Evolutionary Development for the Structure of the Book of Mormon by Quinn Brewster
A Theory of Evolutionary Development for the Structure of the Book of Mormon
(Note that this version contains minor revisions from the original which appeared in Dialogue. An Appendix has also been added.)
When Joseph Smith began to dictate the Book of Mormon he did not understand the structure the book would ultimately take. He did not know that the first part of the manuscript would be lost, resulting in a major structural change in the first quarter of the book. Even with his revelation explaining the solution to the lost manuscript problem (D&C 10) he apparently still did not understand completely the book’s final structure nor the system of plates that served as its source records. As did most of his theological ideas and innovations, Joseph Smith’s understanding of the Book of Mormon structure evolved incrementally over a period of time.
This essay discusses the development in Joseph Smith’s understanding of the Book of Mormon structure and explores the evolutionary nature of that development. The focus is how Joseph’s understanding of the structure was influenced by the lost manuscript crisis, particularly the issue of compatibility between the lost manuscript and its replacement. A theory of incremental development is proposed based on a series of four distinct configurations or plans for the book’s structure, as Joseph understood it. The four-plan sequence is derived from textual analysis of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. The initial configuration (before the lost manuscript) was simple; Joseph Smith thought the Book of Mormon was to be primarily a translation of Mormon’s plates, without any direct translation from Mormon’s primary source, the plates of Nephi. In the next configuration (after the lost manuscript), the lost portion was to be replaced by a direct translation from the plates of Nephi; these plates were still viewed as the source of Mormon’s information (that which appeared on the lost manuscript). In the third configuration, the plates of Lehi (separate and distinct from Nephi’s plates) were understood to be an additional source for some of the material contained in the lost manuscript (such as Lehi’s genealogy). And, in the fourth and final configuration, Nephi’s plates were understood to consist of separate large and small versions, with the small plates taking the role of the replacement forepart and the large plates subsuming Lehi’s plates and taking over the role of source record for all the lost manuscript material. Thus Joseph’s understanding of the book’s structure increased in complexity over the course of the book’s dictation. The pivotal event that precipitated this series of changes in structure and understanding and, some say, launched Joseph Smith on his prophetic career was the translation crisis associated with the unexpected loss of the original Book of Mormon manuscript.
Translation Crisis and Structure of the Book of Mormon
In June 1828 Joseph Smith relented in letting his scribe Martin Harris take the only copy of the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript to show to his wife and a few other close persons. Harris’s wife, who was by then hostile to Martin’s involvement in Joseph’s work, apparently succeeded in stealing the manuscript pages and they were never recovered. She must have believed that this would put an end to Joseph’s book-writing activities and convince her husband of Joseph’s imposture. To her, the book was a fabrication and Joseph wouldn’t dare try recreating it. Whether she destroyed the manuscript (as later rumored) is still not known. What mattered more at the time was the possibility that if Joseph did produce a new translation the original manuscript might reappear and inconsistencies between the two would raise questions about Joseph’s claim that the book was a translation of an ancient record.
Joseph was apparently terribly distraught over this loss. Lucy Mack Smith1 later wrote his reaction upon first hearing from Martin that the pages had been lost.
“Oh! My God My God said Joseph clenching his hands together all is lost is lost what shall I do I have sinned it is me that tempted the wrath [of] God by asking him to that which I had no right to ask as I was differently instructed by the angel–and he wept and groaned walking the floor continualy
at last he told martin to go back to his house and search again–
No said Mr Harris it is all in vain for I have looked in every place in the house I have even ripped open beds and pillows and I know it is not there
Then must I said Joseph return to my wife with such a tale as this[.] I dare not do it least I should kill her at once2 and how shall I appear before the Lord of what rebuke am I not worthy from the Angel of the most high
I besaught him not to mourn so that it might be that the Lord would forgive him after a short season of humiliation and repentance on his part–but what could I say to comfort him when he saw the family all in the same state of mind that he was for sobs and groans and the most bitter lamentations filled the house[.] Joseph in particular was more distressed than the rest for he knew definitely and by sorrowful experience the consequence of what would seem to others to be a very trifling neglect of duty[.] he continued pacing back and forwards weeping and grieving like a tender infant untill about sunset we persuaded him to take a little nourishment
the next morning he went home we parted with heavy hearts for it seemed as though all our fond anticipations which we had fed upon and which had been the source of so much secret gratification to us all was in [a] moment fled and fled forever– “
For unknown reasons the obvious solution (tedious though it may have been) of repeating the original translation did not offer much comfort on this occasion3. The loss became a crisis which Joseph struggled with for some time. For at least two months no translation was accomplished. Eventually a solution evolved.
The ultimate solution to the translation crisis was the small plates of Nephi. This smaller record happened to cover the same period in history as the lost manuscript (Lehi to Benjamin). Furthermore, instead of secular historical details it contained prophecies and other religious writings that, according to a revelation to Joseph (D&C 10), actually made the small record preferable to the lost translation of Mormon’s abridgment of Nephi’s large plates. The whole episode, in fact, was part of a “wise purpose” known only to God and foreshadowed in the Book of Mormon (1 Ne. 9:5). The purpose was to provide a way for important religious writings to be included in the book as well as a training experience for Joseph. Thus the first quarter of the Book of Mormon, from Lehi to Benjamin, was taken directly from the small plates of Nephi with no abridgment by Mormon, and the bulk of the remainder was taken from Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi. This solution provided a plausible explanation for Martin Harris’s being allowed to lose the first manuscript and for the structure of the Book of Mormon that eventually emerged. Joseph Smith, however, apparently did not understand the finer points of this solution or the final Book of Mormon structure, even after receiving the D&C 10 revelation. That this is so can be seen from D&C 10.
D&C 10: Initial Description of the Translation Crisis and Solution
The initial description of the solution to the lost manuscript problem was given in the revelation (Book of Commandments IX) that became D&C 10. This revelation, however, is not compatible with the Book of Mormon structure that eventually became known. Comparison of D&C 10 and the statements of the Book of Mormon reveals an inconsistency related to Mormon’s knowledge of the small plates of Nephi. In explaining God’s purpose for allowing the manuscript pages to be lost and how that problem was to be solved Joseph recorded (possibly as early as the summer of 1828)4 the following revelation (D&C 10:38-42).
“38 An account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands [lost pages], is engraven upon the plates of Nephi; 39 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. 40 And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account– 41 Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained; 42 And behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi; . . .”
Since there were (ultimately) two distinct sets of plates of Nephi, large and small, one may wonder which set was being indicated by the ambiguous phrase “plates of Nephi” used uniformly throughout this passage. In verses 40 and 41 “plates of Nephi” must be taken to mean small plates (only) since the first chapters of the Book of Mormon (the replacement chapters, 1 Nephi-Omni) were derived from the small plates. This interpretation, however, places the revelation at odds with the Book of Mormon itself. Verse 39 would imply that Mormon, in abridging the large plates, was referring to the small plates when he spoke of a “more particular account.” Yet the Book of Mormon stipulates that Mormon did not know about the small plates until after he had finished the abridgment of that portion of the large plates (Words of Mormon 1:3)5. Thus verse 39 of D&C 10 contradicts verses 40 and 41.
Are there reasonable explanations for this apparent discrepancy? Does it solve the problem to assume that, as the Book of Mormon account requires, Mormon was referring to what he understood to be the only (what were actually the large) plates of Nephi when he spoke of a “more particular account?” This explanation forces an illogical reading of verses 38-41, with a sliding definition of “plates of Nephi.”6
Does it solve the problem to assume that Mormon was referring to the inclusive set, large and small plates? This explanation again doesn’t fit with the logic and wording of D&C 10: 39-41. If the phrase “plates of Nephi” in verses 39-40 had been intended to mean the inclusive set, then verse 41 would not have used the same ambiguous phrase, but would have made clear that only part of that set (the small record) was to be translated as a replacement.
Is it possible that Mormon knew about the small plates earlier? It might be suggested that Mormon could have read about the small plates on the large plates during his abridgment of the forepart and even referred to them himself in his own abridgment without bothering to search among the records for the small plates until after finishing the forepart, Lehi-Benjamin. This is out of character with Mormon’s role as abridger (although the Words of Mormon 1:3 version is itself out of character–that he would not have read the entire set of records before beginning an abridgment). More importantly the wording of Words of Mormon 1:3 (supported somewhat by Mormon 1:4) is fairly clear; the writer of the Book of Mormon intended to convey to the reader that Mormon did not know about the small plates until he reached Benjamin in his abridgment.
Apparently there is no reasonable way to reconcile this discrepancy in Mormon’s knowledge of the small plates of Nephi with the assumption that Joseph Smith had a correct understanding of the final structure of the Book of Mormon at the time he recorded this portion of D&C 10. Joseph’s understanding at this time must have been incomplete.
In the remainder of this essay a theory is explored that more adequately accounts for the discrepancy noted above as well as others that follow. The theory postulates a series of four configurations or plans for the Book of Mormon structure. Each plan represents Joseph Smith’s understanding of what the book’s structure was at different points in time. The plans are constructed on the basis of what the Book of Mormon would have revealed about its own structure to Joseph as he translated it (conversely this can be viewed as Joseph revealing what he envisioned for the book’s structure by what he dictated regarding it). This method of construction results in what might be termed a minimum complexity description. That is, since Joseph could have learned about the Book of Mormon structure from sources other than the book itself, these plans represent the minimum level of configurational complexity. However, given the implication of D&C 10–that Joseph’s understanding was still incomplete even after recording this revelation–the approach of assuming the minimum level of complexity compatible with what the Book of Mormon reveals about itself seems reasonable.
As Joseph Smith began dictating from the plates of Mormon in late 1827 or early 1828, the text made frequent references to a source record known as “the plates of Nephi.” These references to “the plates of Nephi,” where more details could be found,7 were probably much like those that appear in surviving chapters, such as 3 Ne. 26:6-8, “and now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people; but behold the plates of Nephi do contain the more part of the things which he taught the people. And these things have I [Mormon] written, which are a lesser part of the things which he taught the people;” (see also Mos. 1:6; Alma 37:2; 3 Ne. 5:10; 3 Ne. 5:8-11; Mormon 2:18). That such references also appeared in the early (lost) part of Mormon’s abridgment is corroborated by D&C 10:39, “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.” In abridging the Nephite history prior to Benjamin, Mormon would not have used language that distinguished Nephi’s large and small plates because he did not know about the small plates until he had completed the abridgment down to the time of Benjamin. Therefore as Joseph dictated the early manuscript, “the plates of Nephi” were probably understood to have been a single set of plates from which Mormon took most, if not all, of his abridgment. The structure of the Book of Mormon Joseph would have inferred is that shown in the accompanying schematic diagram, plan 1. His understanding would have been that the book was to consist (excluding Ether, Moroni, etc.) primarily of a translation of Mormon’s record, which was an abridgment of a set of plates called “the plates of Nephi”. This was probably Joseph Smith’s understanding of the Book of Mormon structure initially.
With an understanding of the Book of Mormon structure represented by plan 1, Joseph dictated the Nephite history at least to the story of Benjamin, and possibly somewhat beyond. In the process, frequent references were made to “the plates of Nephi” (where greater detail was recorded). Then came the birth of Joseph and Emma’s first child in June 1828. The translation stopped and Martin Harris succeeded in persuading Joseph to let him take the manuscript. The first 116 manuscript pages were lost.8
After the loss of the manuscript the translation was at a standstill. Joseph apparently lost his gift and, in any case, the idea of retranslating the same material was not a viable option. The lost manuscript had contained detailed historical accounts and long name-by-name genealogies. If it existed, it was in the hands of unfriendly persons who would not hesitate to bring it forth (altered, according to Joseph,) for comparison with any retranslation that might be produced–this, for the purpose of, as Joseph later put it, “stir[ring] up the hearts of this generation, that they might not receive this work.” For the work to continue, a solution was called for that did not require retranslation of the same material.
The solution to the lost manuscript problem was given in D&C 10 which Joseph recorded sometime between the summer of 1828 and May 1829.
1 Now, behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up so many9 writings, which you had power to translate, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them, 2 and you also lost your gift at the same time, 3 nevertheless it has been restored unto you again: therefore, see that you are faithful and go on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work as you have begun.
This first portion of the revelation confirmed that the reason Joseph had been unable to resume translating was because his gift had been lost. The third verse seems to be notifying him that his gift had been restored and that he was to resume translating. The instruction to “go on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work as you have begun” could be interpreted as instructing him to resume translation of the plates of Mormon where he had left off.10 Whether Joseph actually recorded these verses before or after resuming translation is uncertain, but in either case most investigators of Mormon history agree that he did finish the dictation of Mormon’s plates (Mosiah through 4 Nephi and possibly through Mormon 7) before returning to the forepart of the book. Thus the first part of the revelation confirmed that, for the remainder of the Book of Mormon at least, the plan was unchanged.
The latter part of the revelation dealt with an explanation for the loss of the Book of Mormon forepart (including involvement of the devil) and a solution for its replacement.
38 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; 39 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. 40 And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi, is more particular concerning the things, which in my wisdom I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account–41 Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained; 42 And behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words. 43 I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil. 44 Behold they have only got a part, or an abridgment of the account of Nephi. 45 Behold there are many things engraven on the plates of Nephi, which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work. 46 And behold, all the remainder of this work does contain all those parts of my gospel which my holy prophets, yea, and also my disciples desired in their prayers, should come forth unto this people.
As outlined in these verses the solution was simple, bypass Mormon’s abridgment. Instead of Mormon’s plates, the plates of Nephi were to be translated for the pre-Benjamin portion of the Book of Mormon. In this context Joseph would have understood “plates of Nephi” to mean the original source from which Mormon took his abridgment. Since the plates of Nephi had been the original source nothing would be lost. Not only would Joseph’s enemies be foiled, there would be opportunity for additional “things” that would “throw greater views” upon the gospel to be included in the Book of Mormon.
Aside from the replacement of the first part of Mormon’s abridgment with Nephi’s record, this revelation apparently taught Joseph nothing new about the ultimate structure of the Book of Mormon and its source records. In particular, there was no indication of separate and distinct large and small plates of Nephi. As noted previously, the revelation (verse 39) was even inconsistent with the final structure of the Book of Mormon that eventually became known. However, it was completely consistent with what Joseph’s understanding of the structure would probably have been at the time, which was that Mormon made his abridgment primarily from a single set of “plates of Nephi.” Even linguistic nuances suggest that the “plates of Nephi” of D&C 10 were not the small plates, which ended at the time of Benjamin, but rather a set of plates that continued beyond Benjamin. There is the wording of verse 45, that Joseph “should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work.” There is also the wording of verse 41 implying that Joseph could have translated even more from the plates of Nephi (beyond Benjamin) but that he was to stop at Benjamin. Since translating Nephi’s plates was better for the first part of the book, Joseph (or later others) might have wondered why translating Nephi’s plates wasn’t also better for the remainder. If so this question was answered with the assurance of verse 46 that the “remainder of this work,” meaning the post-Benjamin part of Mormon’s abridgment, contained all the parts of the gospel that were supposed to come forth. Although this statement provides a reason for not continuing the direct translation of Nephi’s plates beyond king Benjamin it is somewhat difficult to reconcile with the nature and role of the small plates that eventually emerged (1 Ne. 19:3) and further suggests that Joseph probably wasn’t aware of the idea of the separate small plates of Nephi or the many “plain and precious parts” they would contain at the time of recording D&C 10. Thus it is likely that after the lost manuscript episode Joseph resumed dictation of the book of Mosiah with an understanding of the Book of Mormon structure similar to that shown in the diagram as plan 2.
With the lost manuscript episode behind him Joseph probably resumed translation of Mormon’s abridgment in September 1828 with Emma, Martin, and possibly others acting as scribe.11 This effort would have probably continued through at least March 1829 when Martin was either sent or went away. During this dictation of the remainder of Mormon’s abridgment was there anything new revealed about the Book of Mormon structure by its own text? Apparently not. The Book of Mormon text contains nothing from Mosiah through Mormon 7 that elucidates the structure of the book or its plates with any greater complexity than that of plan 2 (see later discussion of computer search results under Transcription Sequence). Specifically, there is no mention by Mormon of the separate small plates of Nephi. Thus it is likely that Joseph’s understanding of the Book of Mormon structure was still that of a single record (or plates) of Nephi and Mormon’s abridgment of that record.
Eventually Joseph completed Mormon’s abridgment and returned to the forepart of the book. He had to do so without the benefit of the lost manuscript; despite his “utmost exertions to recover it,” the manuscript had remained lost (see 1830 Preface). His attention thus turned to what was to become the new forepart of the book, the plates of Nephi. This part of the work must have caused mixed feelings in Joseph. On one hand, a solution to the lost manuscript problem had been outlined in the revelation he had by now recorded (D&C 10)–a solution which involved translating directly from “the plates of Nephi.” On the other hand, someone eager to discredit him (probably Mrs. Harris) might have the manuscript and be waiting for the retranslation or replacement to appear. If the manuscript had simply been misplaced it would have been a different matter. But the revelation made clear that the manuscript had been stolen by persons with sinister motives. To know that such forces were at work must have been unsettling to Joseph. Until the replacement for the lost manuscript was published and had withstood any comparative challenges, he probably could not feel completely comfortable. As evidence that these concerns were real to Joseph at the time, there is the preface he included in the first (1830) edition of the Book of Mormon (see subsequent section, 1830 Preface) which explained the loss of the manuscript and the solution to translate different plates so that the devil’s designs to thwart the work would be negated. (This preface was removed in the 1837 edition, apparently because such a threat no longer existed.)
Probably of more immediate concern to Joseph than the general public’s acceptance of his work was that of Martin Harris. No one was in a better position to discredit Joseph with respect to the lost manuscript than Martin Harris. Martin had transcribed much of the manuscript. Martin’s memory may not have been perfect but he might have recognized gross inconsistencies and conspicuous absences. Furthermore, if anyone had the manuscript his wife was the most likely person. He was an easy target for her efforts to discredit Joseph, or so Joseph might have worried. Although he had exhibited a tendency to want to believe in Joseph, Martin also had a practical side to which appeal could be made, particularly in financial matters. His interest in the plates apparently had a pecuniary aspect as well as a religious one. A book that gave the history of the American Indians’ ancestors, linked the Indians to the ancient Hebrews, and explained the mysterious burial mounds and fortresses that dotted the countryside would have appealed to the popular interest of the day. Such a book that also claimed to be true history had the potential of selling better than had Ethan Smith’s recent, successful treatise, View of the Hebrews.12 Thus Martin was captivated not just by the religious implications of Joseph’s book but also (perhaps more so at first) by financial profit. That Joseph was mindful of Martin’s dual interests seems hardly questionable. Martin had the potential of becoming a benefactor, even the financier of the book’s publication. But he was erratic and sometimes unpredictable. Until the plates of Nephi had been translated, published, and successfully defended against any attacks of a comparative nature, Joseph must have worried about the issue of compatibility between the replacement translation from the plates of Nephi and information in the lost manuscript.
3. It bears considering what exactly Joseph’s culpability was and why he felt so personally responsible for Martin’s mistake that even the possibility of a retranslation offered no consolation. The revelation (D&C 10) explaining that wicked men had stolen the pages for the purpose of altering the text and discrediting Joseph, thus ruling out the option of retranslating, had not yet been received by Joseph. Neither had his being informed by an angel (according to Lucy Smith) that he had indeed sinned and must forfeit the Urim and Thummim occurred yet. Lucy Smith wrote that when she and Joseph, Sr. visited their son two months after he had returned to Harmony he “gave us the following relation of what had transpired since our separation:–‘On leaving you,’ said Joseph, ‘I returned immediately home. Soon after my arrival, I commenced humbling myself in mighty prayer before the Lord, and, as I was pouring out my soul in supplication to God, that if possible, I might obtain mercy at his hands, and be forgiven of all that I had done contrary to his will, an angel stood before me, and answered me, saying, that I had sinned in delivering the manuscript into the hands of a wicked man, and, as I had ventured to become responsible for his faithfulness, I would of necessity have to suffer the consequences of his indiscretion, and I must now give up the Urim and Thummim into his (the angel’s) hands.'” This account places the responsibility with Joseph for his giving the manuscript to Martin, as D&C 3 and 10 also seem to do. However, Joseph’s 1832 diary account (Faulring, S. H., 1989, ed. An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City, Signature Books, p.8), which predates the D&C accounts (1833 Book of Commandments), has Joseph receiving permission to give Martin the manuscript: “I inquired again and also a third time and the Lord said unto me, ‘Let him go with them . . .'” Thus, according to his own diary Joseph had only done as he was commanded in giving the manuscript to Martin and his only culpability was in asking a third time. Nevertheless he apparently felt personally responsible for Martin’s actions. The question of what exactly Joseph’s mistake or sin was–asking the third time or giving the manuscript–seems unresolved and perhaps unresolvable. The related question also remains open–why was the simple solution of repeating the translation not seen as a viable option, particularly right after the loss. Perhaps early on Joseph anticipated that which was later to be revealed to him, that unfriendly individuals might try to steal the manuscript for the purpose of discrediting him, thus rendering inadvisable any retranslation attempt.
4. History of the Church 1:23 indicates D&C 10 was written in the summer of 1828, a short time after D&C 3, which was written in July 1828. This dating (summer 1828) could be an error attributable to James Mulholland’s insertion of it on separate sheets between pages 10 and 11 of the original manuscript (private communication, Dan Vogel). Both the 1833 Book of Commandments and 1835 D&C dated D&C 10 later at May 1829.
5. “And now I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the [large] plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin . . . I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.” (Words of Mormon 1:3)
6. In order to be consistent with the Book of Mormon , D&C 10:38-41 must be read in the following manner: “An account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, is engraven upon the plates of Nephi [large and/or small]; 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 [which Mormon thought at the time were the only, but were actually the large, plates]. And now, because the account which is engraven upon the [small] plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account–Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the [small] plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained.”
7. This technique is also used in the forepart replacement chapters by Nephi (and others) who defers historical details to his “other plates,” such as in 2 Ne. 4:14, “for I had spoken many things unto them, and also my father, before his death; many of which sayings are written upon mine other plates; for a more history part are written upon mine other plates.” See also 1 Ne. 19:4; 2 Ne. 5:33; Jacob 1:3, 7:26; Jarom 1:14; Words of Mormon 1:10.
8. If Joseph retained any of the manuscript it was probably only a few pages. These retained pages could have been what was being referred to in D&C 10:41 (see also 1830 preface), “Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained.” This interpretation would be consistent with the assumption that these verses, outlining a solution to the translation crisis, were first recorded by Joseph within a few months of his losing the manuscript, before any further translation had been accomplished (probably in the summer of 1828). A later (May 1829) dating is also possible; according to the late dating, the phrase “which you have retained” would refer to material translated after the lost pages episode. See also Parkin, M. “A Preliminary Analysis of the Dating of Section 10,” 7th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium (Provo, Utah: BYU, 1979), pp. 70-81.
9. The 1833 Book of Commandments version is given for the first three verses. They were changed in the 1835 D&C to read: “Now, behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings, which you had power to translate, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them; and you also lost your gift at the same time, and your mind became darkened; nevertheless it is now restored unto you again, therefore see that you are faithful and continue on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work of translation as you have begun.”
10. This assumes the revelation was recorded in the summer of 1828, before he resumed dictation. Assuming the revelation was recorded in May 1829, after he had resumed dictating, this verse would simply be recounting what had already happened. The instruction to “go on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work” could then be viewed as a general one to finish the work he’d begun. However, the phrase “the remainder of this work” was subsequently used in a context, verse 46, that clearly implied the post-Benjamin portion of Mormon’s abridgment, thus supporting the former interpretation, i.e., the earlier, summer 1828 recording of this portion of D&C 10.
11. After the lost pages incident, between September 1828 and March 1829, how much of the Book of Mormon was transcribed and by whom are uncertain. Joseph recorded in his 1832 diary that Emma and his brother Samuel had written “some” for him during this time. However, Isaac Hale, Joseph’s father-in-law, gave the following affidavit in 1834 that suggests Martin Harris also transcribed during this period.
“About this time Martin Harris made his appearance upon the stage, and Smith began to interpret the characters or hieroglyphics, which he said were engraven upon the plates, while Harris wrote down the interpretations. It was said that Harris wrote down one hundred sixteen pages, and lost them. Soon after this happened, Martin Harris informed me that he must have a greater witness, and said that he had talked with Joseph about it; Joseph informed him that he could not or durst not show him the plates, but that he (Joseph) would go into the woods where the book of plates was, and that after he came back, Harris should follow his track in the snow, and find the book, and examine it for himself. Harris informed me afterward that he followed Smith’s directions, and could not find the plates, and was still dissatisfied. The next day after this happened, I went to the house where Joseph Smith, Jr., lived, and where he and Harris were engaged in their translation of the book. Each of them had a written piece of paper which they were comparing, and some of the words were: My servant seeketh a greater witness, but no greater witness can be given to him. There was also something said about Three that were to see the thing–meaning, I suppose, the book of plates; and that if the three did not go exactly according to orders, the thing would be taken from them. I inquired whose words they were, and was informed by Joseph or Emma (I rather think it was the former) that they were the words of Jesus Christ. I told them then that I considered the whole of it a delusion, and advised them to abandon it.
The manner in which he pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat and his hat over his face, while the book of plates was at the same time hid in the woods! After this Martin Harris went away, and Oliver Cowdery came and wrote for Smith, while he interpreted, as above described.” (Rev. John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way, Philadelphia, W. J. and J. K. Simon; New York, Robert Carter, 1842, pp. 244-245.)
This statement indicates that Martin was with Joseph in Harmony at least part of the time during the winter of 1828-29 acting as scribe for the Book of Mormon. The revelation referred to by Hale must have been the “witness” revelation, Book of Commandments IV (D&C 5), which had the effect of dismissing Harris as scribe.
12. B. H. Roberts’s private Studies of the Book of Mormon, published in 1985 by University of Illinois Press and in 1992 by Signature Books, gives a lengthy discussion of similarities between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews, which was published in 1823 and 1825 in Vermont, several years before the Book of Mormon. It also contains a comprehensive argument based on a thesis quite uncharacteristic of Roberts’s public discourse: that the BoM could have been a product of the fertile imagination of Joseph Smith, based on View of the Hebrews and similar “common knowledge” of the time.