This is an archived copy of a post written by Conflict Of Justice (conflictofjustice.com). Used with permission: Conflict Of Justice may not agree with any alterations made.
While translating the Book of Mormon in June 1828, Joseph Smith gave the translated manuscript to his scribe Martin Harris. The manuscript went missing, and Joseph Smith went on to translate a different section of “gold plates.” Anti-Mormons say Joseph Smith should have been able to retranslate the missing content and have it match the missing pages should the missing pages show up:
“…If the translation really was of God, the manuscript could be reproduced word for word without a mistake. However, if Joseph created it himself, his memory would hardly be adequate to such a task and he would give himself away. Instead, he provided an abridged version.”Mormon Think
Does this reveal Joseph Smith as a fraud? To answer this, we need to step inside both the mind of a fraud and the mind of a true prophet.
- Is it reasonable for Joseph Smith to do what he did if he were a conman?
- Is it reasonable for Joseph Smith to do what he did if he were a prophet?
This is an archived copy. See Original Article Here
The show South Park portrays it as if Joseph Smith said: “Oh look guys, there’s these other gold plates that say kinda the same thing!” They make it look like there was no reason Joseph Smith couldn’t just re-translate the pages if he were a true prophet. But the true history of this episode is a lot different than what South Park portrays. Once we get past Comedy Central’s facile take, things become a lot more compelling. Joseph Smith’s published Book of Mormon actually does contain word-for-word some of the missing 116 pages–known as the “Book of Lehi.”
1 Nephi Quotes At Length From The Missing Pages
We need to start with a standard for what would be reasonable for a person to remember and compare that to what Joseph Smith produced. Imagine you fabricated 145 printed pages of a fictional story and then had to reproduce that story completely from memory. You could probably remember the general gist of the story, but the best photographic memory could n0t duplicate the whole thing in detail.
Now, this being a translation from an ancient language, Joseph Smith would have some room to argue that things altered due to translation. If I were to re-translate something from German to English, there would be some differences simply because I might pick different synonymous words or move the grammar around a little differently the second time. But both translations should say basically the same kind of thing. If you were reproducing a story from the same source, it should at least be very similar paragraph to paragraph to the missing pages. And nobody could remember each paragraph in such a large number of pages. Within a single paragraph it would be highly unlikely to remember anything more than a few small phrases. Yet the Book of Mormon apparently reproduces length paragraphs of text word-for-word contained in the missing 116 pages.
Nephi Quotes From The Missing Pagesi – Nephi indicates the first part of his record is taken from the Book of Lehi.
“And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams: and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account.
But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life.” (1 Nephi 1:16-17)
Does this mean Nephi paraphrased from Lehi or quoted word-for-word? Well, Moroni’s later “abridgment” from the Brother of Jared’s record (Moroni 1:1) includes what apparently is mostly word-for-word text. “Abridged” meant he left out some parts but the parts he copied were word-for-word. The Book of Mormon Introduction likewise says the words of “many ancient prophets” on the “gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon.” All the books in the Book of Mormon are mostly word for word text from those prophets. “Abridged” meant Mormon did not include everything they originally wrote. We should expect, then, that Nephi quoted excerpts word-for-word from Lehi’s account.
Could Joseph Smith have remembered everything Nephi “quoted”? No, that is simply not possible. It’s eight chapters! Sixteen printed pages. How could Joseph Smith remember all that? The first chapter alone contains lengthy paragraphs of text that apparently quote directly from the Book of Lehi:
“And he read, saying: Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations! Yea, and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem—that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon.
And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish! And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God.” (1 Nephi 1:13-15)
How could Joseph Smith have remembered that? Now, if the people who stole the lost 116 pages had come forward with the Book of Lehi and said, “That doesn’t match what Lehi wrote,” could Joseph Smith reasonably use “different translation” as an excuse? No. These verses say something very specific and we would expect nothing more than a few synonymous words switched around or some different grammar. If the people who stole the lost 116 pages had come foward and said, “That doesn’t exist in the book of Lehi,” it would look very suspicious for Joseph Smith. Why wouldn’t that be in the Book of Lehi? Nephi made it very clear that he was abridging from the Book of Lehi.
Did Joseph Smith Use Notes? – The only possible explanation skeptics can give is that Joseph Smith had this content copied somewhere else–perhaps in some notes somewhere or an earlier draft. If that were so, why would Joseph Smith keep notes on a few things and not the rest? Why didn’t Nephi “abridge” more? Why only 16 pages out of 145? If I were fabricating such a book, I would have copious notes on every detail of the entire story.
To invent a complicated and intricate 500 page book of scripture without notes or drafts is absolutely insane. Talk to anyone who has written a fictional novel. You must start with an outline to keep things structured and organized. Even if you have the story totally laid out in your head, a book inevitably turns out disorganized and confused without an outline. With the cross-references and multiple interwoven narratives among multiple civilizations and across periods of time, there is no way Joseph Smith could have made this up without an outline. Nobody can compose on the fly like this.
The outline lays out the structure of the story but it does not give precise word-for-word content. The word-for-word content comes later. Also, this outline would provide enough material for Joseph Smith to provide a lot more detail than he did of the story in Nephi’s “abridgment.” We went from 142 pages to 16. If all he had was an outline without the word-for-word detail, he could at least reference a lot more of what Lehi did. We would expect a lot more “Lehi did this, then this, then this” and a lot less word-for-word text. instead, we get little mention of the things Lehi did and some lengthy quotations word-for-word.
When I write a book, notes are of names, characters, story-arcs, etc.–not raw text of dialogue. That’s what a draft is for. If Joseph Smith for whatever reason had kept notes with word-for-word phrasing from the Book of Lehi, we would expect that he would have enough material among these notes to reproduce much of the missing Book of Lehi.
Why No Prior Draft? – If Joseph Smith had notes with word-for-word paragraphs, why didn’t he have an entire draft that he could use to reproduce the missing 116 pages? I can’t think of a reason he would have notes with so much word-for-word text but no prior draft. It is impossible to compose a 500 page book like this from only one draft. Even with an outline and some notes, it is inevitable with such a complicated story that contradictions and awkward parts need to be flushed out. We can be sure Joseph Smith had no prior draft because he simply could have reverted back to the draft after the manuscript was stolen. We know the “translation manuscript” was the basis for the printer’s final copy. How could that have been the one and only draft?
Anti-Mormons agree Joseph Smith must not have kept notes or drafts. Whoever took the pages must have assumed Joseph Smith did not have a previous manuscript or notes to go by. Even if Joseph Smith somehow were capable of writing this book without a prior draft, why would the person who thieved it ever assume this was the case? Who in their right mind would think a person would fabricate such a book without a prior draft? It is a crazy risk destroying one’s reputation by thieving the pages to force Joseph Smith into re-translating when he could simply use a prior draft.
“And even this attack would only work IF Joseph wasn’t composing the Harris manuscript from notes or reading from another secret draft manuscript…. Joseph didn’t attempt to re-translate because he knew he couldn’t do it, because he worked from a sort of stream-of-consciousness, automatic writing style, composing on the fly.”Mark Blanchard on Quora
The skeptic’s narrative only makes sense if nobody thieved the pages at all–Martin Harris simply lost them. If that were the case, why did Joseph Smith freak out and go through any of this at all?
Finally, the abridgements are quotes that are fairly insignificant to the story. The abridgements as we find them are things that Nephi would find most important to his immediate situation, and it makes sense for them to be there, but not if Joseph Smith were frantically copying from notes. Why would Joseph Smith keep notes of Lehi’s reaction to reading the book of life and not more important content such as specifically what God said to Lehi just a few verses later when He commanded Lehi to depart with his family into the wilderness?
Huge Time Gap Makes Remembering Less Likely – The time gap between the missing pages and Joseph Smith picking back up translating makes it less likely he worked from memory.
Immediately upon finding the manuscript missing, Joseph Smith was told through revelation from God that he has “lost thy privileges for a season” to translate (D&C 3:14) but that the Book of Mormon would be published one way or another. A few days later, the gold plates and Urim and Thummim were returned by an angel to Joseph Smith , yet without a scribe he “did not however go immediately to translating.”
Nine months later, in April 1829, Joseph Smith was commanded: “You shall not translate again those words” which were lost. (Portions of this D&C 10 revelation may have been received in summer 1828.) Instead of re-translating the missing manuscript, Joseph Smith was instructed to replace it with “an account of those things that you have written” that was written on a separate set of “plates of Nephi.”
Some assume that because these small plates were located at the end of the gold plates (according to Words of Mormon 1:5), Joseph Smith must have resumed translating from Mosiah on and then come back to translate 1 Nephi through Omni. That would make it even less likely to work from memory. But I have not actually seen anything to indicate this is what happened. D&C 10 does not say to “go back and translate” after everything else is finished, but to find Nephi’s writings at the back of the plates and to use that in place of the book of Lehi. I would expect Joseph Smith to do that part immediately and then to continue on with the book of Mosiah. But either way, nine months is a long time to remember specific paragraphs of text from a missing manuscript, and if Joseph Smith for whatever reason did have notes with random word-for-word text, he risked the notes getting discovered or going missing all that time.
Why Nephi Was Commanded To Stop Quoting Lehi? – In 1 Nephi 9, God told Nephi to switch from an abridgment of his father Lehi to a record of his own ministry–“for the special purpose that there should be an account engraven of the ministry of my people… And now I, Nephi, proceed to give an account upon these plates of my proceedings, and my reign and ministry.” (1 Nephi 9:4-10:1) This command would make sense considering God had foreknowledge of the lost 116 pages, as the more quoting that happens invites opportunity for forgers to potray contradictions. If Joseph Smith had some notes with word-for-word text, this would not make sense, as we would expect him to continue “abridging” the content he could scrape together.
Why Wouldn’t Joseph Smith Just ‘Retranslate’?
The reason Joseph Smith gave for not re-translating the lost 116 pages, from revelation, was that forgers created a fake manuscript based on the stolen 116 pages to fabricate contradictions with any re-translation and make it look like Joseph Smith was making it up.
“Now, behold, they have altered these words, because Satan saith unto them: He hath deceived you—and thus he aflattereth them away to do iniquity, to get thee to tempt the Lord thy God.
Behold, I say unto you, that you shall not translate again those words which have gone forth out of your hands;
For, behold, they shall not accomplish their evil designs in lying against those words. For, behold, if you should bring forth the same words they will say that you have lied and that you have pretended to translate, but that you have contradicted yourself.” (D&C 10:29-31)
Skeptic’s Narrative Doesn’t Make Sense -Is this a reasonable thing for a conman to say? No! The entire thing makes no sense! The loss of the 116 page manuscript presents dilemmas for both the believing and skeptic. For believers, there needs to be some justification for why Joseph Smith did not re-translate the missing pages and why God allowed the pages to go missing. For skeptics, there needs to be some explanation for why Joseph Smith went to all the trouble he did. Joseph Smith had no reason to suspect the pages would turn up later and be used against him. He was a backwoods kid on the edge of the American frontier. How many people even knew about the translating happening? The person who lost them was his very scribe! Martin Harris wasn’t out to get him–he had paid for the Book of Mormon publication by mortgaging his farm. Why would anyone go to so much trouble–breaking into a house and a locked closet–to try to discredit him? If Joseph Smith felt compelled to address the missing pages as a serious threat to his con-job, there would be a lot more simple solutions than coming up with a complicated story of a bunch of different records being made and then trying to match it to the missing one. The most obvious solution would be to just start over and make it up again. That’s what I would do! Even if someone later came forward with the missing pages, he could just argue that those 116 pages were fabricated, and that there had never any pages gone missing.
Joseph Smith was a teenager in the backwoods on the edge of the American frontier. Why would anyone care about his little project? Why would Joseph Smith think anyone would break into a locked closet in a private residence, that the thief would assume that was the only draft, and that the thief would use it to discredit him? The lost manuscript simply went missing from a chest of drawers. That sounds paranoid beyond belief. The pages simply couldn’t be found. There was no reason to assume someone was plotting to point out discrepancies.
Yet what Joseph Smith did next was somehow even more ridiculous. There are a number of simply solutions to this if it were a con job. He could have ‘retranslated’ and stuck to the parts he had notes for, and should the missing pages later show up just make some excuse for why he couldn’t reproduce the rest–those plates were hard to read, etc. He could have ‘retranslated’ the entire thing, and should the missing pages later show up make some excuse for discrepancies–he wasn’t good at using the Urim and Thummim the first time, etc. The most obvious solution is to simply deny the missing pages altogether. Forget about the entire episode and call it a forgery when whoever stole it shows up with it later.
Joseph Smith had nine months to think up a solution to this little problem, and instead of covering it up as any rational conman would do, he talks about it on the cover page of the final book! The first thing a person reads about (in the original version) was about how the Book of Nephi abridges from the missing Book of Lehi. Joseph Smith comes up with this wacky narrative of abridgments, calls his scribe–the person mortgaging his farm to pay for the project–a “wicked man,” and makes a fool of himself in these ‘revelations’ which he publishes in D&C.
South Park explains the lunacy of it all by simply calling Joseph Smith an idiot, and the people who followed him idiots for believing it. “Dum dum dum dum.” Anti-Mormons chuckle and scorn anyone who “falls for it.” But in order to pull off this crazy cover story, Joseph Smith had to be a complete genius. He had to have an incredible memory, no matter how many notes he had, to align this “abridgment” with the missing pages to a degree that he felt confident it would satisfy accusations of “contradictions.” Everyone who knows anything about Joseph Smith agrees he was a genius. The fantastic and convincing content found in the Book of Mormon could not have come from a mind that would make up such a sloppy and unbelievable cover story.
Forgers Actually Did Try To Alter Joseph Smith’s Writings
“This was the age before Photoshop, before copiers, before even photography. If they recopied Harris’s manuscript by hand themselves, then Harris and Smith would simply recognize that this new handwritten copy was not their original manuscript and promptly denounce it as a forgery. What about if the ‘evil men’ printed up an altered typescript of their 116 page manuscript, Harris and Smith would simply say ‘hey, that’s not what we wrote, if you have our manuscript, show us the original then give it back’. Both these efforts could be laughed away by Joseph’s camp.”Mark Blanchard on Quora
Why would Joseph Smith make such a claim if he were a conman? Not just any conman but one capable of conning people so well–fooling his scribe Martin Harris into thinking he had seen an angel and touched real gold plates. After all, you’ve got to consider that in 1828 Joseph Smith was pretty well unknown and hadn’t done anything yet. The only attention he got was from some backwoods local ministers who didn’t like his story of having a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Why would he think anyone would believe a story of someone going to all the trouble of creating a high-quality fabrication? Wouldn’t that sound a tad paranoid to his followers? Who in the backwoods of upstate New York was capable of creating such a fabrication? Yet there are many documents today that are highly dubious–just look at the typical quotes being tossed around on Anti-Mormon Instagram. Joseph Smith’s ‘cover story’ turned out to be true.
We do not need to speculate on whether people would be able to recognize new handwriting on a forged copy, because we know for sure that forgeries were created, and these forgeries did dupe the most skilled experts. People did care about this backwoods kid to such a degree that they would create high-quality fabrications. All you have to do is look at documented real history to find that forgery efforts did indeed happen and could not be laughed away by Joseph’s camp.
I have written dozens of articles investigating hundreds of dubious quotes and documents from early church history. There are manuscripts, letters, books–all sorts of documents that purport to be the work of Joseph Smith or some other early Latter-day Saint figure that probably are forgeries, and I have called some of them out. It boggles my mind that the same Anti-Mormons who cite these dubious sources turn around and say it is silly for Joseph Smith to expect that people would make forgeries of his writings.
It also boggles my mind that so many Latter-day Saints accept these dubious quotes despite D&C 10 which prophesied that Anti-Mormons would create high-quality forgeries of early Latter-day Saint writings. Faithful Latter-day Saints have emailed me with concern that I am too skeptical with historical quotes about the church–that I am so skeptical and distrusting of sources that many consider “settled history.” The reason I am so skeptical is because D&C 10 is a literal prophesy direct from God telling us that convincing forgeries would exist.
Mark Hofmann – In the 1970’s and 1980’s an infilrater Anti-Mormon named Mark Hofmann created high-quality forgeries of early Latter-day Saint documents, including documents purported to be authored by Joseph Smith. These documents were intended to be embaressing for the church and portray contradictions between Latter-day Saint beliefs, much like the “contradition” strategy described in D&C 10. One example of his forgeries is the “Salamandar letter” he attributed to Joseph Smith, which said Joseph Smith did not have a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ but actually of a white salamander sitting on the ground. Mark Hofmann’s forgeries were so convincing and well made that they convinced all the experts, and it was only when Hofmann tried to make increasingly bizarre documents which raised eyebrows that people started to suspect him. Anti-Mormon Mark Hofmann resorted to terrorist bombings targetting Latter-day Saints to cover his tracks, but fortunately he was apprehended and jailed.
Why did Mark Hofmann care so much and go to so much trouble?
Mark Hofmann’s forgeries did exactly what D&C 10 prophesied would happen. They were forgeries that were meant to portray a contradiction that did not really exist in order to discredit Joseph Smith as a prophet. They were forgeries that altered “the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated, which have gone out of your hands.” (D&C 10:10) Joseph Smith’s First Vision account may not be part of the gold plates translation, but look carefully at what D&C 10 is saying here: forgers would alter the words Joseph Smith has caused to be written or translated. Doesn’t that include the First Vision accounts? I think so. The ‘White Salamander Letter’ fulfilled the prophecy in D&C 10.
There are at least several other forgers of early Latter-day Saint documents that we know of, including one account of how Joseph Smith translated the plates with a seer stone. I honestly think there are a lot more, and that many of the “conversial” issues that Anti-Mormons harp about are the result of forgeries. Circumstantial evidence happened to show up to discredit these documents by other unknown forgers. How many other forgers besides Mark Hofmann have there been who simply didn’t get caught?
Considering D&C 10’s prediction of forgeries came true, Joseph Smith’s must have been fully aware of what would happen–not only what would happen if he had re-translated the lost pages but of all the other forgeries that have been passed around. Joseph Smith wrote in his autobiography that he wasn’t just being paranoid, but he felt perplexed that people would go to such lengths to discredit him:
“It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.”Joseph Smith History 1:23
A Forgery Was Easy To Create Using The Missing Pages – In these days before modern technology, it was easy for a person with a skillful hand to imitate handwriting. Modern technology has helped us detect fakes to a greater extent than it has helped us produce fakes. People were forging fabrications all the time back then, and forgeries were very hard to detect.
It would not take much skill to create a forgery based on an existing manuscript. The forger could simply lay the manuscript on top of a light table, trace over the words, and replace some parts of the writing with excerpts from other parts of the manuscript–much like copy/pasting in Photoshop. Trace a few words from here, trace this word, trace that word, and put them all together in a single fabricated sentence. It would entirely be a matter of tracing, which is something most people can do. This would be incredibly difficult to do if they didn’t have the stolen manuscript to go by, but having the stolen manuscript to trace from would make it easy. Martin Harris’s handwriting (see an example here) is simple cursive and would be easy for anyone to replicate.
The only hurdle would be the amount of time it would take–116 pages. That is a lot to go through and make significant alterations to. But just look at the amount of time Anti-Mormons did devote to discrediting Joseph Smith! (Look at the amount of time they continue to devote to hating Joseph Smith today.) Eber D. Howe wrote ‘Mormonism Unvailed’ in 1834 which is over 400 pages long! Tracing over words would be quicker than composing a book from scratch. Whoever stole the pages could have certainly done it in a relatively short amount of time.
Even if the forged handwriting did not turn out to be convincing, the forger could simply claim Martin Harris changed his handwriting in any other examples he would produce. If Martin Harriss’ wife were in on the plot (I believe she was) everybody would be convinced by the forger’s narrative: Martin Harriss’ wife took the pages to see if they could be replicated accurately, they couldn’t, therefore it was a fraud. Joseph Smith would have been effectively discredited.
Why Was Nephi’s Account Referenced In The Missing Pages?
“Only when he was forced to fill in the blanks in the first half of his story to complete the book, did he invent the ‘second POV’ narrative as told by Nephi.”Mark Blanchard on Quora
That is simply not true.
Mark Blanchard is telling a provable falsehood. D&C 10 indicated the missing pages already told of a second point of view from Nephi, and whoever stole the pages could have simply produced the story to prove D&C 10 false if that weren’t so. Joseph Smith had no reason to invent a second point of view before he needed to fill in the missing blanks, so why was it there?
Joseph Smith’s revelation indicates the missing 116 pages included references to Nephi’s abridgment:
“And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, is engraven upon the plates of Nephi;
Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.” (D&C 10:38-39)
Why in the world would the missing 116 pages say there was another account of the same story? Okay, maybe it is just coincidence that the missing pages make reference to an account by Nephi–if Lehi kept a diary, it would make sense for one of his sons to keep a diary too, right? But if I were a conman making this story up, I would write Nephi’s record right after writing Lehi’s. Why make reference to a book and not include it? Why move directly to the civil records of Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni, and Mosiah? We know due to the missing first part of Mosiah that the missing 116 pages skipped over Nephi’s account and never intended to include it.
It says not only did the missing pages make reference to an account by Nephi but that Nephi’s record included a “more particular account” of the very same story. Why in the world would the missing pages say that? Who would think to say such a thing in a fabricated book of scripture? If Joseph Smith somehow had the prescience to plan for somebody thieving his manuscript and using it to point out discrepancies with a re-translation, why did it take Joseph Smith 9 months to start translating again?
This is something I have never once seen an Anti-Mormon talk about. Nobody! They all ignore it, pretend like this verse in D&C 10 doesn’t exist. I haven’t seen anybody talk about it.
If this verse in D&C 10 is false and the missing pages didn’t say anything about an abridgment by Nephi, whoever had the missing pages could simply point that out. Joseph Smith had nothing to gain by lying about this. We must assume that the missing 116 pages truly told of Nephi’s abridgment. Why? When does a book in the Bible ever talk about an abridgment existing somewhere else?
Switching Narratives – Furthermore, there is no reason for Lehi’s account full of visions and prophesyings to switch narratives to a strictly civil account of kings, wars, and contentions. Why would Joseph Smith’s original transcript switch narratives like this? There would be no reason to split to two types of records unless God were worried about some of the records getting lost.
The Book of Mormon claims Nephi was commanded to keep records separate of “the reign of the kings, and the wars and contentions” from religious matters. If this were Joseph Smith post-rationalizing the small plates of Nephi, it would be obvious, as the lost 116 pages wouldn’t switch narrative from religious to civil matters.
Filling In Missing Blanks In Lehi’s Story? – As it was, Nephi’s story began in medias res (in the middle of the sequence of events of a story). Nephi doesn’t say anything about why Lehi was out and about, why he prayed on behalf of his people, how Lehi gained priesthood authority, etc. There are many missing blanks as it is–why not make the entire story of leaving Jerusalem a missing blank? If I were a conman making up this second point of view narrative, I would have started long after Lehi’s story and just made a brief account of how they left Jerusalem. Instead, we get a detailed account of leaving Jerusalem and then pretty much no narrative of anything that happened, all the way to Mosiah. Missing blanks all over the place!
Why would a conman feel compelled to fill in the “missing blanks” at all? Joseph Smith wasn’t “forced” to do anything. If for whatever reason Joseph Smith truly believed a re-translation would have led to him being discredited, the most reasonable solution would be to ditch the entire beginning and start with Mosiah.
Or ditch the Book of Mormon altogether! If it was such a problem, why not forget about this “record of Mormon” and come up with some other ancient record of Hebrews in America? The Book of Mormon tells of two other groups of people: the Mulekites and Jaradites. Why not switch to a “Book of Mulek” instead?
Why Didn’t Book Of Mormon Witnesses Mention Different Plates? – Mark Blanchard seems to think the official witnesses of the gold plates should have noticed a difference in the different sets of plates:
” Forged 1000 years before Mormon made his own plates, the SPoN were evidently identical to Mormon’s plates in thickness, size and appearance because no witness bothered to mention an incongruity between the leaves of certain sections.”Mark Blanchard on Quora
The witnesses of the gold plates were not mentioned until after the 116 pages went missing, so this point is moot. D&C 5, which declares the need for the witnesses, was dated March 1829, eight months after the pages went missing. If Joseph Smith made a fake set of plates or the witnesses were making it up, we would expect them to talk about an incongruency between the sections to justify the separate small plates of Nephi.
I don’t think it is terribly difficult to make sheets of metal with the same thickness, size, and appearance of other sheets of metal. That’s not exactly implausible. Apparently, if there was an incongruency among the sections of plates, the witnesses didn’t consider it noteworthy to mention. That’s not something I would remark on if I were them. Or perhaps the small plates of Nephi was on a different set of gold plates altogether. I haven’t seen anything that says there was only one set of gold plates.
Differences Between Lehi’s Account & Nephi’s Account – What did the Book of Lehi contain to make it 145 pages long? This has been the subject of much debate. Most likely it contained records from later prophets–Jacob, Enose, Jarom, Omni, Mosiah. The missing pages may have contained the account “of the reign of the kings” and civil matters which Nephi described, but how many pages would that take up? My guess is not that much.
“Since Lehi himself lived but a fraction of this vast period (Lehi’s death is mentioned in 2 Nephi 4:12), the book of Lehi—like the books of Omni, Alma, Helaman, and 4 Nephi—was necessarily the product of several successive historians. The book of Lehi title evidently originated with Lehi’s journal, or sacred personal record, that Nephi transcribed at the beginning of his large plates of Nephi (1 Nephi 19:1).
The large plates of Nephi underwent certain changes as they were passed down through a long line of historians. In their first stage they were an overall civil and religious record kept by the prophet-king Nephi. In their second stage, which lasted for several hundred years, they were strictly a civil record. In their third stage, which began near the opening of the book of Mosiah, they were restored to their original composite civil and religious character and remained so until Mormon’s day…. Nephi included both civil and religious matters on the large plates until thirty years following his departure from Jerusalem.” (The Small Plates of Nephi and the Words of Mormon, Eldin Ricks)
Nephi said Lehi “hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams: and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account.” To me, it sounds like a good amount of the missing 145 pages comes from Lehi’s account which Nephi briefly covers in his first 8 chapters. There were many visions and dreams recorded by Lehi, and Nephi only picked out a few which he considered most relevant to his situation. But even in Nephi’s own account we pick up hints at lengthy visions in the missing pages, such as Nephi’s lengthy vision of Chistopher Columbus’s voyage, the founding of the United States, etc.–a vision which we are told is what Lehi had also seen.
Nephi tells us Lehi referenced other contemporary prophets just like Nephi did. It would be strange, therefore, for Nephi to have quoted from Isaiah so extensively and for Lehi to have not. We would therefore expect the missing pages to quote from our Old Testament. If so, that would be a slum dunk to reproduce for a re-translation of the missing pages.
Anti-Mormons ignore Nephi’s copious quotations from the missing pages and the broad overlap, and baselessly portray it as a totally different story:
“And it’s a very different story, with little exposition, many long visions and sermons, huge sections pointlessly cribbed from Isaiah and hundreds of years of events skipped over by the Jacob thru Omni minor prophets who claim they have ‘nothing to say’ before they pass the chore onto their sons, thus leaping the timeline up to the Mosiah break point with as few contradictions as possible to what Smith had previously dictated to Harris.”Mark Blanchard on Quora
As we have seen, this is false. Nephi presents more exposition, not less. Lehi likely had more long visions, sermons, and bible quotations, not less. There is no indication it tells a different story. Joseph Smith was risking everything by recounting the same events at all.
Anti-Mormons like to point out that the small plates of Nephi provide a lot less names than the rest of the Book of Mormon. They claim Joseph Smith minimized the amount of particulars he had to remember, so he kept the number of names to a minimum. That’s assuming Joseph Smith didn’t keep any notes, which as we’ve seen is an impossible assumption for skeptics to make. That narrative also ignores Nephi’s statement that this set of plates focuses on sermons and prophesies rather than civil history. But even still, there is still an awful lot Joseph Smith would have to remember. Jacob through Omni keeps careful track of the years and names. Joseph Smith would have to remember all these names and the exact chronology of when they were born and died. How would Joseph Smith remember that?
The best a skeptic could do is attribute it to “some notes” Joseph Smith must have kept somewhere. But that narrative quickly becomes a huge case of circular logic–any similarity could be dismissed as “notes Joseph Smith could have had somewhere.” Joseph Smith could have re-translated the entire Book of Lehi except for a couple of pages, and skeptics could still say he did it based on “some notes Joseph Smith kept somewhere.”
Was Martin Harris In On It?
There would be no reason for Joseph Smith to do any of this if Martin Harris were in on a con job. The skeptic’s narrative only makes a lick of sense if Joseph Smith were trying to keep a ruse going on Martin and his wife. Otherwise Martin could simply dismiss any recovered 116 pages as a forgery and deny that any re-translation ever needed to happen. There would be no need to remove Martin Harris as scribe. There would also be no reason why someone would break into Martin Harriss’ house, into a locked drawer, and take the pages.
We can be sure Martin Harris’s wife was not in on any con. The entire reason Joseph Smith lent Martin the manuscript was to show his wife and reassure her that it was actually being written. Later, after the Book of Mormon failed to make any money and Martin Harris lost his home and farm which he had mortgaged for the project, his wife sued Joseph Smith in court calling him a fraud. This would be a strange thing for her to do if she were in on a con, and we would expect her to sue her husband (whom she divorced) if she thought Martin were in on it. So we can safely assume she was not part of a con job, and she did not think Martin was attempting to con anyone. Why would Martin give her the only draft if he were in on a con and she wasn’t? Why would Joseph Smith remove Martin as scribe and use a new person if Martin were in on a con–Martin had every reason to expose him.
But then if Martin were in on it, why would they keep her out of it? If I were fabricating scripture and my “scribe” had a wife who was growing suspicious, that would be a serious cause for alarm. The last thing I would do is entrust my “scribe” with the only draft to give to her. Assuming the only reason Joseph Smith needed a “scribe” at all was to secure Martin Harris’s funding for the printing, it would make a lot more sense to include his wife as a “scribe” too.
The biggest problem with the skeptic’s narrative is that is Martin Harris was one of the official witnesses of the gold plates. He saw the angel, he saw the Urim and Thummim, the plates, and was privy to everything during the translating. He reaffirmed his testimony of all of that to his dying breath. If Joseph Smith somehow fabricated a Urim and Thummim and gold plates with a convincing fabrication, as a dirt poor farmer with zero knowledge of metalurgy, why didn’t he just show them to Martin’s wife? And as for the angel’s appearances to Martin, how could Joseph Smith have faked that?
So now, Joseph Smith had to find a new partner in the con, or a new person to fool into thinking he was a prophet. Why go to that trouble instead of sticking with Martin, who was still funding the project? Was Oliver Cowdery, the next scribe, in on the con too, or was he also somehow fooled into thinking he witnessed angels and touched real gold plates? Anti-Mormons spin a narrative where people in New England were just incredibly superstitious and gullible. But neither Martin Harris nor Oliver Cowdery were gullible men. They were well-established men of renown and great abilities.
“If he tried to go back and do-over, not only would his scribes notice the difference, but anyone who had read the first draft would notice that it didn’t match the second draft in big ways and his critics would pick him apart. So Joseph changed scribes, and after a hiatus he kept going forward from where he and Harris had left off.”Mark Blanchard on Quora
If Joseph Smith were somehow able to fool Martin Harris into thinking he witnessed gold plates and an angel, don’t you think he could fool Martin Harris into justifying any discrepencies in a re-translation? Furthermore, why would Joseph Smith need to switch scribes at all now that he was ditching the book of Lehi and moving to a separate point of view? He only risked Martin Harris exposing him as a fraud by removing him as scribe and calling him a “wicked man.” bThere was no reason to switch scribes, unless it truly was because God was displeased with Martin for losing the pages.
Missing Pages Proves Book Of Mormon Was Developed Quickly
In a way, the episode of the missing 116 pages serves as a collosal piece of evidence for its authenticity. If the hoax narrative were true, that would mean Joseph Smith had only a few months to develop an entirely new story. He would certainly use his memory of the missing pages as a basis for his new story, but what about the incredibly well crafted story-telling and narrative in this new book? The first verse of 1 Nephi alone is an incredibly carefully crafted paragraph that people have written books about. The intricate plot, geology, theology, and character arcs found throughout the “new” book would take time to develop: a lot more time than Joseph Smith had available to him between working on the farm and caring for his grievously ill wife.
This episode shows us Martin Harris was not a co-conspirator on a con job. So how did a young backwoods farm boy with a third grade education come up with it? Who was helping him develop it if not his “scribe”? The themes in the Book of Mormon are so profound a plenteous, it is unimaginable to think some kid just thought it up. If someone else were helping him come up with it and somehow this escaped the notice of Martin Harris or his wife (or anyone else), we come back to the same question: why was there no other draft?
Why Did God Allow Joseph Smith To Screw Up? – Now, let’s now flip to the skeptic’s point of view. Why would God come up to this solution to such a problem? If God had foreknowledge, could He have just stopped Joseph Smith from lending the pages–put an angel with a sword in the road? Couldn’t God have let Joseph Smith know the consequences, or let him know who had stolen the pages and where to find them? Or just re-translate the content, let the forgers do their work, and through some kind of miraculous means confound the forgery?
Well, firstly we need to speak to the fact that we know very little about how the translation was actually achieved. We know very little about “seer stones” and much of what we assume is likely false. Maybe translation of a particular text through a Urim and Thummim is a one time thing. Maybe it is something that for whatever reason cannot be reproduced, like a magic potion that once drunk cannot be re-drunk. I can’t speculate on the mechanics of this, but if Joseph Smith were a conman I’m sure he could think of some reason. But it is always a possibility that God’s priesthood keys worked on the seer stones in a way that made translating a one-time thing for a particular text only.
Moreso, though, I get the feeling that it is about God refusing to micromanage every little thing like a dictator. God could have just had Moroni translate it himself and hand it to Joseph Smith, or better yet come down from the sky in an explosion of glory to prove to everybody that it is true scripture. Joseph Smith certainly would not have exerted as much faith and effort later in life if he did not learn from this failure. We also would not be in a position to develop faith. God does not operate like a dictator because God wants people to achieve things to some degree through their own capabilities and choices–or fail. This was a powerful lesson that the mightest men can always fail. Joseph Smith learned very quickly that he was not predistined to be a great and laudible figure and that God was not going to bail him out every time he screwed up.
It is a bit like in the book Lord of the Rings–everybody laughs about how Frodo could have just hopped on the back of an eagle, dropped the ring into the volcano, and everything would have been done with in a matter of hours. But what would that have achieved for Frodo, for the others involved, or for the many armies who instead had to fight so desperately for their freedom? There needs to be a very real possibility of failure in order for our triumphs to mean anything.
This also serves an important lesson to each of us, that such a great man as Joseph Smith screwed up so royally, but that God had a plan B to make things work. God always has a plan B. “His paths are straight and his course is one eternal round” (D&C 3:2) Repentence is always possible. Always. Always. Always. It may mean forgoing the course in life that we had charted for us before, but God will have a backup plan ready for us. For example, if we ruin an eternal marriage through poor choices to the point that it is irreparable, maybe there is someone else that we can still get sealed to and enjoy a wonderful eternal family with. We do not need to be so hard on ourselves for making such a grave mistake, and we don’t need to be disappointed in God for not stopping us.
We also need to be ready to appear like total fools before everyone. That’s alright. South Park can go ahead and ridicule us, call us “dumb dumb dumb” for not writing off Joseph Smith immediately. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have found that the most charismatic and beloved men of big corporations like Viacom Inc. are the ones I need to be most suspicious of.
As you would expect, Wikipedia’s article on the lost 116 pages is rife with falsehoods and Anti-Mormon bias.
“These pages, which had not been copied, were lost by Smith’s scribe, Martin Harris, during the summer of 1828 and are presumed to have been destroyed.”
- Wikipedia assumes Martin Harris lost the pages and that they were not stolen, most likely by Martin’s wife. Wikipedia repeats this accusation: “he lost the manuscript.” According to the account, Martin gave them to his wife and she locked it in a chest of drawers, and then it went missing. She “lost” them. My guess is she passed them on to some acquaintance to inspect who passed them on to some religious professor or someone who had it in their hearts to use them to create a forgery.
- Who presumes they are destroyed? What is the basis for that? The presumption they are destroyed counters the claim in D&C 10 that they were picked up by “wicked men,” and is therefore a baseless Anti-Mormon narrative.
“Martin Harris, a respectable but superstitious farmer from nearby Palmyra, became an early believer”
I have debunked the libelous narrative that Martin Harris was superstitious.
“Before returning home after two weeks, Lucy searched the Smith house and grounds for the plates but was unable to locate them. Smith said he did not need their physical presence to create the transcription.”
This, and much of the rest of what Wikipedia claims Martin Harriss’ wife did, is based on Anti-Mormon accounts and is not credible.
“By the middle of June, Smith had dictated about 116 manuscript pages of text.”
We do not know how many pages were existing at that point; just that 116 were lent to Martin Harris and lost.
“Harris continued to have doubts about the authenticity of the manuscript”
This is based on Anti-Mormon accounts and is not a credible claim. Wikipedia goes on to cite Anti-Mormon accounts that are not credible regarding the Urim and Thummim and other alleged seer stones.
“The following day Harris was dragged into the Smith family home in distress and without the pages.”
Dragged? Like, Joseph Smith held him by the collar and pulled him kicking and screaming down the street? This is emotionally charged language and not what happened.
“The revelation [D&C 3] assured Smith that if he was penitent he would regain his ability to translate.”
D&C 3 actually does not say that. God tells Joseph Smith to repent of disobeying God’s command, and says “thou art still chosen and art again called to the work.” (D&C 3:10) It doesn’t say he needed to repent to regain his ability, but that he would receive his ability again.
“According to Smith, he did not retranslate the material that Harris had lost because he said that if he did, evil men would alter the manuscript in an effort to discredit him. Smith said that instead, he had been divinely ordered to replace the lost material with Nephi’s account of the same events.”
This is not accoding to Joseph Smith. This is what Joseph Smith said was according to God. By making this “according to Smith,” Wikipedia is assuming an Anti-Mormon bias that Joseph Smith was not divinely inspired.
“When Smith reached the end of the book, he said he was told that God had foreseen the loss of the early manuscript and had prepared the same history in an abridged format that emphasized religious history, the Small Plates of Nephi.”
This is false on several levels. Firstly, D&C 10 makes it clear that the lost pages themselves claim the same history appeared abridged on the small plates of Nephi. This was not something Joseph Smith came up with when he reached the end of the book, but which was established from the start. Secondly, Joseph Smith did not receive D&C 10 when he reached the end of the book, but in May 1829 before he resumed the work of translating at all.
“Smith transcribed this portion, and it appears as the first part of the book.”
There is no basis for the claim that 1 Nephi was translated chronologically last.
Next, Wikipedia focuses on narratives of Anti-Mormons. They give a quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland about the small plates of Nephi containing rich material, and Martin Harriss’ testimony of the Book of Mormon, but that’s it. The rest is commentary by Anti-Mormons, which is typical for Wikipedia.
I certainly would not expect Wikipedia to point out any of the points I have made here.
- The entire episode does not make sense from an Anti-Mormon point of view. At first it looks like a simply matter of Joseph Smith losing his made-up manuscript and scrambling to find some justification. But the circumstances and his justification make no sense. There was no reason to go to all this trouble.
- The “abridgement” he produced apparently did reproduce vast quantities content from the lost pages, which Joseph Smith could not have remembered accurately. If he had used notes for this content, he could have used the notes or prior draft to simply reproduce the lost book of Lehi.
- Joseph Smith’s paranoid-sounding claim that forgers were trying to discredit him actually came true and was proven correct. A forgery would have been easy to create using the missing pages.
- The missing pages apparently mentioned Nephi’s abridgement of the book of Lehi, which would have been a terribly random coincidence if Joseph Smith were making it up.
- This episode suggests Martin Harris was not in on a con, yet he strongly reaffirmed that he witnessed the gold plates and an angel proclaiming Joseph Smith a prophet of God.
- Joseph Smith had little time to reinvent a new narrative for the Book of Mormon, yet produced an incredibly deep and comprehensive book of scripture.