Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Omissions from Joseph Smith - History

Careful readers of Joseph Smith - History in the Pearl of Great Price notice that there are ellipses in some places, such as between verses 65-66, which you can see here:

You can read the full history in the Joseph Smith Papers here:

In this post, I'm showing two of the omissions because it they are relevant to our understanding of the translation process. I wish it could be added back to Joseph Smith - History.

First, though, let's consider two verses from JS-H.

62 By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the February following.

63 Sometime in this month of February, the aforementioned Mr. Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off the plates, and started with them to the city of New York.

Here Joseph explains how he prepared for the translation. First, he copied characters off the plates, presumably onto paper. Then he translated "some of them" by means of the Urim and Thummim.

He did this from December through February, in the depths of winter, when there was presumably no farm work to do (other than chopping wood for fires).

There are several artists' depictions of this process. They don't show the Urim and Thummim, but Joseph doesn't say he needed the Urim and Thummim to copy the characters.

Although revisionist Church historians say Joseph didn't use the plates, Joseph says he copied the characters "off the plates." Because we don't have the documents Joseph prepared, we can only speculate how he may have copied the characters (or drawn them off).

There's a good discussion of the three extant character documents here:

There are some details in there that I'll discuss another time. The point here is that Joseph copied characters off the plates. Because Emma said she never saw the plates, he copied the characters either when she was not present (which seems unlikely in the dead of winter) or in a manner that prevented her from seeing the plates. Either way, her "Last Testimony" that Joseph made no attempt to conceal them and that they were covered with a cloth needs to be interpreted somehow to accommodate Joseph's statement about copying the characters off the plates.


Current Joseph Smith History in ordinary blue type, the omitted portion in purple, with my emphasis in bold.

65 “He then said to me, ‘Let me see that certificate.’ I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, ‘I cannot read a sealed book.’ I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation.”

· · · · · · ·

Mr Harris having returned from this tour he left me and went home to Palmyra, arranged his affairs, and returned again to my house about the twelfth of April, Eighteen hundred and twenty eight, and commenced writing for me while I translated from the plates, which we continued untill the fourteenth of June following, by which time he had written one hundred and sixteen <​pages​> of manuscript on foolscap paper.

[Note: At this point, the Joseph Smith Papers inserts note 34 that says this:

"Emma Smith later stated that she also served as a scribe for the translation of the Book of Mormon, as did her brother Reuben Hale. Their inscriptions were likely included in this earliest manuscript, along with Harris’s. (Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, 289–290.)"

In my view, this is additional evidence that Emma's "Last Testimony" is unreliable.  In her "Last Testimony," Emma says she wrote "day after day" while Joseph's face was buried in his hat. But here, Joseph's own history says he translated from the plates. Plus, Joseph specifies that Harris had written the 116 pages. Joseph never once said anything about Emma acting as scribe for the Book of Mormon, just as he never once said anything about using a seer stone in a hat.]

Some time after Mr Harris had began to write for me, he began to tease me to give him liberty to carry the writings home and shew them, and desired of me that I would enquire of the Lord through the Urim and Thummin if he might not do so. I did enquire, and the answer was that he must not. However he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should enquire again. I did so, and the answer was as before. Still he could not be contented but insisted that I should enquire once more. after After much solicitation I again enquired of the Lord, and permission was granted him to have the writings on certain conditions, which were, that he shew them only to his brother. Preserved Harris, his own wife [Lucy Harris Harris], his father [Nathan Harris], and his mother [Rhoda Lapham Harris], and a Mrs [Mary (Polly) Harris] Cobb a sister to his wife. In accordance with this last answer I required of him that he should bind himself in a covenant to me in the most solemn manner that he would not do otherwise than had been directed. He did so. He bound himself as I required of him, took the writings and went his way.

Notwithstanding however the great restrictions which he had been laid under, and the solemnity of the covenant which he had made with me, he did shew them to others and by stratagem they got them away from him, and they never have been recovered nor obtained back again untill this day.

[Note: JSP note 36 here points out that Joseph wrote a preface to the first edition of the Book of Mormon that discussed the 116 pages. Joseph wrote, "some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again." Exactly what those exertions were remains a mystery.]

In the mean time while Martin Harris was gone with the writings, I went to visit my father’s family at Manchester. I continued there for a short season and then returned to my place in Pensylvania. 

Immediately after my return home I was walking out a little distance, when Behold the former heavenly messenger appeared and handed to me the Urim and Thummin again (for it had been taken from me in consequence of my having wearied the Lord in asking for the privilege of letting Martin Harris take the writings which he lost by transgression) and I enquired of the Lord through them and obtained the folowing revelation.

[Note: Here we see that the Urim and Thummim was not a seer stone Joseph found in a well or somewhere else; it was the Urim and Thummim that Joseph obtained with the plates, as he and Oliver said all along. It was not a single seer stone, either; Joseph says he enquired of the Lord through them. If Joseph was using a seer stone instead of Urim and Thummim, aka the Nephite interpreters, it would not have mattered if the heavenly messenger had taken the Urim and Thummim.]

[D&C 3]

After I had obtained the above revelation, both the plates, and the Urim and Thummin were taken from me again, but in a few days they were returned to me. ​when I enquired of the Lord, and the Lord said thus unto me​ 

[Note: Here Joseph lost both the plates and the Urim and Thummim, but again, it wouldn't have mattered if all he was doing was reading words that appeared on a stone in a hat.]

[D&C 9 inserted by James Mulholland]

I did not however go immediately to translating, but went to laboring with my hands upon a small farm which I had purchased of my wife’s father, in order to provide for my family. In the month of February, Eighteen hundred and twenty nine my father came to visit us at which time I received the following revelation for him.

[Note: According to Joseph Smith, Martin Harris wrote the 116 pages. Then Joseph lost the plates, and after he got them back, he did not start translating because he had to work on the farm. The next time Joseph mentions translating is when Oliver showed up in April 1829. Emma's claim does not fit anywhere within Joseph's narrative.]

[D&C 4]

The following I applied for at the request of the aforementioned Martin Harris and obtained.

[D&C 5]

66 On the 5th day of April, 1829, Oliver Cowdery came to my house, until which time I had never seen him. He stated to me that having been teaching school in the neighborhood where my father resided, and my father being one of those who sent to the school, he went to board for a season at his house, and while there the family related to him the circumstances of my having received the plates, and accordingly he had come to make inquiries of me.

67 Two days after the arrival of Mr. Cowdery (being the 7th of April) I commenced to translate the Book of Mormon, and he began to write for me.

The end.