Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet
by Dan Vogel
Jacob and His Posterity
As the dictation was drawing to a close, Joseph Smith was anxious to obtain the testimony of the three special witnesses so it could be appended to the Book of Mormon manuscript. Accordingly, he summoned his parents and Martin Harris to Fayette and began to set the stage for the fulfillment of God’s promise.1 Already there were three witnesses to the existence of the plates: Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Mary Whitmer. However, Smith anticipated something more dramatic and authoritative.2
Lucy Smith said that on the evening following their arrival in Fayette, the small group of believers assembled at the Whitmer home where they read from the Book of Mormon manuscript. After breakfast and family prayer, Joseph approached Harris, saying: “Martin Harris, you have got to humble yourself before your God this day, that you may obtain a forgiveness of your sins. If you do, it is the will of God that you should look upon the plates, in company with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer.”3 These words repeated the revelation Smith had dictated the previous March in response to Harris’s request to see the plates. The revelation constituted the first mention of the three special witnesses (Book of Commandments 4:4; hereafter BofC; cf. Doctrine and Covenants 5:11; hereafter D&C) and had promised Harris that he would have “a view of these things which he desires to see,” provided he “humble himself in mighty prayer and faith, in the sincerity of his heart” (BofC 4:8; cf. D&C 5:24). This was not just a promise; it was conditional and coercive and warned him that if he did not see the plates, it would confirm his transgression and place him under condemnation (BofC 4:9, 11; cf. D&C 5:27, 32). Harris was understandably eager to prove otherwise.
Smith found that he did not have to search for willing participants, for as soon as it was discovered that witnesses were to be chosen, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris began to implore him to let them be included. This was ideal, for the three men were among the most charismatic of Smith’s followers. Cowdery, the rod worker, had already seen Jesus and the gold plates and would later say that an angel attended his and Smith’s baptisms. Whitmer believed he had seen the heavenly messenger on the road between Harmony and Fayette, had felt the angel’s presence under his father’s shed, and thought he saw something that indicated that the plates had been hidden underneath the shed. Harris was well-known to Palmyrans for his eccentricities; he had seen “the Lord” in vision, had already received a testimony concerning Smith’s mission, and said he saw the gold plates with the “eye of faith” through the cloth that covered them. The fact that they came forward of their own volition implied that they believed the plates existed and that they had confidence in their own visionary abilities.
The men were not only willing but anxious. As Smith reported, the three “became so very solicitous and teased me so much” that he finally inquired of God through the seer stone to know if these were to be the three witnesses. If they relied upon God’s word “with full purpose of heart,” they would see the plates, the answer came, and they would also see “the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim which were given to the brother of Jared on the mount when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness on the borders of the Red Sea” (D&C 17:1).4
The revelation prepared the three men for what they should see and also laid out the subjective nature of their anticipated vision:
And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of [the plates]. … And after that you have obtained faith, and have seen them with your eyes, you shall testify of them, by the power of God; and this you shall do that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., may not be destroyed, that I may bring about my righteous purposes unto the children of men in this work. And ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., has seen them; for it is by my power that he has seen them, and it is because he had faith. (D&C 17:2-5)
Although it will be through faith and God’s power that the witnesses will see the plates—not that they will see them literally and physically—they are asked to testify that they have seen them with their “eyes” just as Smith had. This will be reflected in their published testimony, written shortly after their visions, as follows: “And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon.” The wording implies the physical presence of the plates, or what Richard Anderson called “the natural-supernatural appearance of the angel with the plates,”5 but the witnesses later acknowledge the subjective nature of their experiences. When early Mormon convert Ezra Booth read a manuscript copy of the revelation to the witnesses in 1831, he was troubled by what it seemed to suggest:
When in Missouri, I had an opportunity to examine a commandment given to these witnesses, previous to their seeing the plates. They were informed that they should see and hear those things by faith, and then they should testify to the world, as though they had seen and heard, as I see a man, and hear his voice: but after all, it amounts simply to this; that by faith or imagination, they saw the plates and the angel, and by faith or imagination, they heard the voice of the Lord.6
His reaction might explain why the revelation was not published in the Book of Commandments in 1833, although it would be included in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. The revelation defends the enhancement of the testimonies to protect Smith and advance God’s purposes and then promises that God will approve of this: “And if you do these last commandments of mine, which I have given you, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; for my grace is sufficient for you, and you shall be lifted up at the last day. And I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, have spoken it unto you, that I might bring about my righteous purposes unto the children of men” (D&C 17:8-9).
The most detailed account of the vision comes from David Whitmer, who said that following breakfast and family prayer, he went to work in the fields as usual and that while he was plowing, “I heard a voice and saw a personage who said, ‘Blessed is the Lord and he that keepeth his commandments.’”7 He may have been contemplating the meaning of God’s commandment contained in the revelation to him and the other two witnesses to have faith to see the plates and then testify of seeing them with his eyes. If so, his pre-group vision may have helped him overcome any hesitation he may have felt about fulfilling such a commandment. Whitmer said that “the very next round [with the plow,] Bro. Joseph and Oliver came along and said, ‘Come David and be one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon.’” As he told Edward Stevenson in 1877, the group vision occurred on a Sunday, perhaps 28 June, about 11:00 a.m.
According to Smith’s 1838-39 history, the first published account of the event, the four men—Smith, Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris—retired to a grove of trees near the Whitmer home and knelt in prayer. “According to previous arrangement,” Smith said, “I commenced by vocal prayer to our Heavenly Father and was followed by each of the rest in succession.” This process was repeated twice without the desired result. Believing he was the cause of their failure, Harris withdrew. Then, Smith continues,
we knelt down again, and had not been many minutes engaged in prayer when presently we beheld a light above us in the air of exceeding brightness, and behold, an angel stood before us; in his hands he held the plates which we had been praying for … to have a view of: he turned over the leaves one by one, so that we could see them, and discern the engravings thereon distinctly: He addressed himself to David Whitmer, and said, “David, blessed is the Lord, and he that keeps his commandments:” when immediately afterwards we heard a voice from out of the bright light above us, saying “These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God; the translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.”8
Although Smith adds details that are overlooked in the published “Testimony of Three Witnesses” such as his own presence during the vision, the angel’s words, and the appearance of a bright light, there are also some inaccuracies. Most notably, Smith apparently incorporated into his account what the angel had said in Whitmer’s earlier vision. Smith may not be solely responsible for this error since, in subsequent interviews, Whitmer sometimes amalgamated his two visions.9 Nevertheless, it suggests that what Smith is doing is attempting to relate what Whitmer experienced, the way he described it, rather than describing what Smith himself had seen. In other words, he adopted Whitmer’s account as his own.
Second, the exact circumstances, as Smith outlines them, are contradicted by Whitmer. Rather than kneeling in prayer, Whitmer said, the vision came as he, Smith, and Cowdery “were sitting upon a log … talking.”10 Whitmer told George Q. Cannon in 1884 that they were “conversing upon the things to be revealed when they were surrounded by a glorious light which overshadowed them.”11 Thus, Smith obscures the influence of the conversation they were having on the subsequent content of the vision.
Third, as in the published testimony, Smith’s account does not mention that they saw other objects in this vision. In 1877, for example, Whitmer told Stevenson that the light “grew brighter until an angel stood before us and on the appearance of a table was laid the plates, Urim and Thummin, ball or director, sword of Laban &c.”12
Despite these discrepancies, Whitmer repeatedly affirmed that he saw an angel with the plates. He often clarified that the experience was subjective and in the fullest sense a vision. John Murphy interviewed him in June 1880 and found that the Book of Mormon witness had gained his testimony of the book through “impressions as [with] the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving happy experience, a feeling.”13 Following publication of Murphy’s account, Whitmer responded with a written “Proclamation” that reaffirmed his testimony; he attached an affidavit attesting to his honesty and respectability in the community. Significantly, he did not dispute any specific statement in Murphy’s version of the interview.14
The metaphysical aspect of Whitmer’s testimony was noted by James Henry Moyle, a member of LDS church who interviewed the aged witness on 28 June 1885. Moyle recorded in his diary: “Mr. D. Whitmer Sen. did not handle the plates. Only saw them. … Says he did see them and the angel and heard him speak. But that it was indescribable, that it was through the power of God … He then spoke of Paul hearing and seeing Christ but his associates did not. Because it is only seen in the Spirit.” Moyle, a recent law school graduate, noted his disappointment over the quality of evidence: “I was not fully satisfied with the explanation. It was more spiritual than I anticipated.”15 He attempted to ascertain whether the angel’s appearance could be considered an objective event or if it was only experienced inwardly: “I asked if the atmosphere about them was normal.” In other words, did the angel appear within the normal surroundings or did the vision entirely obscure the natural world? According to Whitmer, “it was indescribable, but the light was bright and clear, yet apparently a different kind of light, something of a soft haze.” Despite the naturalistic wording of the printed testimony, Whitmer’s candid personal account described what might be called a waking dream.
When the vision closed, Smith joined Harris, who was still praying some distance away. Together, according to Smith, they experienced the very same vision. Of this, Smith’s history reports:
I found [Harris] at a considerable distance fervently engaged in prayer; he soon told me however that he had not yet prevailed with the Lord, And earnestly requested me, to join him in prayer, that he also might realize the same blessings which we had just received: we accordingly joined in prayer, and ultimately obtained our desires, for before we had yet finished, the same vision was opened to our view; at least it was again to me, and I once more beheld, and seen, and heard the same things; whilst at the same moment, Martin Harris cried out, apparently in an ecstasy of joy, “’Tis enough, ’tis enough; mine eyes have beheld, mine eyes have beheld.” And jumping up he shouted, Hosanna, blessing God; and—otherwise rejoiced exceedingly.16
Like Whitmer, Harris admitted to the subjective nature of the experience. John H. Gilbert, who set the type for the Book of Mormon, recalled: “Martin was in the office when I finished setting up the testimony of the three witnesses. … I said to him,— ‘Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?’ Martin looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.’”17 When pressed about this on another occasion, Harris told one resident of Palmyra: “I saw them with the eye of faith.”18 According to Stephen Burnett, Harris’s remarks to an Ohio congregation in 1838 were that “he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination,” that the witnesses saw the plates “spiritually or in vision with their eyes shut.”19 While living in Utah, Harris told Anthony Metcalf that he saw the angel and the plates in a “visionary or entranced state.”20
Since the visions of the three witnesses can be properly classified as mystical experiences, the subject of hallucination cannot be ignored. In defending the witnesses, Richard Anderson assumes that because the witnesses were intelligent, trusted, and productive citizens of their communities and exhibited no obvious signs of psychosis or psychological impairment, their visions must have been real.21 However, hallucinators are otherwise indistinguishable from other people and may function normally in society.22 Surveys have shown repeatedly that 10 to 15 percent of ordinary, functioning people have experienced some kind of hallucination at least once in their lives.23 “We would surely be missing something important about our own nature,” observes scientist Carl Sagan, “if we refused to face up to the fact that hallucinations are part of being human.”24 In his 1990 book, Hallucinations in Clinical Psychiatry, Dr. Ghazi Asaad, associate professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College, discusses more than fifty causes of hallucination, including grief reaction, fatigue, sensory, sleep and food deprivation, and hypnotism or strong suggestion.25 To emphasize Harris’s business ethics or Cowdery’s intelligence or Whitmer’s good citizenship is irrelevant.
While there can be a false sense of security associated with visions experienced by multiple witnesses, the mere existence of multiple witnesses does not rule out the possibility of hallucination. Collective or group visions have been observed in various settings outside Mormonism and occur with enough regularity that they can be considered part of the human experience. An ongoing example of this phenomenon is the repeated appearance of the “Virgin Mary” at Lourdes and other places.26 In Lebanon, New York, in the early 1840s, the visionary experiences of the Shakers were not unlike what the Book of Mormon witnesses reported. In one instance, eight Shakers signed an affidavit attesting that they saw “the holy Angel standing upon the house-top … holding the Roll and Book.”27 Group hallucination has also been observed and documented by modern investigators of the paranormal.28
Generally, the illusion of a group hallucination is achieved through the following mechanisms: expectation, anticipation, suggestion, and cross-infection that can begin prior to the hallucination, operate during the experience, and continue to modify the memories of the participants long afterward. Thus, expectation and anticipation might operate in producing a similar experience for the various participants; communication between participants during the hallucination, which can range from verbal description to subtle nuances in behavior, can facilitate similarity of experience; and if there is a follow-the-leader dynamic at play, such as in a spiritual-guide situation, uniformity of experience is often achieved. Like any human experience, visions and hallucinations are subject to reconstructive memory; subsequent communication between participants can contaminate individual accounts rather than clarify them. Assuming that participants experience similar but not identical visions, later conversations may not reveal subtle differences.29
It is easier to explain the phenomenon generally than it is to discover principles that are at play in specific cases due to the subtlety of the unconscious coordination of experience. In the case of the three witnesses, there is an unfortunate paucity of comparative data. The published Testimony of Three Witnesses and Smith’s history are of limited value. In addition, Cowdery provided little information,30 and Harris’s statements lack detail. Yet, even if the situation were such that one could compare the testimonies in detail, any presumed agreement between the accounts would not necessarily exclude the possibility of hallucination.
For instance, Harris’s and Whitmer’s accounts have common elements: the angel, the table, the plates and other objects, the angel speaking, and the voice of God. Yet, one does not know if the two men saw the same angel, the same table, and the same plates. One does not know if they heard the same voices or the same words or if their experiences lasted the same length of time. Moreover, general similarities between Whitmer’s and Harris’s descriptions may have been due to preconditioning: the June 1829 revelation told them what to expect, they had probably already felt the plates through the cloth covering, Smith had shown them the characters he said he transcribed from the plates, and Smith’s own descriptions of the artifact and related objects and accounts of previous encounters with the angel would have influenced them. Indeed, neither the Book of Mormon nor Smith’s revelations mentioned that the plates would be presented to the witnesses by an immortal being, so it seems likely that the witnesses’ vision was shaped by Mary Whitmer’s experience earlier in the month. Smith also reveals that the order in which each man prayed was “according to previous arrangement.” It is possible that the preparation for the vision included elements of preconditioning that were not recorded. Smith’s presence and the possibility of transmitting information about Whitmer’s experience to Harris may have been further factors.
Finally, differences that might have originally existed between the accounts probably became blurred over time as the details faded and general impressions remained. The publication of Smith’s version in 1842 may have influenced Harris’s and Whitmer’s own descriptions. Smith could have been a continuing catalyst for uniformity. Indeed, the testimony Smith prepared for the witnesses was itself designed to unify and harmonize the men’s multiple impressions.
Despite the general agreement between the accounts of Harris and Whitmer, there is evidence that Harris’s vision varied from that of the others. Whitmer told Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith in 1878: “I don’t think [Martin Harris] saw all that we did, but our testimony as recorded in the Book of Mormon is strictly and absolutely true just as it is written.”31 Palmyra resident Abner Cole claimed in 1831 that “there appears to be a great discrepancy, in the stories told by the famous three witnesses to the Gold bible,” particularly between Harris’s and Whitmer’s descriptions of the plates.32
It was perhaps because of this that Smith was forced to distance himself from Harris’s account. Indeed, if the public noticed the differences, it was advantageous to emphasize the fact that Harris received his vision separately. In Smith’s telling, the only link between the two experiences was the claim that “the same vision was opened to our view.” But Smith’s qualification, “at least it was again to me,” weakens that link, opening the possibility that Harris’s vision differed not only from Whitmer’s and Cowdery’s but also from Smith’s.33
The difficulties surrounding multiple subjective witnesses may have been anticipated. Smith’s March 1829 revelation promised Harris a view of the plates but instructed: “He shall say no more … concerning these things, except he shall say: I have seen them, and they have been shown unto me by the power of God” (D&C 5:26).34 As Abner Cole reported, the witnesses evidently failed to follow the revelation’s instruction. It is also interesting that Smith had just dictated a portion of the Book of Mormon describing Lehi’s and Nephi’s different accounts of the same vision (1 Ne. 15:27).
The subject cannot be adequately explored without also examining Joseph Smith’s role as facilitator. Indeed, one wonders why Smith was present where his participation was not otherwise required. It is curious that the witnesses struggled to achieve their visions, especially where Harris was unable to achieve the visionary state prior to Smith’s arrival. The possibility of some kind of trance state was explored by I. Woodbridge Riley in 1902 and Fawn Brodie in 1945.35 Even Whitmer’s grandson George W. Schweich suggested, “If that vision was not real it was hypnotism.”36 This possibility has never been adequately explored, let alone refuted. Of course, the question of the source—whether the vision was inspired by God or the result of some psychological state—can never be conclusively answered. But the case for hypnotism or some similar process is more compelling than one might at first presume.
That Joseph Smith was familiar with the possibility of one person causing another to hallucinate is perhaps alluded to in the Book of Mormon. After an angel had appeared before Laman and Lemuel, preventing their continued beating of Nephi, Laman subsequently declares to Lemuel that Nephi “worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes” (1 Ne. 16:38). Remarkably, Laman has not been detoured in his naturalistic explanation by the viewing of an angel.
While mesmerism did not have a significant impact in the United States until the middle 1830s,37 Smith could observe the effects of strong suggestion at the revivals in the form of hallucinations and involuntary acts, including swooning, fainting, and speaking in tongues.38 Hallucinations were experienced by some treasure seekers. Martin Harris reported that the money diggers of Palmyra and Manchester saw “a great many strange sights,” including the apparition of “a large man who appeared to be eight or nine feet high” and “a company of horsemen.”39 One group digging for a pot of money in Braintree, Vermont, reported that when the guardian spirit moved the treasure through the earth, “the ground [was] seen to rise and fall in the direction in which the treasure took its departure.”40 Another group digging in 1814 in Rochester, New York, claimed that when the rule of silence was violated: “The charm was broken!—the scream of demons—the chattering of spirits—and hissing of serpents rent the air, and the treasure moved.”41 Historian Alan Taylor remarks that early American treasure tales are not always easily explained as instances of “defensive or calculated deceit,” for “seekers usually impressed contemporary observers with an utter conviction that their supernatural encounters had been real.”42 Several things made the treasure quest conducive to hallucination: sensory deprivation, fatigue, and strong suggestion. Indeed, Smith’s claim to have seen in his stone the subterraneous movement of a treasure or the approach of a guardian spirit would have been a powerful suggestion to some participants and may have evoked hallucination. In this setting, Smith may have discovered and experimented with the power of suggestion.
As with Anderson’s assumption about the profile of a hallucinator, it would be incorrect to assume that good hypnotic subjects are gullible or weak-willed,43 although the witnesses exhibited other traits that would have made them particularly susceptible to hypnosis. Indeed, there is a correlation between mystical experience and hypnotizability, as Dr. David M. Wulff explains: “Persons who tend to score high on mysticism scales … are likely to score high on measures of hypnotizability, absorption, and fantasy proneness, suggesting a capacity to suspend the judging process that distinguishes imaginings and real events and to commit their mental resources to representing the imaginal object as vividly as possible. … Individuals high on hypnotic susceptibility are also more likely to report having undergone religious conversion, which for them is primarily an experiential rather than a cognitive phenomenon—that is, one marked by notable alterations in perceptual, affective, and ideomotor response patterns.”44 By ideomotor response, Wulff means involuntary body movements such as those experienced at the revivals. In this regard, Cowdery’s use of a divining rod that had told him “many things” is a good indication that he was especially susceptible to hypnosis.45 Regardless, that individuals can be hypnotized and that small groups of people may be induced to experience the same imaginary phenomena should be sufficient warning against an uncritical acceptance of the testimony of the Book of Mormon witnesses.
In any case, Lucy Smith recalled that the four men returned to the Whitmer home sometime between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m., immediately following their collective experience, and that Joseph threw himself on the bed and exclaimed:
Father!—Mother! … you do not know how happy I am. The Lord has caused the plates to be shown to 3 more besides me who have also seen an angel and will have to testify to the truth of what I have said for they know for themselves that I do not go about to deceive the people and I do feel as though I was relieved of a dreadful burden which was almost too much for me to endure but they will now have to bear a part and it does rejoice my soul that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world.46
Martin Harris “seemed almost overcome with excess of joy” as he “testified to what he had seen and heard.” He was followed by Oliver and David. Lucy did not recount their statements but remembered that “their testimony was the same in substance as that contained in the book of Mormon.”47
The next day, Lucy, Joseph Sr., and Martin Harris returned to Palmyra, and Joseph Jr. returned to dictating the Book of Mormon. Whitmer said that the three witnesses were shown the plates “shortly before the completion of the translation when there were but a few pages left.”48 Exactly where Smith was in the dictation is not known, but it seems likely that he had dictated at least to 2 Nephi 27, which refers to the three witnesses. The remaining parts—the books of Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni, and The Words of Mormon—take up thirty-one pages in the first edition and represent three to four days’ work. Nevertheless, this portion covers more than 400 years of history in the narrative.
Whereas the lost manuscript followed the lineage of the kings—probably the descendants of Nephi who remain unidentified—the replacement material traces the names of Jacob’s descendants, the priestly lineage, through Enos, Jarom, Omni, Amaron, Chemish, Abinadom, and Amaleki. The small plates become “full” just as Jacob’s lineage dies out.
After dictating Nephi’s two books, Smith seems anxious to bring his work to a close. Having received the plates from Nephi about 544 B.C., Jacob is the first to report that the plates are “small” (Jacob 1:1). Evidently, Smith had not planned to say much on Jacob’s behalf, for the superscription to this book, the largest of the remaining five, briefly states: The words of his preaching unto his brethren. He confoundeth a man who seeketh to overthrow the doctrine of Christ. A few words concerning the history of the people of Nephi. The books of Enos, Jarom, and Omni do not have superscriptions and each consists of one chapter only.
Jacob reports that prior to the death of Nephi, the latter appointed “a man” to be his successor (1:9) but withholds the name of this king, probably one of Nephi’s sons. Instead, Jacob notes of Nephi’s successors: “Wherefore, the people were desirous to retain in remembrance his name. And whoso should reign in his stead were called by the people, second Nephi, third Nephi, and so forth, according to the reigns of the kings” (1:11). This practice is not evident in the retained manuscript which refers to Benjamin and Mosiah II (Mosiah 1:1; 6:4), nor is it followed with Mosiah I in the replacement text (Omni 1:12, 23; Mosiah 6:4). Nevertheless, the struggle over the naming of kings is probably due to Smith’s inability to remember the contents of the lost manuscript.
Despite the limited Nephite population, Jacob claims that following the first Nephi’s death, the people began to indulge in “wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son” (1:15).49 As with King Noah (Mosiah 11) and Riplakish (Ether 10), Jacob links polygamy with riches and the pursuit of wealth (1:15). One thinks of Martin Harris, who in Harmony reportedly said that “adultery was no crime.” In a March 1830 revelation, Harris is told: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” (D&C 19:25). Four years later, Lucy Harris accused her estranged husband of having an affair with twenty-five-year-old Magdaline Haggart, wife of neighbor Daniel P. Haggart.50 As previously suggested, Harris’s belief system may have included some form of “spiritual wifery,” which would have allowed him to justify his behavior.51
To combat polygamy, Jacob calls the people to the temple and explains that he did so only after “having first obtained mine errand from the Lord” (Jacob 1:17). He then describes his and his younger brother Joseph’s callings to the ministry. He uses terms Smith would have understood: “And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day” (1:17, 19; cf. 2 Ne. 9:44). Likely, it was this sense of responsibility that drove Smith to perform his mission.
Jacob expresses concern for “your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God” (2:7). He knows that in discussing polygamy, he will worsen the wounds of the women and children rather than heal them. Nevertheless, he must be obedient to God’s commandment to call the men to repentance (v. 11). Jacob declares: “They understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son” (v. 23). One should be careful not to read into this a ban on polygamy because Jacob also states: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things” (v. 30). Rather, Jacob chastises the men for appealing to Old Testament polygamy to justify adultery. Polygamy is permissible if commanded by God, which was not true for the Nephites, Martin Harris, or any of Smith’s followers. How Smith would view his own extramarital relationships in this context is uncertain.52>
At this point, Jacob’s sermon turns emotional. He is protective of the hurt feelings of the insulted wives and children:
For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people … because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands. And I will not suffer … that the cries of the fair daughters of this people … shall come up unto me against the men of my people. … Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascended up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds. (2:31-33, 35)
One wonders why such an impassioned defense of errant husbands’ wives and children occurs here and where it comes from. Mrs. Harris’s situation probably would not have evoked such strong feelings from Smith. It is usually personal ex- perience that evokes pathos. Robert Anderson sees in this passage “evidence of marital disharmony” between Joseph and Emma over the former’s promiscuity. This explanation is not entirely satisfying when one considers that the couple was still childless.53
In a previous chapter, it was suggested that the drunken, polygamous, and Universalist King Noah was modeled partly on Joseph Sr.54 In 1834, Joseph Sr. confessed, without being specific, that he had “not always set that example before my family that I ought.”55 Maybe the years of alienation from Lucy and his lack of sobriety had pushed him to other offenses. This would explain the emotionally charged doctrinal debates in the Smith household and why Joseph Jr. would have felt so desperate about his family, particularly his father. It may also explain why Joseph Jr. relentlessly attacked Universalism and why he became such an uncompromising advocate of obedience to the basic commandments, why he placed sexual crimes above all others excluding murder, and why he was so harsh toward others who were guilty of sexual misconduct. Finally, it may explain how he could condemn adultery while at the same time fraternizing with other women himself. Smith identified with his father and may have found it difficult to resist his example.56
It is interesting to note that Jacob assigns the command to be monogamous to Lehi, although there is no record of this from Lehi (2:34). As with Universalism, this is perhaps another example of attaching a belief to Lehi to project what Joseph wished from his father. In a subsequent passage, Jacob warns the adulterous fathers that they are accountable for their bad example to their sons: “Wherefore, ye shall remember your children, how that ye have grieved their hearts because of the example that ye have set before them; and also, remember that ye may, because of your filthiness, bring your children unto destruction, and their sins be heaped upon your heads at the last day” (3:10). It is as if the son assigns blame for lapses in marital fidelity to his father’s example.
Jacob warns the adulterous men—those who are “not pure in heart”—that “except ye repent the land is cursed for your sakes” (3:3). Martin Harris and Joseph Sr. both knew what it meant to have their farmland cursed. Moreover, the Lamanites will “scourge you even unto destruction. And the time speedily cometh,” Jacob declares, “that except ye repent they shall possess the land of your inheritance, and the Lord God will lead away the righteous out from among you” (vv. 3-4). This prediction will be fulfilled in the Book of Mormon when, more than 100 years later, Mosiah I leads the righteous into the land of Zarahemla (Omni 1:12-13). Similarly, Joseph Smith planned to lead the righteous into the wilderness and establish the New Jerusalem where only the pure in heart would dwell. It was necessary that any among Smith’s followers who espoused “spiritual wifery” renounce the practice.
Jacob says that the Lamanites, despite their curse of a dark skin, are more righteous than the Nephites, for they love their wives and children and have but one wife (3:5-9). A curious aspect of the Lamanite curse is that no matter how wicked the Nephites become, even if they exceed the wickedness of the Lamanites, their skin remains white. To many of Smith’s pre-Darwinian contemporaries, racism blunted the discomfort people felt when they were confronted with human diversity and what they considered to be a challenge to the Adam and Eve story.57
Although Jacob treats polygamy as a major sin threatening the Nephite nation, the practice disappears until King Noah and his wicked priests revive it (Mosiah 11),58 then it vanishes for good. Not even during the Nephites’ most wicked days does polygamy reappear. Its disappearance is best explained as a result of the order of dictation.
After complaining about the “difficulty of engraving our words upon plates” (4:1; cf. Ether 12:24), Jacob explains that the use of metal plates was necessary because “whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away” (v. 2). Nevertheless, he hopes that the latter-day Lamanites will receive Nephi’s record with joy and thankfulness, for through it they will learn about their “first parents” who came from Jerusalem and were Christians (vv. 3-4).
Jacob exhorts his latter-day readers to “despise not the revelations of God,” for through them the Nephites look forward to the coming of Christ hundreds of years hence (4:3-8). Similar to Nephi, Jacob touts the clarity of Nephite prophecy—“He that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men” (v. 13; cf. 1 Cor. 14:29-33)—then blames the Jews for the lack of plainness in the Old Testament (vv. 13-14). In delivering his own prophecy that the Jews will reject Jesus (vv. 15-17), Jacob draws on Psalm 118:22—“The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner”—an obscure passage that early Christians interpreted as a reference to Jesus (Matt. 21:42; Acts 4:11). Evidently, Jacob knows that he has not been plain and clear because he announces that he will explain “this mystery” (v. 18). To do so, he quotes Zenos’ allegory of the tame and wild olive trees (5:1-77).
This allegory is supposed to have been written by a Jewish prophet in the Old World before Lehi’s departure and offers a panoramic view of Israel’s spiritual history, including the Nephites in America. Essentially, it elaborates Lehi’s allegory of the olive tree (cf. 1 Ne. 10:12-14; 15:12-16), which in turn was inspired by Romans 11:11-24. Smith follows Paul’s error of grafting branches from a wild olive tree into a cultivated tree.59 Nevertheless, Smith transforms Paul’s simple analogy into an elaborate literary chimera.
The first thing one notices about Zenos’ allegory is the apparent anomalous setting of olive trees in “vineyards,” which was forbidden by Jewish law (Deut. 22:9) even though the rule was not enforced by New Testament times (Luke 13:6). The allegory describes the husbandry of the olive trees—pruning, grafting, fertilization— in terms that would have been familiar to those working apple orchards60 such as the Smiths had in Norwich, Vermont, and on their farm in Manchester, New York.
The Book of Mormon allegory begins: “For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive-tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay” (5:3). The allegory describes various ways in which the lord of the vineyard attempts to save his precious olive tree. First, the master directs his servant to prune, cultivate, and fertilize the tree (5:4). This remedy fails, for after “many days,” and even though a few new branches have begun to grow, the “main top thereof began to perish” (v. 6).
The master then instructs his servant to prune the withering branches and to burn them (5:7). The act of cutting off and burning dead branches is reflected in John 15:5-6 and was undoubtedly employed on the Smith farm. In case the tree dies, the master instructs his servant to “pluck” the younger branches and bring them to him so he can graft them onto the other trees (v. 8). This parallels Lehi’s allegory of the scattered branches of Israel (1 Ne. 10:12-14). Finally, in order to revive the roots, the master tells his servant to take branches from wild olive trees and graft them onto the old tree (v. 9). This probably comes from Romans 11 and 1 Nephi 10 and represents the grafting in of gentiles, although one does not normally graft wild branches into cultivated trees.
After “a long time passed away,” the master and his servant return to the vineyard a third time to work. Upon inspecting the tree, they discover that the grafted branches have begun to bear fruit, that the fruit was “good … like unto the natural fruit” (5:17). Genetically, this is an impossibility, for the grafted branches of a wild olive tree will not bear the same quality fruit as the cultivated tree.
The master and servant then inspect each of the “young and tender branches” that the master has transplanted to the “nethermost part of the vineyard.”61 Upon visiting the first spot and finding the transplanted branches bearing good fruit, the servant asks why the master chose the “poorest spot” in the vineyard in which to “plant this tree, or this branch of the tree” (5:21). The master answers: “Counsel me not; … thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit” (v. 22). In another part of the vineyard, the master has planted in a “good spot of ground” but the branches produce “wild fruit” along with “tame fruit” (5:25), representing the Lamanites and Nephites in the choice land of America. This mixture of wild and tame olives on a single cultivated branch is impossible.
The master instructs his servant to pluck off the wild branches and to burn them (5:26). The servant begs the master to spare them to see if, through a little pruning and nourishment, they might still produce “good fruit” (5:27). Again, this is genetically impossible.
After “a long time had passed away,” the master and servant visit the vineyard for the fourth time to collect the fruit. The master says to the servant, “The time draweth near, and the end soon cometh; wherefore, I must lay up fruit against the season, unto mine own self” (5:29). They inspect the tree that had wild and tame branches and see that it has born “all sorts of fruit” (5:30). After tasting the fruit, the master finds that none of it is good (5:32). Evidently, Smith was unaware of how bitter olives are on the tree and that they cannot be casually sampled before being cured, which can take from several days to even months, without which one would not think of tasting them. The master then asks the servant: “What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto mine own self?” (v. 33).
Seeing that the wild branches had “nourished the roots” and kept the tree from dying, the servant hopes that the aging tree might yet yield a good harvest (5:34). However, the master observes that the “wild branches have grown and have overrun the roots” and that the tree “beginneth to perish” and “will soon become ripened, that it may be cast into the fire, except we should do something for it to preserve it” (v. 37). This probably represents the early Christian apostasy.
The master and the servant return again to the “nethermost parts of the vineyard” and find that the natural branches “had all become corrupt” (5:39). On the tree that represents the Nephites and Lamanites, they find that the “wild fruit … had overcome that part of the tree which brought forth good fruit, even that the branch had withered away and died” (v. 40). The master weeps and wonders what could have been done to save the tree that was planted in the best spot in the vineyard (vv. 41-43). Alluding to the Jaredites, he mentions that he had cut down another tree to make space for the Nephites and Lamanites (v. 44), then expresses regret over not having removed the wild branches before they overcame the good branches and withered the tree (v. 45).
Because the entire vineyard has become corrupt, the master orders his servant to cut down all the trees and to burn them (5:49; cf. D&C 33:4). The servant begs his master to “spare it a little longer” (5:50)—a wish that is granted. What follows pertains to Smith as he defined his mission of aiding the gathering of Israel in the last days.
The master directs his servant to cut the worst branches off the original tree and graft in the natural branches from the trees in the “nethermost parts of the vineyard” and to call others to help them (5:51-53, 61). “Wherefore, let us go to and labor with our might this last time,” the master declares, “for behold the end draweth nigh, and this is for the last time that I shall prune my vineyard” (5:62; cf. 6:2). According to a revelation dictated in July 1830, this was the very work Smith and his followers were called to do (D&C 24:19; cf. D&C 33:3; 39:17; 95:4).
In an anachronistic allusion to Matthew 19:30 and 20:16, the lord of the vineyard then directs his servants to “begin at the last that they may be first, and that the first may be last, and dig about the trees, … that all may be nourished once again for the last time” (5:63). The servants, who are “few” in number, do as the master directs. “And there began to be the natural fruit again in the vineyard; and the natural branches began to grow and thrive exceedingly; and the wild branches began to be plucked off and to be cast away; and they did keep the root and the top thereof equal, according to the strength thereof” (v. 73). The bad branches are “cast away out of the vineyard” and all the trees “became like unto one body,” producing nothing but good fruit (5:74-75). This represents the destruction of the wicked at Jesus’ second coming and the peace and equality of the Millennium.
Describing the period after the Millennium and the end of the world, the master declares: “And when the time cometh that evil fruit shall again come into my vineyard, then will I cause the good and the bad to be gathered; and the good will I preserve unto myself, and the bad will I cast away into its own place. And then cometh the season and the end; and my vineyard will I cause to be burned with fire” (5:77). Thus ends Zenos’ allegory.
Attempting to escape the anachronisms present in this story, one writer has suggested—unconvincingly—that Jacob 5 and Romans 11 were both influenced by the prophet Zenos’ writings in some intermediary document.62 Of course, Zenos is unknown except in the Book of Mormon. Even so, there are other influences at play in the allegory such as the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7 (cf. 2 Ne. 15:1-7) and the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9, the latter of which contains concepts and words similar to Zenos’ allegory. In Luke’s parable, a “certain man” had planted a fig tree in his “vineyard.” When the man visits the vineyard after three years and finds the tree is barren, he asks the caretaker why he has allowed the tree to remain in the vineyard (“why cumbereth it the ground?” [cf. Jacob 5:9]) and orders him to cut it down. The servant asks the man to spare the tree for another year, “till I shall dig about it, and dung it” (cf. Jacob 5:45). Then “if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” The apparent meaning is that Jerusalem would be given a chance to repent and its fate would depend on its response (cf. Luke 13:1-5).
In light of its obvious singularity, it is remarkable that Zenos’ allegory is not subsequently mentioned by any Nephite prophet.63 As with polygamy, the allegory’s absence from Nephite literature is the result of the order of Smith’s dictation.
Jacob concludes his sermon by calling everyone to repentance, but not for polygamy. Rather, he worries about those who “reject the words of the prophets … concerning Christ, … and make a mock of the great plan of redemption” (6:8). He then warns: “Justice cannot be denied, ye must go away into that lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever, which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment” (6:10; cf. Rev. 14:10-11; 20:10). Like Harris and Joseph Sr., these heretics were Universalists.
The message is repeated dramatically near the end of Jacob’s life when he confronts an anti-Christ named Sherem. The incident probably reflects Smith’s desire to re-emphasize the anti-Unitarian/Universalist theme of the Book of Mormon and to once and for all confound and convert his father, Joseph Sr. Like Korihor in Alma 30,64 Sherem preaches with power and eloquence and accuses Jacob of “blasphemy” for claiming to be able to foretell the future. Sherem argues that “no man knoweth of such things; for he cannot tell of things to come” (7:7). To Jacob’s question: “Deniest thou the Christ who should come?” Sherem responds: “If there should be a Christ, I would not deny him; but I know that there is no Christ, neither has been, nor ever will be” (v. 9). “Believest thou the scriptures?” Jacob asks (v. 10). When Sherem responds in the affirmative, Jacob declares: “Then ye do not understand them; for they truly testify of Christ. Behold, I say unto you that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ. And this is not all—it has been made manifest unto me, for I have heard and seen; and it also has been made manifest unto me by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, I know [that] if there should be no atonement made, all mankind must be lost” (7:11-12). Taking the bait, Sherem responds, much as Korihor will with Alma: “Show me a sign by this power of the Holy Ghost, in the which ye know so much” (v. 13). Similar to Jesus’ response to Satan in Matthew 4:7, Jacob retorts: “What am I that I should tempt God to show unto thee a sign in the thing thou knowest to be true? Yet thou wilt deny it, because thou art of the devil.” Jacob nevertheless calls for a sign: “But if God shall smite thee, let that be a sign unto thee that he has power, both in heaven and in earth; and also, that Christ shall come. And thy will, O Lord, be done, and not mine” (7:14).
Korihor will be struck dumb, but Sherem is instantly overcome by the power of God and falls to the earth in a trance-like condition, where he remains for “many days” (7:15). When he finally regains consciousness, he announces that he has only one more day to live and that he wants to speak to the people (v. 16). On the following day, he confesses to a gathered multitude that he has been deceived by the devil and that Christ will come as Jacob has prophesied (vv. 17-18). Acknowledging the existence of “hell” and “eternal punishment,” Sherem worries about his own fate: “I fear lest I have committed the unpardonable sin, for I have lied unto God; for I denied the Christ, and said that I believed the scriptures; and they truly testify of him” (7:19; cf. Matt. 12:31-32).
Following his public confession, and in words taken from the New Testament, Sherem “gave up the ghost” (7:20; cf. Luke 23:46). The multitude sees this and they too are overcome and, in revival fashion, fall to the earth (v. 21). This pleases Jacob. By this means, “peace and the love of God was restored again among the people” (v. 23). This was the hope that Joseph Smith had for his family: that in one dramatic moment, his parents and siblings would be converted by the Spirit and thereby begin to heal the ruptures that had formed in the family. In closing his short book, Jacob states that because he is “old” and “soon must go down to my grave,” he will turn the plates over to his son Enos (7:27).
Enos’s book contains only one chapter, beginning with an account of his conversion, which he calls his “wrestle … before God” (Enos 1:2). One day while he is hunting in the forest, he says that his father’s words about salvation through Christ “sunk deep into my heart” (v. 3). In the solitude of the wilderness, Enos prays vocally all day and into the night until, much like Smith, he hears a voice saying: “Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed” (v. 5). It was the “voice of the Lord,” which Enos says “came into my mind” (v. 10).
His feelings of guilt are instantly “swept away,” for he knows that God cannot lie (v. 6). He begins “struggling in the spirit” for the salvation of the Nephites. In words taken from the New Testament, Enos is told by God: “Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it” (v. 15; cf. Matt. 21:21-22). Enos desires “that if it should so be, that my people, the Nephites, should fall into transgression, and by any means be destroyed, and the Lamanites should not be destroyed, that the Lord God would preserve a record of my people, the Nephites, … that it might be brought forth at some future day unto the Lamanites, that, perhaps, they might be brought unto salvation” (v. 13). Enos’s wish is granted. Reflecting a statement made in a revelation Smith received the previous month in Harmony (D&C 10:46-48), God informs Enos: “Thy fathers have also required of me this thing; and it shall be done unto them according to their faith; for their faith was like unto thine” (v. 18).
Enos reports that despite the Nephites’ best efforts, the Lamanites resist becoming converted because “their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature” (1:20). Enos describes the Lamanites in a way that epitomizes the frontier Indian stereotype: “They became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the axe. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us” (v. 20).
The Nephites, on the other hand, are described as peace-loving agriculturalists (v. 21) who are nevertheless a “stiffnecked people” and slow to repent (v. 22). This was Smith’s view of his contemporaries in Jacksonian America. The next verse reflects an aspect of Smith’s mission as he saw it: “And there was nothing [to be done] save it was … preaching and prophesying of wars, … and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, … stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of … exceeding great plainness of speech [that] would keep them from going down speedily to destruction” (v. 23).
About 420 B.C., an elderly Enos closes his record in the hope of a future resurrection when Jesus will say: “Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father” (1:27; cf. John 14:2). Enos does not mention turning the plates over to his son, Jarom, but the latter tells us that he will write by commandment of his father (Jarom 1:1).
Jarom begins his brief entry by lamenting that the plates are “small” (v. 2). Unlike Moroni’s complaint that he did not have ore with which to make more plates (Morm. 8:5), Jarom was not similarly situated and therefore not powerless to resolve the problem. But the size of the plates seems less of a problem than the lack of something to say, for Jarom states: “I shall not write the things of my prophesying, nor of my revelations. For what could I write more than my fathers have written?” (v. 2). Instead, he writes only that “our genealogy may be kept” (v. 1). Indeed, with about 290 years left to cover, Smith races toward the finish, providing only minimum information.
Jarom says that the Lamanites are “exceeding more numerous” than the Nephites (1:6)—an unusual situation given their nomadic and hunting lifestyle. In addition, the Lamanites “loved murder and would drink the blood of beasts” (v. 6) and were continually trying to destroy their Nephite brethren. Only through faith and repentance were the Nephites able to keep the enemy at bay: “And it came to pass that [the Lamanites] came many times against us, the Nephites, to battle. But our kings and our leaders were mighty men in the faith of the Lord; … wherefore, we withstood the Lamanites and swept them away out of our lands, and began to fortify our cities” (v. 7). This may very well summarize material that was presented in more detail in the lost manuscript. Nevertheless, Smith refrains from naming the kings, and the two date designations given by Jarom—200 and 238 years since Lehi left Jerusalem (vv. 5, 13)—are arbitrary and not connected to any specific event.
Jarom possesses the plates for at least sixty-one years before he turns them over to his son Omni (Enos 1:25; Omni 1:15). The Book of Omni, the last of the “small” plates of Nephi, contains the writings of five men and spans about 146 years. Omni waits about thirty-eight years before he makes a brief entry (three verses), stating much like Jarom that his purpose is “to preserve our genealogy” (Omni 1:1). He confesses that he is a “wicked man” but says he has fought much to preserve his people from the Lamanites. Of the two date indicators—276 and 282 years since Lehi left Jerusalem (v. 3)—neither refers to a specific event and therefore prevents comparison to the lost manuscript. At some undisclosed date, Omni turns the plates over to his son Amaron (v. 3).
Amaron produces only five verses and states that he writes “in the book of my father” (v. 4). He says that about 279 B.C., “the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed” (v. 5). Nevertheless, the Lord has kept the Nephites from being conquered by the Lamanites (v. 6). Amaron is the last to give a date, although there are at least eighty years remaining to reach the Book of Mosiah. Dates are not given for such important events as the mass migration from the city of Nephi to Zarahemla or for the reigns of King Mosiah I and his son Benjamin. Amaron turns the plates over to his brother Chemish (v. 8). Chemish writes one verse, stating simply that he saw his brother Amaron write his entry (v. 9).
The next writer, Abinadom, Chemish’s son, states that his life has been spent in war with the Lamanites (v. 10). In his brief entry of two verses, Abinadom excuses his brevity: “I know of no revelation save that which has been written, neither prophecy; wherefore, that which is sufficient is written” (v. 11). This is perhaps the period of wickedness and apostasy that Jacob predicted would prevail among the Nephites prior to the time when “the Lord God will lead away the righteous out from among you” (Jacob 3:3-4).
The final writer, Amaleki, Abinadom’s son, records the flight of Mosiah I and the righteous Nephites out of the land of Nephi and the discovery of the people of Zarahemla (vv. 12-13). Amaleki’s somewhat longer entry (seventeen verses) is an important passage for understanding the Book of Mormon’s historical narrative. It summarizes the historical material that must have been in the lost manuscript and now links the replacement text with the retained portion of the Book of Mosiah. It also contains new information, unforeseen at the time the Book of Lehi was dictated in 1828, pertaining to Jaredite history. However, the seam that was formed in stitching together two halves of this carefully woven story is not without flaw.
When Mosiah discoveres the people of Zarahemla, they had occupied the area where they were found for about 300 years. Yet, their capital city is named, not after their founder, but for their current leader, Zarahemla. Amaleki mentions that the people “came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon. And they journeyed in the wilderness, and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth” (vv. 15-16). Amaleki does not tell us that Zarahemla was a descendant of the biblical King Zedekiah, although he does state that Zarahemla recorded his genealogy (v. 18). Considering the theological importance of the discovery of Zarahemla’s people, particularly as it pertains to the verification of Lehi’s prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction, it is remarkable that Amaleki does not mention, as Mormon will later, that a son of Zedekiah named Mulek escaped the destruction of Jerusalem (Mosiah 25:2; Hel. 6:10; 8:21). Contrariwise, the Bible states that all of Zedekiah’s sons were killed (2 Kings 25:7).
We are told that Mulek’s colony “brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator” (Omni 1:17)—thus verifying the importance of Nephi having obtained the brass plates from Laban. However, as true as the principle of maintaining cultural identity and religious law by preserving written records is, the Nephites will ultimately dwindle and perish in unbelief anyway while continuing to preserve the records pertaining to their heritage (cf. 1 Ne. 4:13).
Because the language has become “corrupted” in Zarahemla (v. 17), the two groups cannot immediately communicate with each other. Therefore, Mosiah orders that Zarahemla’s people be taught the Nephite language (v. 18). The Book of Omni describes something that would be extraordinary in real life. The people of Zarahemla, though more numerous than those of Mosiah and strangers to them, and despite the differences in language and religion, unite with the Nephites under a single government headed by Mosiah (v. 19). How is it that Zarahemla would so easily relinquish control of his government? It is probably the kind of deference and cultural assimilation Smith expected from the American Indian. He no doubt imagined that he would teach them English and convert them to Christianity and that they, in turn, would submit to his New Jerusalem government.
A large stone with engraved writing is brought to Mosiah, and “he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God” (v. 20). If Mosiah used a seer stone like his grandson Mosiah II, we are not informed. But one wonders why Mosiah could not understand the people of Zarahemla by the same gift (v. 17). The engraved stone contains “an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people” (v. 21)—that is, the Jaredites. Amaleki reports that Coriantumr had been “discovered by the people of Zarahemla” and that “he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons” (v. 21). Coriantumr’s record, according to Amaleki, “also spake a few words concerning his fathers and his first parents [who] came out from the tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people; and the severity of the Lord fell upon them according to his judgments, which are just; and their bones lay scattered in the land northward” (1:22).
As previously discussed,65 the introduction of Coriantumr and his record is disruptive to the original story. As the evidence indicates, Smith had not anticipated Coriantumr’s survival when he dictated the lost manuscript in 1828. Thus, Mosiah’s grandson, Mosiah II, will know nothing of Coriantumr and his record. To solve the mystery of the Jaredite bones found in the land northward, Mosiah II will rely solely on the twenty-four gold plates that Limhi’s people will discover (Mosiah 28:11-19).
Amaleki tells readers that he was born during the reign of King Mosiah I and that Mosiah’s son Benjamin has succeeded him on the throne (Omni 1:23). During King Benjamin’s reign, war erupts between the Nephites and Lamanites, and the Nephites succeed in driving the Lamanites from their land (v. 24).
Before the Book of Omni closes, Amaleki has more to say. Rather, Smith needs to explain how Nephi’s small plates, which are kept by Jacob’s posterity, get into the hands of Nephi’s children to be kept with the large plates. Amaleki states that he is old and that he has no children and will therefore give the small plates to King Benjamin (v. 25). This connects to Mormon’s statement in the Book of Mosiah that Benjamin possessed “the plates of Nephi” (Mosiah 1:16). It also leads most readers to assume that Mormon refers to both the large and small plates. The information that Amaleki is childless explains why there is no special priesthood lineage mentioned for his descendants throughout the rest of the Book of Mormon.
In the last four verses of Omni, Smith struggles to connect his new beginning to what he had retained of the Book of Mosiah, particularly Zeniff’s migration from Zarahemla (Mosiah 9-22; see esp. 9:1-4). Amaleki reports that a large group of Nephites, apparently dissatisfied with their new home in Zarahemla, has attempted to return to the land of Nephi, the land of their inheritance (Omni 1:27). However, this group never reaches its destination because of a lack of unity among the migrants and an uncompromising leader, resulting in a conflict that leaves all but fifty dead (v. 28). The survivors return to Zarahemla and another party consisting of a “considerable number” of people, including Amaleki’s brother, departs. At the time of Amaleki’s writing, there is no further information about the fate of this group (vv. 29-30).
Although the lost manuscript undoubtedly mentioned the migration to the land of Nephi, one would not necessarily expect to find Amaleki mentioning it in the replacement text because the purpose of the small plates of Nephi was to record religious rather than historical material, the latter being reserved for the larger plates. Moreover, at the time of writing, Amaleki would not know the historical significance of the event or that the information would be needed to make sense of what Mormon would include in his abridgement. Squeezing in information in this way exhibits foreknowledge that only Smith would have possessed. Amaleki states that he is old and about to die, and therefore closes his entry in the Book of Omni by declaring that “these plates are full” (v. 30).
Now that Smith has finished his dictation of the small plates of Nephi and restored the lost introduction to the Book of Mormon, he still has to deal with the lost opening portion of the Book of Mosiah. With its title, superscription, and opening verses missing, the Book of Mosiah began abruptly: “And now there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin …”
The way to resolve the problem was to dictate “The Words of Mormon,” a short piece only eighteen verses long that introduces the book’s compiler, Mormon, and explains that he is making an abridgment of larger records. Mormon says he is “about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni” (v. 1; cf. Morm. 6:6), that he has “witnessed almost all the destruction of my people the Nephites” (v. 1), and that “it is many hundred years after the coming of Christ” (v. 2). This corresponds to the gathering of the Nephites to the land of Cumorah in preparation for their “last struggle” about A.D. 385 (Morm. 6:5-6). Mormon writes that he has just completed his abridgment of the plates of Nephi up to the reign of King Benjamin and that he has just discovered among the sacred repository the small plates, which he has decided to include (WofM vv. 3-6). Of course, this is incongruent with Mormon’s overall purpose of abridging. The involvement on Smith’s part is apparent when Mormon explains that he included the small plates “for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore he worketh in me to do according to his will” (v. 7). Indeed, it is interesting that Mormon did not have an inventory of his sacred library or know that the small plates existed until after he had abridged the less important historical material from the large plates. Mormon would have at least learned of Nephi’s other plates by reading Nephi’s account, and long before the description of King Benjamin turning over the sacred repository to his son Mosiah II. As we have seen, Nephi mentions the large plates several times in his small plates, so one has to assume that he would have mentioned the small plates in the larger record.
In any case, after Mormon includes Nephi’s small plates with his abridged history, he announces that he will “proceed to finish out my record, which I take from the [large] plates of Nephi” (v. 9). But then, instead of following with the Book of Mosiah, Mormon includes seven more verses to restore the lost beginning to Mosiah and provide a smooth transition to what had been retained of Mormon’s abridgment. Mormon notes that the Lamanite attack, which was mentioned by Amaleki, has been repelled (vv. 13-14; cf. Omni 1:24). He continues by telling that Benjamin established a military peace and, with the help of the “holy prophets,” put an end to religious contention (vv. 15-18). The religious problems had arisen with the appearance of “false Christs”—unusual in light of Lehi’s 600-year prophecy—and “false prophets, … preachers and teachers” (vv. 15, 16). Much like the Puritans of New England, Benjamin’s theocracy could not tolerate religious diversity, for those deemed “false” were “punished according to their crimes” (v. 15). Benjamin and the true prophets “did once more establish peace in the land” (v. 18).
From Smith’s perspective, it made sense to provide readers with this introductory material. From Mormon’s perspective, it would not have made any sense. Inserting Nephi’s small plates into the abridgement was one thing, but it would have been quite another thing to restore the lost beginning of Mosiah’s book and to include a transition to the exact verse. There simply would not have been any purpose in repeating material he had already abridged unless he knew exactly what part Smith would lose. As noted above, he was unaware of God’s purpose in having him include the small plates, so it strains credulity to think that he would have known to include a supplemental introduction. In addition, one would normally expect a work such as the Words of Mormon to preface Nephi’s small record rather than to follow it. But with this clumsy device, Smith was able to connect the small plates of Nephi with what he had retained of Mormon’s abridgment of the Book of Mosiah, and this concluded his dictation of the Book of Mormon.
1. Lucy Smith mentions that Joseph dispatched a messenger to summon them to Fayette (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for many Generations [Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853], 138 [see Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003), 1:392; hereafter EMD]). She incorrectly asserts that this was at the completion of the translation (see below).
4. The revelation’s reference to “Urim and Thummim” is likely a later editorial addition. Prior to 1833, these were referred to as the “spectacles” or “directors.” Because the revelation did not appear in the Book of Commandments in 1833, Dale Morgan questioned its authenticity (John Philip Walker, ed., Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986], 393, n. 31). However, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris never challenged its authenticity, and Ezra Booth referred to it in 1831 (see below).
6. Ezra Booth to Ira Eddy, 24 Oct. 1831, “Mormonism—No. III” [Letter III], Ohio Star (Ravenna) 2 (27 Oct. 1831): 3 (EMD 5:309); rpt. in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: E. D. Howe, 1834), 186-87.
7. Edward Stevenson, Journal, 22-23 Dec. 1877, 14:11-12, LDS Church Archives (EMD 5:29); see also E. Stevenson to Editor, 21 Jan. 1878, Salt Lake Herald, 2 Feb. 1878, 3 (EMD 5:34). Lyndon Cook notes that “reports are not clear if the voice was that of the personage or from some other source” (Lyndon W. Cook, David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness [Orem, UT: Grandin Book Co., 1991], xiii). Whitmer repeated the same story for Stevenson in 1886 and again in 1887 (E. Stevenson to Editor, 2 Mar. 1886, Utah Journal [Ogden], 10 Mar. 1886, 3 [EMD 5:162]; Stevenson, Journal, 2 Jan. 1887, 28:127-28 [EMD 5:187]). In 1881, Whitmer also told Jesse R. Badham of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ) about his pre-group vision, although Badham failed to record its message (Jesse R. Badham, Journal, 20 Mar. 1881, Community of Christ Archives, Independence, MO [EMD 5:221]).
9. While Whitmer said the angel spoke, he did not tell what the angel said, according to most interviewers; but some follow Smith’s history by inserting the words Whitmer heard in his pre-group vision (e.g., “The Last Man,” Chicago Times, 17 Oct. 1881 [EMD 5:85]; Cannon, Journal, 27 Feb. 1884 [EMD 5:113]; B. H. Roberts, Conference Reports, Oct. 1926, 126 [EMD 5:224]; “The True Book of Mormon,” ca. July 1884, unidentified and undated newspaper clipping, William H. Samson, Scrapbook, 18:76-77, Rochester Public Library, Local History Room, Rochester, NY [EMD 5:134]). William H. Kelley of the RLDS church quoted Whitmer as having said that “the angel stood before us. He was dressed in white, and spoke and called me by name and said, ‘Blessed is he that keepeth His commandments.’ This is all that I heard the angel say” (William H. Kelley to Editor, 16 Jan. 1882, Saints’ Herald 29 [1 Mar. 1882]: 68-69 [EMD 5:91]). These accounts may be inaccurate. On the other hand, Whitmer may have occasionally confused the two events or, for whatever reason, told the story in conformity with Smith’s history.
12. Stevenson, Journal, 22-23 Dec. 1877, 14:12 (EMD 5:29). See also E. C. Briggs to Joseph Smith III, 4 June 1884, Saints’ Herald 31 (21 June 1884): 396 (EMD 5:121). Harris also confirmed that he saw a table with various objects on it (e.g., Edward Stevenson, “The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. No. III,” Millennial Star 48 [21 June 1886]: 390 [EMD 5:325]).
14. “A Proclamation,” Richmond (MO) Conservator, 24 Mar. 1881 (EMD 5:68-71); rept. in the Hamiltonian (Hamilton, MO), 8 Apr. 1881; and David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, MO: David Whitmer, 1887), 8-10; also published as a leaflet, “A Proclamation” (n.p., n.d.). The original proclamation is housed in the LDS Church Archives.
17. John H. Gilbert, “Memorandum, made by John H. Gilbert Esq, Sept. 8th, 1892[,] Palmyra, N.Y.,” 5, Palmyra King’s Daughters Free Library, Palmyra, NY (EMD 2:548). See also John H. Gilbert to James T. Cobb, 16 Mar. 1879, 5, Theodore A. Schroeder Papers, Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, New York Public Library, NY (EMD 2:526); “Mormon Leaders at Their Mecca,” New York Herald, 25 June 1893, 12 (EMD 2:551). Pomeroy Tucker, foreman at Grandin’s printing office, said Harris “used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon about ‘seeing with the spiritual eye,’ and the like” (Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism [New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867], 71 [EMD 3:122]). Palmyra Presbyterian minister Jesse Townsend reported that Harris claimed to have seen the plates with “spiritual eyes” (Jesse Townsend to Phineas Stiles, 24 Dec. 1833, in ibid., 290 [EMD 3:22]).
20. A[nthony]. Metcalf, Ten Years before the Mast. Shipwrecks and Adventures at Sea! Religious Customs of the People of India and Burmah’s Empire. How I Became a Mormon and Why I Became an Infidel! ([Malad City, ID]: n.p., ), 70 (EMD 2:346).
21. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 85, 104, 107-18; see also Larry E. Morris, “‘The Private Character of the Man Who Bore that Testimony’: Oliver Cowdery and His Critics,” FARMS Review 15/1 (2003): 330-51.
22. Several psychometric studies conducted during the 1970s and ’80s have resulted in a continuum model of hallucinations, which range from the extreme audio-visual disturbances of the schizophrenic to the benign and transitory hallucinations of ordinary, nonpsychiatric people. As summarized by Richard P. Bentall of the University of Manchester, England, these studies have concluded that “severe mental illness, and in particular schizophrenia, should be seen as the extreme endpoint of a continuum of personality … There are likely to be many people who show evidence of a schizotypal personality without showing the full-blown symptoms of schizophrenia. … The observation that hallucinations lie on one or more continua with normal mental states, raise[s] the question of whether hallucinations should always be regarded as pathological” (Richard P. Bentall, “Hallucinatory Experiences,” in Etzel Cardena, Steven Jay Lynn, and Stanley Krippner, eds., Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence [Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2000], 90, 93). Whereas schizophrenia affects about 1 percent of the population, those with varying degrees of schizotypal symptoms are probably many times higher than that. Based on rather consistent survey data, Bentall observes: “For every person who receives a diagnosis of schizophrenia … there are approximately 10 who experience hallucinations without receiving the diagnosis” (Bentall 2000, 95).
25. Ghazi Asaad, Hallucinations in Clinical Psychiatry: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1990), 7-8, 12, 17, 47, 95, 100, 102; see also Arnold M. Ludwig, “Altered States of Consciousness,” in Charles T. Tart, ed., Altered States of Consciousness, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Harper, 1990), 19-22.
26. See, e.g., Patrick Marnham, Lourdes: A Modern Pilgrimage (New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1981); William A. Christian, Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981); Michael Carroll, The Cult of the Virgin Mary: Psychological Origins (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986).
27. Philemon Stewart, et al., A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book; from the Lord God of Heaven, to the Inhabitants of Earth: Revealed in the United Society at New Lebanon, County of Columbia, State of New-York, United States of America (Canterbury, NH: United Society, 1843), 303, 304.
29. In their study of group hallucinations, Cilia Green and Charles McCreery found that the participants only apparently experienced the same apparition. “We do not know how precise the correspondence is between the images perceived by the various subjects,” they explain; “Even in cases where the reports reveal no discrepancies, we cannot be sure that there were not some which did not emerge from the verbal statement. … As a matter of fact, quite wide discrepancies could exist between the perceptions of one person and those of another without attracting any attention” (Green and McCreery, Apparitions, 41, 42). See also Leonard Zusne and Warren H. Jones, Anomalistic Psychology (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1982), 135.
30. Many years after Cowdery’s death, Edward Stevenson recalled hearing him say that “he beheld the plates, the leaves being turned over by the angel, whose voice he heard, and that they were commanded as witnesses to bear a faithful testimony to the world of the vision that they were favored to behold, and that the translation from the plates in the Book of Mormon was accepted of the Lord” (“The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon,” Millennial Star 48 [5 July 1886]: 420 [EMD 2:510]).
31. Joseph F. Smith, Diary, 7-8 Sept. 1878, LDS Church Archives (EMD 5:44). This part of Whitmer’s statement was omitted from the published version of the interview (see “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Deseret News, 16 Nov. 1878 [EMD 5:51]).
34. During an 1859 interview with spiritualist Joel Tiffany, Martin Harris declined to answer specific questions about his vision, stating that he was “forbidden to say anything how the Lord showed them to me, except that by the power of God I have seen them” (Tiffany’s Monthly, Aug. 1859, 166 [EMD 2:306]). On other occasions, the witness was more forthcoming.
38. For an exploration of various naturalistic explanations of phenomena exhibited at the revivals, see Ann Taves, Fits, Trances, and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999).
43. See, e.g., Kenneth S. Bowers, Hypnosis for the Seriously Curious (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1976), 116; Michael D. Yapko, Essentials of Hypnosis (New York: Brunner/Mazel Publishers, 1995), 16-17.
45. On the correlation between ideomotor response and hypnotism, see Ernest R. Hilgard, Hypnotic Susceptibility (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965), 278-82; and Bowers, Hypnosis for the Seriously Curious, 117.
48. David Whitmer, Interview with George Q. Cannon, 27 Feb. 1884, in George Q. Cannon, Journal, 27 Feb. 1884, LDS Church Archives (EMD 5:113). Smith’s history states that the three witnesses saw the plates prior to the completion of the translation (Joseph Smith, Manuscript History, 23-26 [EMD 1:82-87]).
49. Here Jacob condemns David’s and Solomon’s practice of polygamy, but Smith’s 1843 revelation on plural marriage will reverse this assessment of David and Solomon (Doctrine and Covenants 132:1, 38-39).
50. Lucy Harris, Statement, 29 Nov. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 256 (EMD 2:36). Lucy names “Mrs. Haggard,” probably the wife of Daniel P. Haggart who appears two names before Martin Harris in the 1830 census of Palmyra (1830:51). The census has Haggart in his thirties, with a wife in her twenties and three children under age ten. He is probably the same Daniel Haggart listed as a fifty-five-year-old blacksmith in the 1850 census of Willoughby, Lake County, Ohio, with his Canadian-born, forty-six-year-old wife, Magdaline (1850:169). The Ohio census suggests that the Haggarts moved from New York after 1829, following the birth of their daughter Sarah and before the birth of Bruithia in Ohio about 1832.
53. Robert D. Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 128. I find Anderson’s interpretation puzzling since he questions Smith’s ability to empathize with the feelings of others (127-30).
61. The planting of the branches in verses 21-25 seems to contradict verse 8 where it was said that the “young and tender branches” would be “grafte[d]” presumably onto wild trees in other areas of the vineyard.
62. See James E. Faulconer, “The Olive Tree and the Work of God: Jacob 5 and Romans 11,” in Stephen D. Ricks and John Welch, eds., The Allegory of the Olive Tree: The Olive, the Bible, and Jacob 5 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.; and Provo, UT: FARMS, 1994), 347, 348, 357.