be right with God for the stone to work. Following his 1870 interview with Harris, Edward Stevenson reported: “By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished [Martin] would say, ‘Written,’ and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used.”60 Harris’s statement notwithstanding, the portion of original Book of Mormon manuscript that survives (about 25 percent of approximately 607 original pages) is generally free from emendations but has fewer scribal errors than intentional editing.61 Smith may have sometimes made stylistic changes in the manuscript and passed them off as scribal errors.
Occasionally, Joseph and Martin tired and retreated to the river behind the house to exercise and skip stones. On one such occasion, Martin found a stone that resembled Joseph’s seer stone. Before resuming their work, he managed to switch the stones. As a result, Smith sat peering into his hat an unusually long time without dictating a word, before exclaiming, “Martin! What is the matter? All is as dark as Egypt.” Martin smiled and confessed. “Martin, why did you do this?” Joseph asked. “To stop the mouths of fools,” Martin replied, “who tell me you know all this by heart, and are deceiving me.”62
The incident is consistent with Smith’s modus operandi since it is doubtful that Harris could have found a stone by the river that was identical in shape, size, color, texture, and the distinctive diagonal stripe as Smith’s own stone; and, too, Harris would have had to rely on his memory of Smith’s stone, not having it with him at the river for comparison. Smith had carried the stone with him on his person for six years and had spent countless hours staring at it. He would have quickly spotted the substitution. He chose to play along with Harris’s ruse to reinforce the belief that his stone had unique magical properties enabling him to see the translation the same way he had seen buried treasures.
Between 12 April and 14 June 1828, Smith dictated approximately 116 manuscript pages. As Emma was nearing childbirth, Joseph called for a recess, stopping the narration near the end of King Benjamin’s reign just as the king was preparing to hand over the kingdom to his son Mosiah II. The latter would begin his reign in the 476th year from the time Lehi left Jerusalem or about 124 B.C. (Mosiah 6:4).
Before leaving Harmony, Harris pressed Smith to let him take the translation manuscript to Palmyra with him as proof that his time had been well spent. Harris had already requested this favor on two occasions, and both times the Lord, through the stone, had replied in the negative. It is understandable that Smith would have [p. 125]been reluctant to let the only copy of his work out of his hands, but he also felt some pressure to please the man he hoped would finance publication of the completed book. Joseph agreed to ask God one last time, and this time the answer was positive. Harris would be permitted to take the manuscript provided he would only show it to five individuals: his wife, Lucy; his brother, Preserved; his father, Nathan; his mother, Rhoda; and his wife’s sister, Polly Harris Cobb. Harris agreed and left Harmony with the manuscript in hand. It would prove to be Smith’s most disastrous mistake.
At first, Harris kept his promise, showing the manuscript only to the individuals specified. Mrs. Harris seemed pleased with what she saw and allowed Martin to lock it in one of the drawers of her bureau. One day when Mrs. Harris was away, a friend of Martin’s was visiting and Martin became careless when he could not find the key to his wife’s dresser. In attempting to pick the lock, he scratched the precious bureau. When his wife returned, he had to endure her anger over the damaged furniture. Thereafter, Martin kept the manuscript in his own dresser without the protection of a lock. In the days that followed, he repeatedly violated his oath by showing the manuscript to so many people that he later had no idea who took it, although he suspected his wife.
The day after Harris left Harmony, Emma gave birth to an infant boy who died the same day. Sophia Lewis was present at the birth and said the infant was “still-born and very much deformed.”63 According to family tradition, Rhoda Skinner, wife of neighbor Jacob Skinner, acted as midwife.64 Joseph named the son after his oldest brother, Alvin, and buried him in the McKune cemetery.65 The unadorned headstone, which was visible from the upstairs room, read:
In Memory of An
Infant Son of
Joseph And Emma
Smith June 15th 1828
Not only was the death of his first-born painful, it was a source of embarrassment. He had predicted great things for his dead son, a fact with which his wife’s family and friends undoubtedly confronted him. Was his son’s death a sign of God’s displeasure? Smith may have wondered as much himself.66 Undoubtedly, his enemies thought so. If his son’s death caused Smith to question his mission even momentarily, another, perhaps more severe, blow would soon follow.
The difficult birth almost killed Emma, and she lay on the edge of death for nearly two weeks. When she began to recover, Joseph’s mind turned to Harris and the manuscript. His friend’s prolonged absence was making him increasingly anxious. [p. 126]Emma, too, was concerned. Taking care of Emma left Joseph exhausted; but with his wife’s encouragement and leaving her to the care of her mother, Joseph departed for Manchester.
He took the first available stage. As the coach rumbled on, he drifted into solitary thought and contemplated the possibility that Martin might have lost the manuscript and that this would spell the end of his writing career. His concern was such that he neither ate nor slept during the entire trip. When the coach arrived at its destination—possibly Canandaigua—Smith still had a great distance to walk in the dark. One of his fellow passengers, a gentleman who had observed his depressed condition, became concerned for his safety and insisted on accompanying him for the remainder of his trip. During the journey, Smith weakened to the point that he could not walk without the stranger’s help. It was nearly daylight when they finally arrived at the Smiths’ home in Manchester.
As Joseph sat resting and sipping tea, he asked that someone tell Harris to come to see him immediately. Lucy expected to see Martin arrive before breakfast and set a place for him at the table. But as breakfast came and went—the first table for men, the second for women—and as Harris failed to appear, Joseph began to fear the worst.
It was nearly noon when Lucy finally spied Harris out the window slowly walking toward the gate, his head bowed. She saw him stop and sit on the fence, his hat drawn over his eyes. Eventually, Martin entered the house and sat at the table with the Smith family but declined any food. Hyrum said, “Martin why do you not eat; are you sick?”
“Oh, I have lost my soul!” Martin cried out, pressing both hands to his temples. “I have lost my soul!”
Joseph jumped from the table, exclaiming, “Martin have you lost the manuscript? Have you broken your oath, and brought down condemnation upon my head, as well as your own?”
“Yes,” Harris said. “It is gone, and I know not where.”
“Oh, My God!” Joseph cried. “All is lost! All is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned—it is I who tempted the wrath of God by asking him to [do] that which I had no right to ask, as I was differently instructed by the angel. … I should have been satisfied with the first answer which I received from the Lord; for he told me that it was not safe to let the writing go out of my possession.” Joseph moaned and wept, pacing the floor for some time. In desperation, he told Martin to go back to his house and search again for the manuscript.
“No,” said Harris. “It is all in vain for I have looked in every place in the house. I have even ripped open beds and pillows and I know it is not there.”
[p. 127]With dread in his voice, Joseph said, “Then must I return to my wife with such a tale as this? I dare not do it least I should kill her at once; and how shall I appear before the Lord? Of what rebuke am I not worthy from the angel of the most high.”
Lucy tried to comfort him, suggesting that God would forgive him. But Joseph could not be consoled and continued to sob and pace the floor. Lucy said the entire family shared his grief, that their “sobs and groans and the most bitter lamentations filled the house.” Joseph’s dealings with the angel had given his family a feeling that they were chosen of God, that there had been a reason for all their hardships; but as Lucy remembered, “all was in [a] moment fled, and fled forever.” A feeling of utter despair gripped the family as Joseph left them the following day to return to Harmony.67
Joseph’s stone was powerless to discover the stolen manuscript, and Joseph was utterly at a loss about what to do. He found himself, in an instant, adrift in uncertainty and doubt. One cannot know the severity of the mental and emotional tempest that must have raged within him during this period of crisis, but he undoubtedly wondered if the lost manuscript and the death of his first-born son were signs of God’s displeasure with him. For some time, he was evidently prepared to abandon his quest to translate the plates. Upon returning to Harmony, he said the angel had taken back the plates and spectacles. As a result, he had lost his gift of seeing, and for a season, heaven fell silent.
It was about this time that Joseph began attending Methodist class meetings with his wife’s family. The class met on Wednesdays, usually at the home of the Reverend Nathaniel Lewis, Emma’s uncle. But Joseph’s presence proved disruptive. The pastor’s sons, Joseph and Hiel, recalled that Smith “presented himself in a very serious and humble manner, and the minister, not suspecting evil, put his name on the class book, in the absence of some of the official members.” When Joseph Lewis learned of this, he took Joshua McKune with him to visit Smith. The two men “told him plainly that such a character as he was a disgrace to the church, that he could not be a member of the church unless he broke off his sins by repentance, made public confession, renounced his fraudulent and hypocritical practices, and gave some evidence that he intended to reform and conduct himself somewhat nearer like a Christian than he had done.” Moreover, if he did not request that his name be removed from the class book, they would conduct a disciplinary investigation. Lewis said Smith “chose the former, and immediately withdrew his name.”68
The Lewises believed that Smith had been a class member for three days, but Michael Morse, Smith’s brother-in-law, said “he was the ‘leader’ of the said ‘class’ and that to his certain knowledge Smith’s name remained on the class book … for about six months, when it was simply ‘dropped,’ as Smith did not seek to become a full [p. 128]member.”69 The Lewises and Morse were all probably partly correct if Morse followed the Methodist custom of leaving a name on the record during a six-month trial period.70
The Harmony Methodists were left guessing as to Smith’s motivation in attending class. The Lewises reported, “It was the general opinion that his only object in joining the church was to bolster up his reputation, and gain the sympathy and help of Christians; that is, putting on the cloak of religion to serve the devil in.”71
Some historians find it difficult to accept that Smith was sincerely interested in Methodism in 1828 and have suggested that his attendance would have been of a “token sort,” that he was attempting to “please Emma and her family, who had close ties with the Methodists,” or that he was “trying to make peace with Isaac Hale, on whose property he had recently come to reside.”72 These theories leave important aspects of the event unanswered: Why, at this time, would Smith feel a particular need to please Isaac Hale? Why would attending the Methodist class please Emma?
Equally plausible would be that his attendance resulted from his own real doubts and needs following the death of his son and the loss of the translation manuscript. Joseph had been plunged into one of the darkest periods of his life. Instinctively, he reached for something familiar, something that had brought him comfort after Alvin’s death in 1823. He had not anticipated the harsh reaction of the Harmony Methodists.
Rejected, he retreated to his own world. Soon he announced that he would continue translating despite having lost the opening portion of his book. With an increased sense of mission, he pressed ahead. In his history, he later minimized this period of uncertainty by claiming that, despite the withdrawal of the plates and spectacles, he received angelic encouragement. “Immediately after my return home I was walking out a little distance,” he said in 1838, “when, behold, the former heavenly messenger appeared and handed to me the Urim and Thummim again … and I enquired of the Lord through them and obtained the following revelation.”73 This revelation was recorded in July 1828, declaring: “The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God, can not be frustrated, neither can they come to nought, for God doth not walk in crooked paths” (Book of Commandments 2:1//Doctrine and Covenants 3:1-2; hereafter BofC, D&C).
Smith was chided for not having trusted in God and for allowing Harris to pressure him: “How oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men: for behold, you should not have feared man more than God, although men set at nought the counsels of God, and despise his words, yet you should have been faithful and he would have extended his arm, and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have [p. 129]been with you in every time of trouble” (BofC 2:3//D&C 3:6-8). Smith had difficulty denying the wishes of his followers—a fault that would contribute to his future successes and failures. The revelation called him to repentance and promised that his affliction would last only for a season: “Thou art still chosen, and wilt again be called to the work; and except thou do this, thou shalt be delivered up and become as other men, and have no more gift” (BofC 2:4//D&C 3:10-11).
The revelation reflects the degree of anger Smith felt toward Harris: “And when thou deliveredst up that which God had given thee sight and power to translate, thou deliveredst up that which was sacred, into the hands of a wicked man, who has set at nought the counsels of God, and has broken the most sacred promises, which were made before God, and has depended upon his own judgment, and boasted in his own wisdom, and this is the reason that thou hast lost thy privileges for a season” (BofC 2:5//D&C 3:12-14).
More significantly, there also may be a hint that God was displeased with Smith’s use of the seer stone for treasure-seeking: “Thou hast suffered the counsel of thy director to be trampled upon from the beginning” (BofC 2:5//D&C 3:15). Smith’s “director” was his seer stone, and as he claimed at the 1826 trial, he “rather declined” using it to seek for treasure but often acquiesced to the wishes of others.
The revelation declares one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon: “For this very purpose are these plates preserved which contain these records, that the promises of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to his people [the Nephites]; and that the Lamanites [Indians] might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name; and through their repentance they might be saved: Amen” (BofC 2:6//D&C 3:16-20). Ethan Smith and other ten tribe theorists also wanted to usher in the millennial reign of Jesus by converting the Jewish Indians.
Emerging from this period of despair, Smith deepened his commitment to his Book of Mormon project. His translation crisis was brief, but its effect was lasting and marked a major turning point in his prophetic career. With the reception of his first revelation, Smith was transformed from a translator of God’s words to ancient prophets into a prophet himself. To be sure, he had received messages from God before, but only in the form of counsel and none worth recording and preserving.
1. Isaac Hale, Statement, 20 Mar. 1834, in “Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register and Northern Pennsylvanian 9 (1 May 1834): 1 (cf. Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003], 4:286; hereafter EMD).
6. Joseph Smith III, Notes of Interview with Emma Smith Bidamon, Feb. 1879, 6, Miscellany, Community of Christ (formerly RLDS Church) Archives, Independence, MO (EMD 1:538). About the time of Smith’s arrival in Harmony, Jesse Hale acquired new land. The 1828 assessment notes Smith’s arrival, along with the following for Hale: “Travis, John sold all of his property to Jesse Hale and Isaac W. Hale and the same is assessed to them this year” (Harmony Assessment Records, 1828, Susquehanna County Courthouse, Montrose, PA).
7. According to Joseph Knight Sr., Smith’s Harmony land included a barn (Joseph Knight Sr., “Manuscript of the History of Joseph Smith,” ca. 1835-47, 3, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, UT [EMD 4:16]). W. C. Cruser, former editor of the Montrose Democrat, wrote in 1929 that Smith’s “house burned a few years ago, but the foundation is there, and the barn on the opposite side of the road” (Montrose Independent, 17 Jan. 1929; cf. “Journal History,” 17 Jan. 1929). For further information on Smith’s land, see Carter E. Grant, “Along the Susquehanna River,” Improvement Era (May 1960): 306-9, 336, 338-42, 344; and “An Angel Visited This Home” Improvement Era (Mar. 1963): 168-72, 190-96.
9. In Grant, “Along the Susquehanna River,” 340-41; and Larry C. Porter, “A Study of the Origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the States of New York and Pennsylvania, 1816-1831,” Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1971, 135. Photographs of the house, which was destroyed by fire in 1919, have been preserved as well as descriptions of the interior (see, e.g., Improvement Era, Mar. 1963, 168, 171; Ensign, Dec. 1983, 33; and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and T. Jeffery Cottle, Old Mormon Palmyra and New England: Historic Photographs and Guide [Santa Ana, CA: Fieldbrook Productions, Inc., 1991], 158, 159).
10. See [Frederick G. Mather], “The Early Mormons: Joe Smith Operates at Susquehanna,” Binghamton Republican, 29 July 1880 (EMD 4:150, 158), where Harriet Marsh of Harpersville, Broome County, New York, reports seeing Smith (with his head bandaged from fighting the devil for the plates) on his way to Wasson’s to get a box made. This may have been the same small trunk that Lucy Smith said she saw about September 1828 on Emma’s bureau, which she described as a “red morocco trunk” (see Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for many Generations [Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853], 124 [EMD 1:369]).
12. Joseph Smith III, Notes of Interview with Emma Smith Bidamon, Feb. 1879, 8-9 (EMD 1:539). Joseph III subsequently reported that his mother told him “she saw the plates in the sack, for they lay on a small table in their living room in their cabin on her father’s farm, and she would lift and move them when she swept and dusted the room and furniture. She even thumbed the leaves as one does the leaves of a book, and they rustled with a metallic sound” (Joseph Smith III to Mrs. E. Horton, 7 Mar. 1900, Community of Christ Archives [EMD 1:546-47]).
15. Harris mentioned the curtain to both Charles Anthon (Charles Anthon to E. D. Howe, 17 Feb. 1834, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 270 [EMD 4:379]) and Palmyra resident John A. Clark (John A. Clark to Dear Brethren, 24 Aug. 1840, in Episcopal Recorder [Philadelphia] 18 [5 Sept. 1840]: 94 [EMD 2:268]).
17. For a comparison of the Anthon transcript with hieratic and demotic Egyptian script, see Ariel L. Crowley, “The Anthon Transcript,” Improvement Era 45 (Jan., Feb., and Mar. 1942). Others have compared the transcript to “deformed English” (Charles A. Shook, Cumorah Revisited: or, “The Book of Mormon” and the Claims of the Mormons Reexamined from the Viewpoint of American Archaeology and Ethnology [Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Co., 1910], 538) and to Masonic and magic scripts (David John Buerger, “A Preliminary Approach to Linguistic Aspects of the Anthon Transcript,” 1978, copy in my possession).
20. Ibid., 272 (EMD 4:380). Cf. Anthon’s description with Alexander [von] Humboldt, Researches Concerning the Institutions & Monuments of the Ancient Inhabitants of America, with Descriptions & Views of Some of the Most Striking Scenes in the Cordilleras!, trans. Helen Maria Williams (London, 1814), Plates XXIII and XLIX.
21. O[rsamus]. Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase (Rochester, NY: William Alling, 1851), 215 (EMD 3:52). It is also possible that Turner’s “informant” simply expanded on Anthon’s published statements. John A. Clark, who was also shown the characters by Harris in 1828 and said they consisted of “three or four lines of characters,” apparently had no objection to Anthon’s description when he published the linguist’s letter to Thomas Winthrop Coit in 1842 (John A. Clark to Dear Brethren, 24 Aug. 1840, Episcopal Recorder [Philadelphia] 18 [5 Sept. 1840]: 94 [EMD 3:266]).
24. Charles Anthon to E. D. Howe, 17 Feb. 1834, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 270-72 (EMD 4:380); and Charles Anthon to Thomas Winthrop Coit, 3 Apr. 1841, Church Record (Flushing, NY) 1 (17 Apr. 1841): 231 (EMD 4:384-85).
34. Anthon to Howe, 17 Feb. 1834, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 272 (EMD 4:380); and Charles Anthon to Thomas Winthrop Coit, 3 Apr. 1841, Church Record (Flushing, NY) 1 (17 Apr. 1841): 232 (EMD 4:385-86).
41. Joseph Smith, “Preface,” Book of Mormon, Printer’s Manuscript, Restoration Scriptures, Community of Christ Archives (EMD 3:47982). Smith’s use of the term “plates of Lehi” is confusing. The preface was written after the text of the Book of Mormon had been completed. Yet, the Book of Mormon fails to mention the “plates of Lehi,” referring only to the “record” of Lehi which had been copied by Nephi onto his own plates (1 Ne. 19:1-2). Mormon says he “made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin” (W. of M. 1:3). Moreover, Mosiah 1:6 mentions only the “plates of Nephi” (“which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now”) as having been handed down from generation to generation. Smith might have used the term “plates of Lehi” in the same sense that Jacob referred to the “plates of Jacob,” although they were “made by the hand of Nephi” (Jacob 3:14). The 1833 superscription to the Book of Commandments, chap. 2 (D&C 3), states that “Martin [Harris] had lost the Manuscript, translated from the book of Lehi, which was abridged by the hand of Mormon.”
42. Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History 9 (Jan. 1916): 454 (EMD 1:530). Although Briggs’s report has “Sarah,” it was most likely the name “Sariah,” Lehi’s wife, that Smith had trouble pronouncing (1 Ne. 2:5).
43. Ibid. In another interview, Emma said, “He had not read the Bible enough to know that there were walls around Jerusalem and he came and asked me if there were walls around the city of Jerusalem” (Nels Madson, “Visit to Mrs. Emma Smith Bidemon,” signed statement, LDS Church Archives [EMD 1:546]). See also 1 Ne. 4:4, 5, 24, 27, where Smith’s re-dictation also mentions the walls of Jerusalem.
46. See John Philip Walker, ed., Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 147. For letters in Joseph Smith’s own hand which seem inconsistent with Emma Smith’s statement, see Joseph Smith to Hyrum Smith, 3 Mar. 1831; Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, 6 June 1832; and Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, 13 Oct. 1832 (in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 2nd rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2002], 256-58, 264-65, 278-80).
48. For the lyricism of the Book of Mormon and comparisons to the works of nineteenth-century romantics, see Richard Dilworth Rust, Feasting on the Word (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997); L. Mikel Vause, “The Book of Mormon as Great Literature,” BYU Studies 32 (Summer 1999): 161-62; and Robert A. Rees, “Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35 (Fall 2002): 83-112. Much of the Book of Mormon’s lyricism is due to its use of rhetorical repetition such as antimetabole (chiasmus), parallelism, anaphora, epistrophe, polysyndeton, paradiastole, and epibole—all of which are also found in Joseph Smith’s revelations as well as the sermons of his day. On repetition in Smith’s revelations, see Richard C. Shipp, “Conceptual Patterns of Repetition in the Doctrine and Covenants and Their Implications,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1975. On rhetorical repetition in Smith’s day (including chiasmus), see Samuel Knox, A Compendious System of Rhetoric (Baltimore, 1809). To my mind, Smith’s subsequent writings—such as his 1839 letters from Liberty Jail (now D&C 121-123)—are lyrically equal if not superior to the Book of Mormon.
52. Advocates of the Book of Mormon have long asserted that Smith dictated the Book of Mormon at a rate “far beyond his natural ability to achieve” (Francis W. Kirkham, “The Writing of the Book of Mormon,” Improvement Era 44 [June 1941]: 341, in Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976], 62; see also Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols. [Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1951], 1:208, 227). In fact, Smith states in his history that he and Harris began working on 12 April 1828, and they evidently worked together until about the time Emma gave birth on 15 June. This would be a total of sixty-four working days. Assuming that Smith’s estimate of 116 pages of manuscript is accurate, Smith and Harris produced an average of 1.8 pages of manuscript per day. Of this period, Fawn Brodie wrote: “Progress was painfully slow, less than two pages a day, for during this period only 116 pages of foolscap were completed, including what Emma had written during the winter” (Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 53). It is unknown how much Emma had written before Harris arrived, but it was very little.
53. Smith states in his history that Cowdery and he began working on 7 April 1829 and that during the month of April, they continued writing “with little cessation,” that the work “continued” until 15 May when they baptized one another (J. Smith, Manuscript History, 15, 17-18 [EMD 1:74]). Cowdery states that their baptisms occurred “after writing the account of the Savior’s ministry to the remnant of the seed of Jacob” (Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, 7 Sept. 1834, [Letter I], Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1 [Oct. 1834]: 15 [EMD 2:419-20]), which concludes with 3 Nephi 30. If Cowdery began as a scribe for the portion of the book following King Benjamin’s speech (Mosiah 1-5), as I will suggest in chapter 11, then Smith dictated 346 pages in 39 days, an average of 8.87 pages per day (based on the 588-page first edition of the Book of Mormon). Thereafter, the rate of dictation dropped significantly. Assuming that Smith finished the Book of Moroni before moving to Fayette in early June 1829 according to David Whitmer (see chapter 24 in this volume), Smith dictated 74 pages, an average of 4.93 pages per day. In Fayette, from 2 June to 1 July, Smith dictated (if one includes the eighteen chapters of Isaiah) 148 pages, an average of 5.1 pages per day.
54. Josiah Priest, American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West (Albany, NY: printed by Hoffman and White, 1833), 73. For a discussion of the various theories of Indian origins in the New World, see Vogel, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon, 35-52.
55. The 3 March 1825 issue of the Wayne Sentinel reported that the Bible Society of London, England, “have determined henceforward, wholly to exclude the Apocrypha from their editions of the Sacred Scriptures.”
56. Although the actual year was 597 B.C., Joseph Smith’s use of the year 600 B.C. as the first year of King Zedekiah’s reign (1 Ne. 1:4) was probably based on the Bible commentaries of his day. Both Adam Clarke and Thomas Scott dated it to 599 B.C.: Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible … with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 6 vols. (New York: Ezra Sargent, 1811-17), s.v., 2 Kings 24:18; Thomas Scott, The Holy Bible … with Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations, and Copious Marginal References (Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1817), 2:387-88. The Bible Smith used for his inspired revision was published in 1828 and purchased by Oliver Cowdery on 8 October 1829; it variously dates Zedekiah’s reign to 593 B.C. (see 2 Kings 24:18 and 2 Chron. 36:11) and 599 B.C. (see Jer. 52:1) (The Holy Bible [Cooperstown, NY: H. and E. Phinney Co., 1828], original in the Community of Christ Archives [EMD 3:478]).
57. A revelation Smith dictated in July 1828, which mentions that the Lamanites were “suffered to destroy their brethren” the Nephites, is an early indication that Smith knew how the book would end (BofC 2:6//D&C 3:18). The mound builder myth is discussed in more detail in chapter 21 in this volume.
62. The story is repeated three times by Edward Stevenson: Edward Stevenson to the Editor, 30 Nov. 1881, Deseret Evening News 15 (13 Dec. 1881) (EMD 2:321); Edward Stevenson, “The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. No. III,” Millennial Star 48 (21 June 1886): 389-91 (EMD 2:324); and Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Edward Stevenson, 1893), 30-33 (EMD 2:328).
66. Robert D. Anderson echoes this interpretation: “Healthy parents who know they have done ‘nothing wrong’ may still struggle with irrational guilt. Undeniably, an extra psychological burden was added through the alarming deformations. The child’s father was a man ‘chosen by God.’ … Was it a judgement from God?” (Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999], 90).
68. Joseph and Hiel Lewis, “Mormon History: A New Chapter about to Be Published,” Amboy [IL] Journal 24 (30 Apr. 1879): 1 (EMD 4:305). Regarding the date of Smith’s participation in the Methodist class, Joseph Lewis reported in his 11 June 1879 rejoinder in the same paper that he thought it was in June 1828. Hiel Lewis told Wilhelm Wymetal that it was in June 1828 as well (Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal, Joseph Smith the Prophet, His Family, and His Friends [Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1986], 80 [EMD 4:305, n. 28]).
69. Amboy Journal, 21 May 1879 (EMD 4:305-306, n. 28). Membership in the Methodist church was not required for participation in the Wednesday classes (see David Lewis Watson, The Early Methodist Class Meeting: Its Origins and Significance [Nashville: Disciples Resources, 1987], 108; and Saints’ Herald 26 [15 Dec. 1879]: 376).
70. The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York: Azor Hoyt, 1828), 80, states concerning membership in class meetings: “Give tickets to none until they are recommended by a leader with whom they have met at least six months on trial.”
72. See Marvin S. Hill, “Letters,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16 (Spring 1983): 6; and Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 94.