The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon
The translation of the Book of Mormon, completed by Joseph Smith in June 1829, was an amazing feat. By any standard, this 588-page holy book is extraordinary. Isaiah’s words, “a marvelous work and a wonder” (Isa. 29:14), which can be translated from the Hebrew more literally as “a miraculous work and a miracle,” readily describe the coming forth of this key restoration text.
Divine manifestations of several kinds directed the rapid course of the translation. Through angelic ministrations, the gift of powers to translate, the guidance of visions, and in many other ways, the hand of God was evident in the truly astounding work of bringing forth the ancient Nephite record. Through the Book of Mormon came many crucial revelations opening the heavens for all to receive: vital testimonies of the divinity of Jesus Christ, abundant declarations of God’s plan of salvation, heavenly dispensations of ethical teachings, and prophetic patterns for religious rites and ordinances. It is impossible to imagine Mormonism without the Book of Mormon. Its translation was a key event that unlocked a treasury of God’s dealings with mankind in the past and, in so doing, opened the way for his work to go forward in the present and on into the future.
While the embedding had occurred centuries earlier, the unfolding process commenced in September 1823, when Joseph Smith Jr. was visited several times by the angel Moroni, who informed him that God “had a work for [him] to do” (Joseph Smith—History 1:33). The angel went on to state that a book written upon gold plates containing the fullness of the gospel was deposited in a stone box in a nearby hill, and that in due time he, Joseph Smith, would be given stewardship over that book. This extensive record had been compiled mainly by the final Nephite leader, Mormon, who lived in the fourth century AD. Painstakingly, he had engraved onto the final set of plates carefully quoted, purposefully abridged, and paraphrased materials that he drew from a much larger collection of historical and religious records that had been written by his predecessors over the previous centuries. Most prominently, Mormon’s account featured numerous instances of angelic and divine manifestations, including appearances of Jesus Christ during the year after his resurrection. In about AD 385, Mormon, after adding his own concluding narrative, gave the plates to his son Moroni (who died about AD 421). After appending his abridgement of the Jaredite records, a few ecclesiastical documents, and his own farewell, Moroni finally deposited the plates in the Hill Cumorah in modern-day western New York. On September 22, 1827, Moroni released those plates to Joseph, thus inaugurating one of the most important stages in the Restoration of the gospel.
Numerous approaches can and should be taken in approaching the Book of Mormon. This complex book has been read and scrutinized in many ways: textually, doctrinally, historically, comparatively, literarily, legally, statistically, geographically, philosophically, practically, biographically, intellectually, prayerfully, and spiritually—to name some of the most obvious. The richness of this book inevitably invites several questions: How was this book written? Where did it come from? Joseph Smith testified that he translated the Book of Mormon miraculously, by the gift and power of God. Is that testimony credible?
The set of over two hundred documents in the full version of Opening the Heavens assembles data pertinent to that ultimate question. A number of these documents pertaining to Oliver Cowdery’s role in the translation also appear here. In particular, from these contemporaneous historical records, this study seeks to determine, as precisely as possible, when the Book of Mormon was translated and how long it took to complete this impressive task. The overwhelming accumulation of the consistent historical details provided by eyewitness participants and local observers leads to the solid conclusion that the Book of Mormon was translated in a very short period of time. Oliver played a crucial role in this process. Inside of three astonishingly compressed months, Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon. Its text simply emerged as it fell from his lips, line after line, recorded by his attentive scribe. The rapidity of the translation left no time for steps normally taken in producing translations.
The historical records corroborating the translation of the Book of Mormon are indeed copious and quite detailed. In addition to several contemporaneous references in the Doctrine and Covenants to the translation as it was underway, accounts were left by many of the participants, eyewitnesses, or observant people who were closely associated with the unfolding translation. These people include Joseph Smith and Emma Smith, and especially the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon—Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer. The thirty-seven accounts given by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery are notably specific and powerfully consistent.1
Consisting of 202 documents, the entire collection is presented in the document section of Opening the Heavens, and a portion of these documents has been reproduced here. Underlining is reproduced from the original document. Editorial marks include angle brackets < > to indicate insertions made by the author of the document. Strikeouts are shown by
strikeouts. Brackets [ ] indicate editorial comments.
By way of introducing these documents, an annotated chronology is first given, detailing the main events and heavenly manifestations that transpired during the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon from 1829 through 1830. Despite a few minor uncertainties in this historical data, most of the information falls clearly into a single logical sequence of events. The historical record abundantly sustains the basic narrative concerning the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. The sheer number of witnesses, friendly or otherwise, who were aware of this work as it progressed and who sensed its importance enough to speak or write to others about it, renders alternative accounts of fabrication or deception unlikely. At least, perpetrating such a ruse would have necessarily involved the willing collusion of many others who do not appear prone to have been willing coconspirators.
In sum, it is shown that nearly all the 590 pages printed in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon were translated, dictated, and written all within an extremely short and intensely busy period of time, from April 7 to the last week of June 1829. Virtually no excess time existed during those three months for Joseph Smith to plan, to ponder about, to research around, to hunt for sources, to organize data, to draft, to revise, or to polish the pages of the original manuscript of this book. Although Joseph became aware of and began contemplating this assignment in September 1823, and while he translated the 116 pages containing the book of Lehi from April 12, 1828, to June 14, 1828, which were sadly lost that summer, once Joseph and Oliver set to work on April 7, 1829, the pages of the Book of Mormon flowed forth in rapid succession. The text of the Book of Mormon was dictated one time through, essentially in final form. This was done despite significant interruptions and distractions. Such a feat, in and of itself, constitutes a considerable achievement, given the length, quality, and complexity of the Book of Mormon alone.
Further details concerning Oliver’s involvement in this monumental work, as well as the description of the plates, the complex structure of the Book of Mormon, and what can be gathered concerning Joseph Smith’s means and methods of translating the Book of Mormon, can be found conveniently at the beginning of published editions of the book, in standard histories of the Church,2 in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, or in other surveys of scholarship about the Book of Mormon.3
Dates listed in the chronology are, for the most part, historically verifiable, but some have been approximated. Taken together these details coalesce into a clear picture of the miraculous time of translation of the Book of Mormon.
Chronology of Events from April 1829 to April 1830 relating to the Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon
April 5, 1829. Oliver Cowdery arrived in Harmony to assist Joseph with the translation of the Book of Mormon.4 Joseph told Oliver “his entire history as far as it was necessary for his information in those things which concerned him.” Oliver was given assurances that “the words or the work which thou hast been writing are true” (D&C 6:17, 1833 ed.), and he was offered “a gift, if you desire of me, to translate, even as my servant Joseph.” Joseph and Oliver probably started writing at or shortly after Mosiah 1.5 Oliver and Joseph met for the first time in person on April 5, 1829. Joseph Knight reports this event: “Next Spring Oliver Cowdry a young man from palmyra Came to see old Mr Smith, Josephs father, about this work and he sent him Down to pensylveny to see Joseph and satisfy him self. So he Came Down and was soon Convinced of the truth of the work.”6 A few paragraphs later, Knight expressly places this event in “the spring of 1829.”7 Lucy Smith’s published reminiscences indicate that Oliver had only secondhand information about Joseph before April 1829, stating that after Oliver “had been in the school but a short time, when he began to hear from all quarters concerning the plates, and as soon began to importune Mr. Smith upon the subject, but for a considerable length of time did not succeed in eliciting any information.”8 David Whitmer, who was first to hear of Joseph Jr. among the Whitmers, recalled speaking with Oliver about the matter in 1828. Oliver was then a teacher in Palmyra and boarded with the Joseph Smith Sr. family for a time until the school term ended in March 1829.9 During this time, Joseph Jr. was in Harmony.
Oliver explicitly dates his first meeting with Joseph Smith Jr. as April 5, 1829: “Near the time of the setting of the Sun, Sabbath evening, April 5th, 1829, my natural eyes, for the first time beheld this brother.”10 On the same page printed in 1834, Oliver said he had endured many “fateagues and privations . . . for the gospel’s sake, since 1828, with this brother.” Apparently Oliver had begun suffering criticism as early as 1828 for his interest in Joseph and the plates. In 1835 he said he had known Joseph intimately for “almost seven years.”11 From 1829 to 1835 is seven years inclusive. Clear evidence supports April 5, 1829, as the date for the first meeting of Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith.
April 6, 1829. Oliver recorded: “On Monday the 6th, I assisted [Joseph] in arranging some business of a temporal nature.”12
April 7, 1829. Oliver began writing as scribe to Joseph Smith, as he remained for the greater part of the translation. He said he transcribed it all “with the exception of a few pages.” Joseph remembered that Oliver wrote “with little cessation.” Oliver later recalled, “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated . . . ‘The book of Mormon.’ ”13 Sometime during April 1829, Doctrine and Covenants 6, 7, 8, and 9 were received, and Joseph made a trip to Colesville. Oliver unsuccessfully attempted to translate.
Mid to Late April. Oliver wrote two letters to David Whitmer, telling him that “he was convinced that Smith had the records” and giving “a few lines of what they had translated” and assuring David “that he knew of a certainty that [Joseph] had a record of a people that inhabited this continent, and that the plates they were translating gave a complete history of these people.”
About May 10, 1829. Around this time, Joseph and Oliver ran out of provisions. They went to Colesville (Coleville) to see if Joseph Knight would help them with some provisions, but he was in “Cattskill.”14 An account attributed to Joseph Smith might relate to this same trip to Colesville, although an occasion in 1830 is possible:
When I first commenced this work, and had got two or three individuals to believe, I went about thirty miles with Oliver Cowdery, to see them. We had only one horse between us. When we arrived, a mob of about one hundred men came upon us before we had time to eat, and chased us all night; and we arrived back again [in Harmony] a little after daylight, having traveled about sixty miles in all, and without food.15
Joseph and Oliver returned to Harmony and looked to see “if they Could find a place to work for provisions, But found none. They returned home and found me [Joseph Knight] there with provisions, and they ware glad for they ware out.”16 Joseph Knight brought writing paper (foolscap) and other provisions for the translation and visited “several times” during May, traveling the distance of at least thirty miles each way (from his farm in Broome County).17 Joseph was admonished by the Lord to “be patient until you shall accomplish it.”
May 10–15, 1829. The work progressed steadily until Joseph and Oliver reached the account of the ministry of the resurrected Christ to the inhabitants of ancient America in 3 Nephi. “After writing the account given of the Savior’s ministry to the remnant of the seed of Jacob, upon this continent,”18 the question arose in the minds of the Prophet and his scribe concerning the mode and authority of baptism.
May 15, 1829. The Aaronic Priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by John the Baptist. Oliver and Joseph baptized each other as commanded by God (see D&C 13).19
May 15–25, 1829. Apparently after the completion of 3 Nephi, the final form of Doctrine and Covenants 10 (particularly 10:38–70) was essentially dictated.20 Doctrine and Covenants 10:41 appears to instruct Joseph to translate the Small Plates of Nephi at a time when he had already translated the account of the reign of King Benjamin: “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.” Katharine Smith Salisbury confirmed in 1895 that Joseph had “fasted and prayed several days” and the angel told him “to begin where he had left off.” This would eventually bring him to the portion he still “retained” from his translation apparently of the first pages of the book of Mosiah, which he had not given to Martin Harris (D&C 10:41).21
May 25, 1829. Oliver Cowdery baptized Samuel Smith,22 both having possibly arrived in Harmony in April.23 The translation continued after Samuel’s baptism.24 Hyrum visited a few days later.25 Doctrine and Covenants 11 was then received; Doctrine and Covenants 11:19 told Hyrum to be patient: “You may assist in bringing to light those things of which has been spoken—yea, the translation of my work.”
May 15–31, 1829. During this time, Joseph and Oliver may have gone to Colesville again.26 This may have been the time when the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored as Joseph and Oliver were returning from Colesville, but the dating of that event is uncertain.27 It would take about a day to travel from Harmony to Colesville. At this time Oliver wrote a third letter to David Whitmer telling him “to come down into Pennsylvania and bring him and Joseph to my father’s house, giving as a reason therefor that they had received a commandment from God to that effect” through the Urim and Thummim. David came, met Joseph Smith for the first time, and remained in Harmony “long enough to satisfy himself of the divine inspiration of Smith.”
June 1–3, 1829. Joseph and Oliver moved with David Whitmer from Harmony to Fayette, Seneca County, New York, to the home of Peter Whitmer. The journey from Harmony to Fayette (ninety-eight miles direct) would have taken about three days.28 Emma came a short time afterward.
June 4–end of June 1829. The translation of the Book of Mormon commenced the day after their arrival and was finished in the upstairs room of Peter Whitmer’s home by July 1, “about one month” later. Some of the Whitmers helped as scribes: “They continued so, boarded and lodged us according to arrangements; and John Whitmer, in particular, assisted us very much in writing during the remainder of the work.”29 Christian Whitmer is also mentioned as a scribe. Oliver B. Huntington records in his journal a conversation in 1897 with Sarah (Sally) Heller Conrad, who may have been a cousin of the Whitmers and who was at the Whitmer home during these days. She recalled seeing the men “come down from translating room several times when they looked so exceedingly white and strange that she inquired of Mrs. Whitmer the cause of their unusual appearance.” She soon embraced the gospel.30 An affidavit of Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery also pertains to this period: “I often sat by and saw and heard them translate and write for hours together. Joseph never had a curtain drawn between him and his scribe while he was translating.”31 Concerning the translation in Fayette, David Whitmer reported a time when Joseph was “put out about . . . something that Emma, his wife, had done.” As a result, “he could not translate a single syllable. He went downstairs, out into the orchard and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour—came back to the house, and asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came upstairs where we were and the translation went on all right.”32
June 11, 1829. Before this date, Joseph and Oliver had translated all the Plates of Mormon and the title page inscribed by Moroni. On this day, the copyright for the Book of Mormon was secured at the office of the Federal District Court Clerk, Richard R. Lansing. The application contains the title page of the forthcoming book.33
June 5–14, 1829. Doctrine and Covenants 14, 15, 16 (revelations for David Whitmer, John Whitmer, and Peter Whitmer Jr.) were received around this time; Doctrine and Covenants 18 was then also received by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer.34
June 14, 1829. Oliver wrote a letter to Hyrum from Fayette, stating, among other things: “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (compare D&C 18:10); “behold the Lord your god . . . suffered the pains of all men that all men might repent and come unto him. . . . behold he commandeth all men . . . every where to repent” (compare 2 Ne. 9:21–23); “that there they may be willing to take upon them the name of Christ for that is the name by which they shall be called at the Last day and if we know not the name by which we are called I fear” (compare Mosiah 5:9–10); and instructing Hyrum to baptize all men, women, and children over the age of accountability (compare Moro. 8).35
Mid-June 1829. The translation continued. John Whitmer “assisted us very much in writing during the remainder of the work,” and previous to that David Whitmer had offered “his own assistance when convenient.”36 Finishing was “slow work, and they could write only a few pages a day.” Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer, and Peter Whitmer Jr. were baptized sometime in the middle of June 1829 in Seneca Lake, Fayette Township, Seneca County, New York.37 Discussions were also held in mid-June “with many from time to time who were willing to hear us, and who desired to find out the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, and apparently willing to obey the Gospel, when once fairly convinced and satisfied in their own minds. . . . From this time forth many became believers, and some were baptized whilst we continued to instruct and persuade as many as applied for information.”38 A document entitled “Articles of the Church of Christ” was prepared by Oliver Cowdery around this time or later in 1829.39
Around June 20, 1829. In Fayette, the Three Witnesses were shown the plates (D&C 17:1–4). It appears that this manifestation was prompted by the translation of 2 Nephi 27:12,40 which reads, “the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.” A few days later in Manchester, New York, near the Smith log home, the Eight Witnesses were allowed to see and handle the plates. Lucy Mack Smith said that she also, at one point, saw and handled the plates.
June 26, 1829. The Wayne Sentinel published the Book of Mormon title page, perhaps obtaining the text from the federal copyright application. Probably around this time, Martin Harris approached E. B. Grandin to see if he would publish the book, but Grandin declined, considering it financially a “losing speculation.”41
July 1, 1829. The translation was completed, and the plates were returned to the angel. David Whitmer later stated that “the translation at my father’s occupied about one month, that is from June 1st to July 1st, 1829.”42
July 1829. Thurlow Weed, owner-editor of the Rochester Telegraph, was approached twice, but he likewise declined to print the book.43 Sometime during July 1829, the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon was begun by Oliver Cowdery.
August 25, 1829. Harris mortgaged his farm.44 Around this same time the contract with Grandin for the printing of the Book of Mormon was possibly signed.45 It was agreed that five thousand copies would be printed, which was an unusually large press run for that day.46 Harris promised to deliver the sum of $3,000 to Grandin within eighteen months. If Harris defaulted, his land was to be “sold at public auction to satisfy the demand.”47 Hyrum delivered the first manuscript installment, and typesetting commenced “in August.”48
Fall 1829. The original typesetter was John H. Gilbert, and proofs were printed by J. H. Bortles until December. Grandin then hired Thomas McAuley, a “journeyman pressman.” McAuley and Bortles did the “balance of the press-work” until March 1830.49 Martin Harris, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery visited Grandin’s office frequently during this period; Joseph, returning to Harmony on October 4, came only once for a short visit to Grandin’s office.50 Manuscript pages were hand delivered and retrieved frequently. Oliver “held and looked over the manuscript when most of the proofs were read.”51
November 6, 1829. Oliver wrote a letter to Joseph in Harmony: “The printing goes rather Slow yet as the type founder has been sick but we expect that the type will be in and Mr. Granden still think[s]
we will finish printing by the first of feb[r]uary.” In a postscript Cowdery noted his progress in preparing the Printer Manuscript: “P S I have Just got to alma[‘s] commandment to his son in coppying the manuscrip,” that is, to Alma 36.52
January 1830. Abner Cole (alias Obediah Dogberry), in his Palmyra Reflector, January 2, 13, and 22, printed several extracts of the Book of Mormon from sheets he pilfered at Grandin’s printing office (where his own newspaper was printed).53 This made it necessary for Joseph to return to Palmyra from Harmony and to assert his copyright privileges in order to stop this unauthorized publication of sections of the Book of Mormon.54 During that winter,55 Joseph apparently sent Oliver Cowdery and Hiram Page to Kingston, Ontario, Canada, to try to sell the Book of Mormon copyright.56
January 16, 1830. Joseph Smith Jr. entered into an agreement with Martin Harris which reads:
I hereby agree that Martin Harris shall have an equal privilege with me & my friends of selling the Book of Mormon of the Edition now printing by Egbert B Grandin until enough of them shall be sold to pay for the printing of the same or until such times as the said Grandin shall be paid for the printing the aforesaid Books or copies[.]
Manchester January the 16th 1830—/s/ Joseph Smith Jr Witness /s/ Oliver H P Cowdery.57
February 12, 1830. Lucius Fenn of Covert, Seneca County, New York, wrote to Birdseye Bronson in Winchester, Connecticut, that the publication of the Book of Mormon was widely awaited; it was expected to tell when “the Millenniam day . . . is a goeing to take place.” About this time, according to David Whitmer, Joseph gave the seer stone to Oliver Cowdery.
March 26, 1830. The printing and binding were finished and the book was offered for sale to the public on March 26, 1830. After printing the complete title page of the Book of Mormon, the newspaper notice continued: “The above work, containing about 600 pages, large Duodecimos, is now for sale, wholesale and retail, at the Palmyra Book Store, by Howard & Grandin.”58 Prices at Grandin’s Bookstore seem to have ranged from $1.25 to $1.75 per book.59
April 6, 1830. The Church of Christ was organized. Affirmations were given that the Book of Mormon was translated by the power of God, and that by repenting, humbling himself, and having faith, Joseph received the power to translate. In the ensuing years, Joseph described and bore testimony of the translation process on several occasions.
Documenting the Translation Chronology
Joseph Smith, as recorded by Oliver Cowdery (1831)
Br. Hyrum Smith said that he thought best that the information of the coming forth of the book of Mormon be related by Joseph himself to the Elders present that all might know for themselves.
Br. Joseph Smith jr. said that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon, & also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things &c.60
Joseph Smith (1832)
[The] Lord appeared unto a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdry and shewed unto him the plates in a vision and also the truth of the work and what the Lord was about to do through me his unworthy servant therefore he was desirous to come and write for me to translate now my wife had writen some for me to translate and also my Brother Samuel H Smith but we had be come reduced in property and my wives father was about to turn me out of doors & I had not where to go and I cried unto the Lord that he would provide for me to accomplish the work whereunto he had commanded me.61
Joseph Smith, as recorded by Oliver Cowdery (1835)
[The messenger] said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.62
Joseph Smith, as recorded by Oliver Cowdery (1835)
[Joseph Smith] was ministered unto by the angel, and by his direction he obtained the Records of the Nephites, and translated by the gift and power of God.63
Joseph Smith, as recorded by Oliver Cowdery (1835)
The angel said, “. . . they cannot be interpreted by the learning of this generation; consequently, they would be considered of no worth, only as precious metal. Therefore, remember, that they are to be translated by the gift and power of God. By them will the Lord work a great and a marvelous work.”64
Joseph Smith (1839)
He [the angel] said there was a book deposited written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fullness of the everlasing Gospel was contained in it as delivered by the Saviour to the ancient inhabitants.
Also that there were two stones in silver bows and these (put in to a breast plate) which constituted what is called the Urim & Thummin deposited with the plates, and that was what constituted seers in ancient or former times and that God prepared them for the purpose of translating the book. . . .
. . . Immediately after my arrival there [Pennsylvania] I commenced copying the characters of all the plates. I copyed a considerable number of them and by means of the Urim and Thummin 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.
Mr [Martin] Harris . . . 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 of manuscript on foolscap paper. . . .
I did not however go immediately to translating [in the winter of 1828], but went to laboring with my hands . . . in order to provide for my family.
Two days after the arrival of Mr Cowdery (being the seventh of April ) I commenced to translate the book of Mormon and he commenced to write for me. . . .
. . . During the month of April I continued to translate, and he to write with little cessation, during which time we received several revelations. . . .
Whilst continuing the work of translation during this month of April; Oliver Cowdery became exceedingly anxious to have the power to translate bestowed upon him and in relation to this desire the following revelations were obtained [D&C 8, 9; see excerpts above]. . . .
We still continued the translation, when in the ensuing month (May, Eighteen hundred and twenty nine) we on a certain day went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins as we found mentioned in the translation of the plates. . . .
. . . my wife’s father’s family . . . were willing that I should be allowed to continue the work of translation without interruption: And therefore offered and promised us protection from all unlawful proceedings as far as in them lay.
. . . we also showed him [Samuel Smith] that part of the work which we had translated, and labored to persuade him concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. . . .
. . . Mr Joseph Knight Senr. . . . very kindly and considerately brought us, a quantity of provisions, in order that we might not be interrupted in the work of translation . . . which enabled us to continue the work. . . .
. . . we accepted the invitation and accompanied Mr [David] Whitmer to his father’s house, and there resided untill the translation was finished, . . . and John Whitmer, in particular, assisted us very much in writing during the remainder of the work. . . .
In the course of the work of translation, we ascertained that three special witnesses were to be provided by the Lord, to whom he would grant, that they should see the plates from which this work (the Book of Mormon) should be translated, and that these witnesses should bear record of the same. . . .
. . . when immediately afterwards we heard a voice from out of the bright light above us, saying “These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God; the translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.” . . .
Mean time we continued to translate, at intervals, when not necessitated to attend to the numerous enquirers, that now began to visit us. . . .
I wish also to mention here, that the Title Page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated.65
Emma Smith Bidamon, as interviewed by Joseph Smith III (1879)
Q. Who were scribes for father when translating the Book of Mormon?
A. Myself, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and my brother, Reuben Hale.
Q. Was Alva Hale one?
A. I think not. He may have written some; but if he did, I do not remember it. . . .
Q. What of the truth of Mormonism?
A. I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the Church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.
Q. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
A. He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.
Q. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
A. If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.
Q. Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him?
A. The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metalic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.
Q. Where did father and Oliver Cowdery write?
A. Oliver Cowdery and your father wrote in the room where I was at work.
Q. Could not father have dictated the Book of Mormon to you, Oliver Cowdery and the others who wrote for him, after having first written it, or having first read it out of some book?
A. Joseph Smith [and for the first time she used his name direct, having usually used the words, “your father,” or “my husband”] could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, “a marvel and a wonder,” as much so as to any one else.
Q. I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them?
A. I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so.
Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates?
A. I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.
Q. Mother, what is your belief about the authenticity, or origin of the Book of Mormon?
A. My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.66
Emma Smith Bidamon, as recorded by Joseph Smith III (1879)
She wrote for Joseph Smith during the work of translation, as did also Reuben Hale, her brother, and O[liver]. Cowdery; that the larger part of this labor was done in her presence, and where she could see and know what was being done; that during no part of it
wasdid Joseph Smith have any Mss. [manuscripts] or Book of any kind from which to read, or dictate, except the metalic plates, which she knew he had.67
Emma Smith Bidamon, as recorded by Joseph Smith III (1900)
My mother [Emma Smith] told me that she saw the plates in the sack; for they lay on a small table in their living room in their cabin on her father’s farm, and she would lift and move them when she swept and dusted the room and furniture. She even thumbed the leaves as one does the leaves of a book, and they rustled with a metalic sound. Yes, mother did some of the writing for father while he was translating[.] She testified that father found and had the plates, and translated them as the history states; that she had no doubt as to the truth of it.68
Oliver Cowdery, as recorded by Ashbel Kitchell (1830)
Oliver Lowdree . . . stated that he had been one who had been an assistant in the translation of the golden Bible, and had also seen the Angel, and had been commissioned by him to go out and bear testimony, that God would destroy this generation.69
Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps (1834)
Near the time of the setting of the Sun, Sabbath evening, April 5th, 1829, my natural eyes, for the first time beheld this brother. He then resided in Harmony, Susquehanna county Penn. On Monday the 6th, I assisted him in arranging some business of a temporal nature, and on Tuesday the 7th, commenced to write the book of Mormon. These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated, with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites whould have said, “Interpreters,” the history, or record, called the “The book of Mormon.”70
Oliver Cowdery, as interviewed by Josiah Jones (1841)
In the last part of October, 1830, four men appeared here by the names of [Oliver] Cowdery, [Parley P.] Pratt, [Peter] Whitmar and [Ziba] Peterson; they stated they were from Palmyra, Ontario county, N.Y. with a book, which they said contained what was engraven on gold plates found in a stone box, in the ground . . . and was found about three years ago by a man named Joseph Smith Jr. who had translated it by looking into a stone or two stones, when put into a dark place, which stones he said were found in the box with the plates. They affirmed while he looked through the stone spectacles another sat by and wrote what he told them, and thus the book was all written. . . .
He [Cowdery] stated that Smith looked into or through the transparent stones to translate what was on the plates. I then asked him if he had ever looked through the stones to see what he could see in them; his reply was that he was not permitted to look into them. I asked him who debarred him from looking into them; he remained sometime in silence; then said that he had so much confidence in his friend Smith, who told him that he must not look into them, that he did not presume to do so lest he should tempt God and be struck dead.71
Oliver Cowdery, as recorded by Reuben Miller (1848)
Friends and brethren my name is Cowdrey, Oliver Cowdrey, In the early history of this church I stood Identified with her. And [was] one in her councils. . . .
I wrote with my own pen the intire book of mormon (Save a few pages) as it fell from the Lips of the prophet [Joseph Smith]. As he translated by the gift and power of god, By [the] means of the urum and thummim, or as it is called by that book holy Interperters. I beheld with my eyes. And handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the Interperters. That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr [Solomon] Spaulding did not write it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the Lips of the prophet.72
Oliver Cowdery, as recounted by George Q. Cannon (1881)
When I was a boy I heard it stated concerning Oliver Cowdery, that after he left the Church he practised law, and . . . in a court in Ohio, the opposing counsel thought he would say something that would overwhelm Oliver Cowdery, and . . . alluded to him as the man that had testified and had written that he had beheld an angel of God, and that the angel had shown unto him the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. He supposed, of course, that it would cover him with confusion . . . but . . . he [Oliver Cowdery] arose in the court, and in his reply stated that, whatever his faults and weaknesses might be, the testimony which he had written, and which he had given to the world, was literally true.73
Oliver Cowdery, as recorded by Edward Stevenson (1886)
He testified that he beheld the plates, the leaves being turned over by the angel, whose voice he heard, and that they were commanded as witnesses to bear a faithful testimony to the world of the vision that they were favored to behold, and that the translation from the plates in the Book of Mormon was accepted of the Lord, and that it should go forth to the world and no power on earth should stop its progress.74
Oliver Cowdery, as recorded by William M. Frampton (1901)
Brother Cowdery looked up[on] the people for a short time without speaking, his manner caused deep attention then in a distinct and very impressive voice, said “My name is Cowdery, Oliver Cowdery, in an early day I was identified with this Church in her councils, I wrote the Book Of Mormon, Spaulding did not write it, Sidney Rigdon did not write it, I wrote it (with the exception of a few pages) with this right hand, (extending his hand) as the inspired words fell from the lips of Joseph Smith.75
Oliver Cowdery, as interviewed by Samuel Whitney Richards (1907)
He [Oliver Cowdery] represents Joseph as sitting by a table with the plates before him. and he reading the record with the Urim & Thummim. Oliver, his scribe, sits close beside to hear and write every word as translated. This is done by holding the translators over the words of the written record, and the translation appears distinctly in the instrument, which had been touched by the finger of God and dedicated and consecated for the express purpose of translating languages. This instrument now used fully performed its Mission. Every word was made distinctly visible even to every letter, and if Oliver did not in writing spell the word correctly it remained in the translator until it was written correctly. This was the Mystery to Oliver, how Joseph being compar[a]tively ignorant could correct him in spelling, without seeing the word written, and he would not be satisfied until he should be permitted or have the gift to translate as well as Joseph.76
Oliver Cowdery, as interviewed by Jacob F. Gates (1912)
I am a dying man, and what would it profit me to tell you a lie? I know . . . that this Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. My eyes saw, my ears heard, and my understanding was touched, and I know that whereof I testified is true. It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind,—it was real.77
David Whitmer, as interviewed by the Kansas City Journal (1881)
After several months Cowdery told me he was going to Harmony, Pa.—whither Joseph Smith had gone with the plates on account of persecutions of his neighbors—and see him about the matter. He did go and on his way stopped at my father’s house and told me that as soon as he found out anything either truth or untruth he would let me know. After he got there he became acquainted with Joseph Smith, and shortly after, wrote to me telling me that he was convinced that Smith had the records and that he (Smith) had told him that it was the will of heaven that he (Cowdery) should be his scribe to assist in the translation of the plates. He went on and Joseph translated from the plates and he wrote it down. Shortly after this Cowdery wrote me another letter in which he gave me a few lines of what they had translated, and he assured me that he knew of a certainty that he had a record of a people that inhabited this continent, and that the plates they were translating gave a complete history of these people. When Cowdery wrote me these things and told me that he had revealed knowledge concerning the truth of them, I showed these letters to my parents, and brothers and sisters. Soon after I received another letter from Cowdery, telling me to come down into Pennsylvania and bring him and Joseph to my father’s house, giving as a reason therefor that they had received a commandment from God to that effect. I went down to Harmony, and found everything just as they had written me. The next day after I got there they packed up the plates and we proceeded on our journey to my father’s house where we arrived in due time, and the day after we commenced upon the translation of the remainder of the plates. I, as well as all of my father’s family, Smith’s wife, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris were present during the translation. The translation was by Smith and the manner as follows:
“He had two small stones of a chocolate color, nearly egg shaped and perfectly smooth, but not transparent, called interpreters, which were given him with the plates. He did not use the plates in the translation, but would hold the interpreters to his eyes and cover his face with a hat, excluding all light, and before his eyes would appear what seemed to be parchment, on which would appear the characters of the plates in a line at the top, and immediately below would appear the translation in English, which Smith would read to his scribe, who wrote it down exactly as it fell from his lips. The scribe would then read the sentence written, and if any mistake had been made the characters would remain visible to Smith until corrected, when they faded from sight to be replaced by another line. The translation at my father’s occupied about one month, that is from June 1 to July 1, 1829.”
“Were the plates under the immediate control of Smith all the time?”
“No, they were not. I will explain how that was. When Joseph first received the plates he translated 116 pages of the book of ‘Lehi,’ with Martin Harris as scribe. When this had been completed they rested for a time, and Harris wanted to take the manuscript home with him to show to his family and friends. To this Joseph demurred, but finally asked the Lord
if Harris might be allowed to take it. The answer was ‘no.’ Harris teased Joseph for a long time and finally persuaded him to ask the Lord a second time, pledging himself to be responsible for its safe keeping. . . . [T]hrough some carelessness [Martin Harris] allowed it to be stolen from him. This incurred the Lord’s displeasure, and he sent an angel to Joseph demanding the plates, and until Joseph had thoroughly repented of his transgressions would not allow him to have the use of them again. When Joseph was again allowed to resume the translation the plates were taken care of by a messenger of God, and when Joseph wanted to see the plates this messenger was always at hand. The 116 pages of the book of ‘Lehi’ which were stolen were never recovered, nor would the Lord permit Joseph to make a second translation of it.
“A few months after the translation was completed, that is in the spring of 1830, Joseph had the book published and this (showing a well worn volume) is a copy of the first edition which I have had in my possession ever since it was printed.”78
David Whitmer (1881)
To the Editor of the [Kansas City] Journal.
RICHMOND, Mo., June 13 .—I notice several errors in the interview had with me by one of your reporters as published in the Daily Journal of June 5th, ’81, and wish to correct them.
. . . In regard to my going to Harmony, my statement was that “I found everything as Cowdery had written me, and that they packed up next day and went to my father’s, (did not say ‘packed up the plates’) and that he, Smith, (not ‘we’) then commenced the translation of the remainder of the plates.” I did not wish to be understood as saying that those referred to as being present were all of the time in the immediate presence of the translator, but were at the place and saw how the translation was conducted. I did not say that Smith used “two small stones,” as stated nor did I call the stone “interpreters.” I stated that “he used one stone (not two) and called it a sun stone.” The “interpreters” were as I understood taken from Smith and were not used by him after losing the first 116 pages as stated. It is my understanding that the stone referred to was furnished him when he commenced translating again after losing the 116 pages.
My statement was and now is that in translating he put the stone in his hat and putting his face in his hat so as to exclude the light and that then the light and characters appeared in the hat together with the interpretation which he uttered and was written by the scribe and which was tested at the time as stated.79
David Whitmer, as interviewed by the Chicago Times (1881)
It was not until June, 1829, that he met the future prophet who visited his fathers house, and while there completed the translation of the “Book of Mormon;” and thus he became conversant with its history, having witnessed Smith dictate to Oliver Cowdery the translation of the characters that were inscribed on the plates, said by Mr. Anthon, our Egyptian scholar, to resemble the characters of that ancient people. Christian Whitmer, his brother, occasionally assisted Cowdery in writing, as did Mrs. Joseph Smith, who was a Miss Hale before she was married. . . .
After the plates had been translated, which process required about six months, the same heavenly visitant appeared and reclaimed the gold tablets of the ancient people, informing Smith that he would replace them with other records of the lost tribes that had been brought with them during their wanderings from the Asia, which would be forthcoming when the world was ready to receive them. . . .
The tablets or plates were translated by Smith, who used a small oval kidney-shaped stone, called Urim and Thummim, that seemed endowed with the marvelous power of converting the characters on the plates, when used by Smith, into English, who would then dictate to Cowdery what to write. Frequently, one character would make two lines of manuscript, while others made but a word or two words. Mr. Whitmer emphatically asserts as did Harris and Cowdery, that while Smith was dictating the translation he had no manuscript notes or other means of knowledge save the seer stone and the characters as shown on the plates, he being present and cognizant how it was done.80
David Whitmer, as interviewed by William H. Kelley and G. A. Blakeslee (1882)
I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and he translated the Book of Mormon by the inspiration of God from the plates of the Nephites. . . .
. . . He [Joseph Smith] had to trust in God. He could not translate unless he was humble and possessed the right feelings towards every one. To illustrate, so you can see. One morning when he was getting ready to continue the translation, something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that Emma, his wife, had done. Oliver and I went up stairs, and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation, but he could not do anything. He could not translate a single syllable. He went down stairs, out into the orchard and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour—came back to the house, asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came up stairs where we were and the translation went on all right. He could do nothing save he was humble and faithful.81
David Whitmer, as interviewed by E. C. Briggs (1884)
“The boys, Joseph and Oliver, worked hard, early and late, while translating the plates. It was slow work, and they could write only a few pages a day.”
Of Joseph he continued:
“He could not do a thing except he was humble, and just right before the Lord.”
I said, “Why not?”
“The Urim and Thummim would look dark; he could not see a thing in them.”
“How did it appear in them?” we asked.
His answer was:
“The letters appeared on them in light, and would not go off until they were written correctly by Oliver. When Joseph could not pronounce the words he spelled them out letter by letter.”82
David Whitmer, as interviewed by James H. Hart (1884)
“In regard to the translation,” said Mr. Whitmer, “it was a laborious work for the weather was very warm, and the days were long and they worked from morning till night. But they were both young and strong and were soon able to complete the work.
“The way it was done was thus: Joseph would place the seer-stone in a deep hat, and placing his face close to it, would see, not the stone, but what appeared like an oblong piece of parchment, on which the hieroglyphics would appear, and also the translation in the English language, all appearing in bright luminous letters. Joseph would then read it to Oliver, who would write it down as spoken. Sometimes Joseph could not pronounce the words correctly, having had but little education; and if by any means a mistake was made in the copy, the luminous writing would remain until it was corrected. It sometimes took Oliver several trials to get the right letters to spell correctly some of the more difficult words, but when he had written them correctly, the characters and the interpretation would disappear, and be replaced by other characters and their interpretation.
“When the seer-stone was not placed in the hat, no characters or writing could be seen therein, but when so placed then the hieroglyphics would appear as before described. Some represented but one word, or name, some represented several, and some from one to two lines.
“Emma, Joseph’s wife, came to my father’s house a short time after Joseph and Oliver came, and she wrote a little of the translation, my brother Christian wrote some, but Oliver wrote the greater portion of it.”83
David Whitmer, as interviewed by George Q. Cannon (1884)
In speaking of the translating he [David Whitmer] said that Joseph had the stone in a hat from which all light was excluded. In the stone the characters appeared and under that the translation in English and they remained until the scribe had copied it correctly. If he had made a mistake the words still remained and were not replaced by any other.84
David Whitmer, as interviewed by the St. Louis Republican (1884)
“Yes,” said Mr. Whitmer, “I have no objections to giving the particulars of my early life. . . . The translation was done in my father’s house; at least two months of the time, was thus taken up with it there. Oliver Cowdery was the principal amanuensis. . . .
“Joseph Smith dictated every word in the book. The understanding we have about it was that when the book was discovered an angel was present and pointed the place out. In translating from the plates, Joseph Smith looked through the Urim and Thummim, consisting of two transparent pebbles set in the rim of a bow, fastened to a breastplate. He dictated by looking through them to his scribes.”85
Editors’ note: This article includes multiple excerpts from Opening the Heavens, edited by John W. Welch and Erick B. Carlson, 77–213.
1. See generally, Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981); Milton V. Backman Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration (Orem, UT: Grandin Book, 1983; reprint Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1986).
2. See Joseph Smith—History in the Pearl of Great Price; Joseph Smith Jr., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed., rev., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971) (hereafter cited as History of the Church); Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984); B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century One, 6 vols. (Provo, UT: Corporation of the President, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1965).
3. For example, Monte S. Nyman and Lisa Bolin Hawkins, “Book of Mormon: Overview,” 1:139–43; Royal Skousen, “Book of Mormon Manuscripts,” 1:185–86; Grant R. Hardy and Robert E. Parsons, “Book of Mormon Plates and Records,” 1:195–201; John W. Welch and Tim Rathbone, “Book of Mormon Translation by Joseph Smith,” 1:210–13, in Encyclopedia of Mormonism. For a thorough discussion of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, its structure, and the various religious and scholarly receptions or reactions it evoked, see Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
4. History of the Church, 1:32; Oliver Cowdery, “Letter I,” Messenger and Advocate, October 1834, 14; Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (London: Published for Orson Pratt by S. W. Richards, 1853), 128–31. Lucy Mack Smith, Prelim. MS 1, cited in Lavina Fielding Anderson, ed., Lucy’s Book (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001), 438, states that Joseph had been praying for assistance and had been assured by the angel of the Lord that a scribe “should be forthcoming in a few days.”
5. Two theories exist about the order in which the Book of Mormon was translated in 1829. The book of Lehi was translated and lost in 1828. In March 1829, the translation resumed with both Samuel Smith and Emma acting as scribe for a few pages. In April 1829, Oliver Cowdery arrived and the pace of the work accelerated. Where in the text did Joseph begin at this time? Did he pick up where the 116 pages had left off (around the time of King Benjamin near Mosiah 1), or did he start at the beginning of the Small Plates (with 1 Nephi 1)? A few considerations make the “Mosiah-first” theory more plausible than the “Nephi-first” theory.
First, which scripture triggered the experience of the Three Witnesses in June 1829, toward the end of the translation? Was it Ether 5:2–4 or 2 Nephi 27:12, 22? If they were translating 2 Nephi in June, this would strongly indicate that they had begun with Mosiah in April and had returned after finishing Moroni in May to translate the Small Plates of Nephi in June. On the other hand, if they were translating the book of Ether in June, this would support the Nephi-first theory, since in the few days remaining in June after the experience of the Three Witnesses there would have been only enough time left to finish Ether and Moroni.
The History of the Church first appeared in print as a serial in the Times and Seasons in 1842. “History of Joseph Smith,” Times and Seasons 3 (March 15, 1842): beginning on p. 726. A blank was left in the sentence that was to tell which passage in the Book of Mormon inspired the manifestation to the Three Witnesses. “History of Joseph Smith,” Times and Seasons 3 (September 1, 1842): 897a. Joseph Smith, “History of the Church,” A-1, Family and Church History Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter cited as Church Archives), likewise has a blank at this point. Page 25 of one of the manuscripts of the History of the Church, however, contains a note that the relevant scripture was found “in the 1st ed. . . . page 110 [2 Nephi 27].” This information was added to the manuscript some time after 1852, as is evident since that scribe also refers to a European edition of the Doctrine and Covenants of that date. Smith, “History of the Church,” A-2, 25. Therefore, the earliest recorded understanding saw 2 Nephi 27 as the scripture involved. B. H. Roberts chose to refer principally to Ether 5 in the published edition of History of the Church, 1:52, but he also mentioned 2 Nephi 11:3 in this context. Significantly, the scripture in 2 Nephi 27 authorizes more precisely what in fact transpired with the witnesses (as discussed above under the date “Around June 20, 1829”), all making it more likely that 2 Nephi 27 was the more relevant scripture authorizing the manifestation to the Witnesses than Ether 5.
Second, the Mosiah-first theory allows five weeks (from April 7 to May 15) for the translation of Mosiah 1 through the account of the ministry of Christ among the Nephites in 3 Nephi. The book was then finished at about the same rate in June. Under the Nephi-first theory, however, all the material from 1 Nephi 1 through the account in 3 Nephi would have to have been translated within that time, requiring a faster rate. Correlatively, the Mosiah-first theory leaves a significant amount of material to be translated after May 15, which accommodates the fact that the translation continued at Harmony for two more weeks and that “many pages” were translated at the Whitmer house in Fayette. One report indicates that John Whitmer acted as scribe for as many as “sixty pages.” Zenas H. Gurley, “Synopsis of a Discourse Delivered at Lamoni, Iowa,” reported by S. F. Walker, Saints’ Herald 26 (December 15, 1879): 370b.
Third, the title page of the Book of Mormon was translated before June 11, 1829, the date on which this text appears on the copyright application. Since the title page was written by Moroni and was found at the end of the Plates of Mormon (“I wish to mention here that the title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated,” History of the Church, 1:71), it would appear that books up to and including the title page, namely 4 Nephi, Mormon, Ether, Moroni, and the title page itself, were translated after May 15 but before June 11. This supports the Mosiah-first theory.
Fourth, the handwriting on the original manuscript for 1 Nephi is neither Oliver Cowdery’s nor Emma Smith’s. It may be Reuben Hale’s, which would support the Nephi-first theory, but it is also possible that it is one of the Whitmers’, which would favor the Mosiah-first theory.
In light of the foregoing, the Mosiah-first theory seems more likely than the Nephi-first theory. Accepting this view, see George Reynolds, “History of the Book of Mormon,” Contributor 5 (November 1883): 41–47; (February 1884): 161–68; (June 1884): 321–27; (July 1884): 361–67; Stanley R. Larson, “A Most Sacred Possession: The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon,” Ensign 7 (September 1977): 87–88; Max H. Parkin, “A Preliminary Analysis of the Dating of Section 10,” in Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, January 27, 1979 (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1979), 76; Bushman, Beginnings of Mormonism, 105; John W. Welch, ed. Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992), 1–8. Royal Skousen, The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001), 33, notes that “there is some evidence that Joseph Smith translated the small plates of Nephi at the very end of the process,” but defers further discussion for a future publication. Ruminating about the implications and ideologies of some discussions of the Mosiah-first theory, see Alan Goff, “Positivism and the Priority of Ideology in Mosiah-First Theories of Book of Mormon Production,” FARMS Review 16, no. 1 (2004): 11–36, arguing that the Mosiah-first theory need not pose any compositional difficulty.
6. Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17, no. 1 (1976): 35.
7. Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection,” 36.
8. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches, 128; Lucy Mack Smith, Prelim. MS 1, cited in Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 432, says “He had not been in the place long till he began to hear about the plates from all quarters and immediately he commenced importuneing Mr. Smith upon the subject but he did not succeed in eliciting any information from him for a long time.”
9. Oliver apparently began boarding with Joseph Sr., in 1828. Larry C. Porter, “The Prophet’s New York Years: Restoration, Publication, and Organization, 1829–1830,” lecture, October 18, 1984, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
10. Cowdery, “Letter I,” 14. Oliver apparently mentions his “natural eyes” because he had seen the plates and perhaps Joseph before in a vision; see above at February 1829.
11. Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, “Letter VIII,” Messenger and Advocate, October 1835, 196.
12. Cowdery, “Letter I,” 14.
13. Cowdery, “Letter I,” 14.
14. Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection,” 36.
15. History of the Church, 5:219, taken from Willard Richards’s Journal. It is possible, however, that this trip to Colesville occurred after May 25, but this would allow little time for Joseph Knight to have made “several” visits (History of the Church, 1:47) before Joseph and Oliver left for Fayette on June 1. The account in History of the Church, 1:97, contains most of the same elements, making an 1830 date equally likely, although then the reference to only “two or three” believers seems odd; see below at May 15–31, 1829.
16. Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection,” 36.
17. History of the Church, 1:47.
18. Cowdery, “Letter I,” 15.
19. “One morning however they sat down to their usual work when the first thing that presented itself to Joseph was a commandment from God that he and Oliver should repair to the water each of them be baptized they immediately went down to the susquehana river and obeyed the mandate given them through the urim and Thumim.” Lucy Mack Smith, Prelim. MS 1, cited in Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 439.
20. The dating of D&C 10 has been discussed on several occasions. Stanley R. Larson, “A Study of Some Textual Variations in the Book of Mormon comparing the Original and the Printer’s Manuscripts and the 1830, the 1837, and the 1840 Editions” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1974), 17–18n15, stated:
The date of section 10 has become a problem. When the original manuscript of the “History of Joseph Smith” was written, the discussion about this section was accidentally omitted. This omission was soon noticed and two additional sheets with the text of the revelation and the correct date of May 1829 were inserted into the history; but unfortunately it was placed in the wrong context. This incongruity caused later editors to attempt to rectify the situation by altering the date of the revelation to “the summer of 1828.” During the lifetime of Joseph Smith the date was consistently reported as May 1829. The Book of Commandments in 1833 first printed this revelation in its proper chronological order and with the correct date.
See also Stephen Snow, “Queries,” Mormon History Association Newsletter 44 (June 1980): 15; Max H. Parkin, “Queries,” Mormon History Association Newsletter 45 (November 1980): 2–4; Parkin, “Dating of Section 10,” 68–84; Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Provo, UT: Seventy’s Mission Bookstore, 1981), 17, 122; Robert J. Woodford, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants,” 3 vols. (Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1974), 1:200–205. Lyndon Cook and Max Parkin argue for an 1828 date for the first part of D&C 10, with additional material being added in 1829. For example, Parkin points out several clear similarities between D&C 10:49–70 and 3 Nephi that support their concurrent dating. If references to receiving the “gospel” in D&C 10:62 and 11:16, 19 refer to the impending translation of “which was ministered unto” the Nephites in 3 Nephi, and if, similarly, the statement in 18:17 was made at a time after Joseph, Oliver, and David had received 3 Nephi, then those sections bracket the translation of 3 Nephi, as Monte Nyman points out. On the other hand, it is possible that 10:62, which speaks of “that which you have received,” is already speaking of the account of the ministry of Christ among the Nephites in 3 Nephi.
21. See Dean C. Jessee, “The Original Book of Mormon Manuscript,” BYU Studies 10, no. 3 (1970): 260, 277–78, citing also D&C 5:30. See further, note 5 above.
22. History of the Church, 1:44. Lucy Mack Smith, Prelim. MS 1, cited in Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 439, however, gives the impression that Samuel was baptized on the same day as were Joseph and Oliver.
23. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches, 130. History of the Church, 1:44, however, reports that Samuel did not come to visit until a few days after May 15.
24. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches, 131.
25. History of the Church, 1:44–45.
26. It is possible, but not likely, that Joseph had to appear in court in Colesville at this time, as remembered by Addison Everett in his letter of February 17, 1881, St. George, Utah, to Oliver B. Huntington, recorded in Oliver Boardman Huntington, Journal no. 14, January 31, 1881, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (hereafter cited as Perry Special Collections), and discussed in Larry C. Porter, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods,” Ensign 26 (December 1996): 43–44. See also Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches, 135, but the reference is vague (“After Samuel left them, they still continued the work as before, until about the time of the trial that took place in New York”). No records for such a trial are presently known. The sources seem to be confusing various events with an inconclusive hearing in Lyons, Wayne County, New York (Lucy Mack Smith, Prelim. MS 1, cited in Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 441–45), or with a Bainbridge, New York, trial in 1830.
27. See sources discussed in Porter, “Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods,” 33–44. See also Roberts, Comprehensive History, 1:183. Richard L. Bushman discusses the date of this event in Beginnings of Mormonism, 163, esp. n. 55.
28. As reported by Joseph F. Smith, David Whitmer told him and Orson Pratt that Joseph prophesied to Oliver “a perfect description of what David did on the way” before David arrived. Joseph F. Smith, Statement, written April 25, 1918, 2, Church Archives. They traveled on “an ordinary wagon with two long poles in it at each end across the end gates of the wagon box, and then two boards laid across that for seats on those hickory poles. Joseph and Emma were on the hind seat and Oliver and David on the front seat.” Joseph F. Smith, Statement, 2. The plates were carried to Fayette by Moroni in a bundle on his back. Joseph F. Smith, Statement, 3. Lucy Mack Smith, Prelim. MS 1, cited in Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 450, does not include Emma on this trip to Fayette (Waterloo). See also Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, UT: Grandin Book, 1991), 114–15, 197.
29. History of the Church, 1:49. John Whitmer later said that he wrote “sixty pages.” John Whitmer, interview by Zenas Gurley, in “Synopsis of a Discourse,” 370b. At this time, Joseph translated with some aid from a seer stone or the Urim and Thummim, though these instruments were not essential. He used “no manuscript notes or other means.”
30. She married David Edwin Bunnell in the Peter Whitmer home on April 15, 1830, and was the mother of Stephen Bunnell of Provo, Utah. See Oliver B. Huntington, “History of the Life of Oliver B. Huntington,” typescript, 49–50, Perry Special Collections; Pearl Bunnell Newell, interview by Carma DeJong Anderson, January 1970, 3–4, Perry Special Collections, provides a similar reminiscence of Sally Conrad; marriage date of Sally Conrad courtesy of Helen Bunnell Weeks of Orem, Utah. See article by Richard L. Anderson, “The House Where the Church Was Organized,” Improvement Era 73 (April 1970): 16–25, for full discussion of the one-and-a-half story log house with attic and of the Whitmers and their relatives.
31. Copy contained on obverse of William E. McLellin to “My Dear Friends,” February 1870, Community of Christ Library-Archives; cited in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 233–34.
32. David Whitmer, Statement of September 15, 1882, to William Kelley and G. A. Blakeslee, in Braden and Kelley Debate February 12 to March 8, 1884 (St. Louis: Christian Publ., 1884), 186; also cited in Roberts, Comprehensive History, 1:131.
33. Copies of the two originals prepared by Lansing are found in the Church Archives and in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., respectively.
34. History of the Church, 1:48–51.
35. Original no longer extant. Copy found in Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, part 1, 5–6.
36. History of the Church, 1:49. Zenas Gurley’s interview with John Whitmer, reported by Gurley in “Synopsis of a Discourse,” 370b; John stated “that he had written [as scribe] sixty pages” of the Book of Mormon [about thirty pages of manuscript?].
37. History of the Church, 1:51; D&C 27:12. On January 14, 1885, David Whitmer stated: “Sometime in June 1829 Joseph ordained Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder, and Oliver ordained Joseph to be an Elder in the church of Christ. And during that year Joseph both baptized and ordained me an elder in the church of Christ.” Z. H. Gurley, “Questions asked of David Whitmer at His Home in Richmond, Ray County, Missouri, 1885,” 4, Church Archives. Brigham Young later stated that the first Apostles of this dispensation were Joseph Smith Jr., Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer. See discussion of Porter, “Prophet’s New York Years,” citing a Smith family prayer and Brigham Young. David Whitmer later maintained that he continued to hold that apostleship. “The Book of Mormon,” Chicago Tribune, December 17, 1885, 3, col. 5; cited in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 179.
38. History of the Church, 1:51.
39. An early “copy” of the Articles of the Church of Christ initialed by O. C., bearing the date 1829 and discussed by Woodford, “The Historical Development” 1:287–91, is held in Church Archives. It is unclear of what, if anything, it is a copy, or when the copy or its original was written. It quotes the sacrament prayers in Moroni 4–5 and the sacramental instructions in 3 Nephi 18:28–32 that were translated late in May 1829, and in some other ways the document resembles D&C 20, but the two documents are not directly connected. Doctrine and Covenants 20 took its basic present form in June 1830. For a full discussion, see Scott H. Faulring, “An Examination of the 1829 ‘Articles of the Church of Christ’ in Relation to Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants,” BYU Studies 43, no. 4 (2004): 57–91.
40. The other possibility is Ether 5:2–4. Ether 5, however, only expressly states that “unto three,” that is, a total of three, “shall they be shown.” 2 Nephi 27, on the other hand, provides that “three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered” (italics added), and 27:13–14 refers to the eight witnesses. Since 2 Nephi 27 authorizes more precisely what in fact eventually happened regarding the witnesses, it appears that it was not until that passage was translated that the manifestations to the witnesses ensued. This comports further with the earliest notes on the manuscript history of the Church, discussed further in note 5.
41. Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton, 1867), 4, quoted in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2 vols. (Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing and Publishing, 1942), 1:109. John H. Gilbert, “Memorandum made by John H. Gilbert Esq., Sep 8, 1892 Palmyra, N.Y.,” Palmyra King’s Daughters Free Library, Palymyra, New York, later remembered that Martin Harris approached Grandin twice “in the forepart of June, 1829,” although this seems a little too early. See generally History of the Church, 1:71.
42. “Mormonism,” Kansas City Daily Journal, June 5, 1881, 1, reprinted in “Mormonism,” Millennial Star 43 (July 4, 1881): 421–23 and (July 11, 1881): 437–39; cited in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 58–71.
43. Larry C. Porter, “A Study of the Origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the States of New York and Pennsylvania, 1816–1831” (Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1971; Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2000), 86–87, citing Thurlow Weed, Life of Thurlow Weed, Including His Autobiography and a Memoir, 2 vols., ed. Harriet A. Weed (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1884), 1:358–59. One Rochester publisher did agree to print it. See Bushman, Beginnings of Mormonism, 107, citing Tucker, Origin, 51–53.
44. The mortgage is dated August 25, 1829, signed August 26, 1829, and was recorded on September 11, 1829. See Miner T. Patton, “The Gold That Paid for the Printing of the First Book of Mormon,” unpublished manuscript with copies of documents, August 1983, Sun City, Arizona; with appreciation to Ken Godfrey for this item.
45. Peter Crawley, “A Bibliography of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York, Ohio, and Missouri,” BYU Studies 12, no. 4 (1972): 471. The nature of the contract, however, is uncertain.
46. Gayle G. Ord, “From Golden Plates to Printing Press,” 1972, 11, Church Archives: “A cross sampling of ‘first editions for 138 books published between 1880 and 1882 [still show that] only 28 per cent of these exceeded 1,500 copies. About 15 per cent were 2,500 or more, and the maximum printing’ . . . 6,000 copies—was reserved for one particularly successful book,” quoting Donald Sheehan, This Was Publishing (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1952), 30.
47. Mortgages, book 3, p. 325, Wayne County Courthouse, Lyons, New York, cited in Porter, “Origins of the Church,” 88.
48. Gilbert, “Memorandum,” 3. John H. Gilbert to F. M. Lyman, October 23, 1887, cited in Kirkham, New Witness for Christ, 225; Porter, “Origins of the Church,” 88–89.
49. Gilbert, “Memorandum,” 3; see Ord, “Golden Plates to Printing Press,” 24–43; Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Gold Plates and Printer’s Ink,” Ensign 6 (September 1976): 71–76; Wilford C. Wood, comp., Joseph Smith Begins His Work, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1958–62), 1:introductory pages.
50. Joseph Smith Jr. to Oliver Cowdery, October 22, 1829, in Dean C. Jessee, ed. and comp., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2002), 251. Gilbert, “Memorandum,” 2–3, 4.
51. Gilbert, “Memorandum,” 3.
52. Oliver to Joseph, November 6, 1829, Joseph Smith Letterbook, part 1, p. 8. Original letter not extant—copy is in Joseph’s handwriting and follows his own spelling and punctuation.
53. 1 Nephi 1:1–2:3, 2:4–15, and Alma 43:22–40, respectively.
54. Russell Rich, “The Dogberry Papers and the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 10/3 (1970): 319–20; Kirkham, New Witness for Christ, 271, confuses the dates and contents.
55. They went “over on the ice.” Mr. J. L. Traughber, letter, in Wilhelm (von Wymetal) Wyl, Mormon Portraits, vol. 1, Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Tribune, 1886), 311.
56. Wyl, Mormon Portraits, 311. See generally, Roberts, Comprehensive History, 1:162–66.
57. “Note on the sale of the book of Mormon, now printed,” January 16, 1830, Simon Gratz Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
58. “The Book of Mormon,” Palmyra, N.Y., Wayne Sentinel, March 26, 1830.
59. Porter, “Prophet’s New York Years.” Hyrum sold copies to missionaries for $1.25, who sold them for about $2.50. Hyrum Smith, Diaries [and Account Book] 1831–1844, 35, 37–38, Church Archives.
60. Minutes of conference at Orange, Ohio, October 25, 1831, in Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 23. For one explanation of Joseph’s reticence to share his vision publicly, see Richard L. Bushman, “The Visionary World of Joseph Smith,” BYU Studies 37, no. 1 (1997–98): 194–97.
61. Dean Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 1:10.
62. Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, “Letter IV,” Messenger and Advocate, February 1835, 80.
63. Oliver Cowdery, Introduction to blessings, September 1835, in Patriarchal Blessing Book, 1:8–9, Church Archives; cited in Dan Vogel, ed. Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996–2003), 2:452.
64. Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, “Letter VIII,” Messenger and Advocate, October 1835, 198–200.
65. Joseph Smith, “History of the Church,” A-1, Church Archives; published in Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:278–300; Joseph Smith—History 1:59, 62, 67, 75; and History of the Church, 1:12–71.
66. Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald 26 (October 1, 1879): 289–90; and Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Advocate 2 (October 1879): 50–52. Joseph Smith III wrote that Emma reviewed the answers he had recorded for her. The answers “were affirmed by her” on the day before he left Nauvoo. Emma’s husband Lewis C. Bidamon asserted that Emma’s answers were “substantially what she had always stated” at times when they discussed the translation of the Book of Mormon.
67. Joseph Smith III to James T. Cobb, February 14, 1879, Community of Christ Library-Archives; cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 1:544.
68. Joseph Smith III to Mrs. E. Horton, March 7, 1900, Community of Christ Library-Archives; cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 1:546–47.
69. “A Mormon Interview,” transcribed from Ashbel Kitchell, Pocket Journal (May [March] 7, 1831?), photocopy, Perry Special Collections. Kitchell was describing a visit of Oliver Cowdery that occurred in fall 1830.
70. Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, Messenger and Advocate, October 1834, 14. The letter was dated September 7, 1834. Phelps replied on December 25, 1834, declaring his spiritual anticipation of the Book of Mormon in 1823. Messenger and Advocate, February 1835, 65–67.
71. Josiah Jones, “History of the Mormonites,” Evangelist 9 (June 1, 1841): 132–34. Jones wrote his history of the Mormons while living at Kirtland in 1831. According to the biographical blurb accompanying the article, Jones was “one of the faithful few belonging to the church of Kirtland, who refused to follow Rigdon when he made a surrender of himself and his flock to the Mormons.”
72. Reuben Miller Journal, October 21, 1848, holograph, microfilm, Church Archives. Miller recorded Cowdery’s testimony at a conference held at Council Bluffs. For more information on Reuben Miller, see Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Reuben Miller, Recorder of Oliver Cowdery’s Reaffirmations,” BYU Studies 8, no. 3 (1968): 277–93.
73. George Q. Cannon, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855–86), 22:254, September 18, 1881. Several others, including Brigham Young, Charles M. Nielsen, and Seymour B. Young, also gave accounts of this incident, but none of the accounts are firsthand. Historian Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 59–60, considers the Cannon account the most correct.
74. Edward Stevenson, “The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon,” Millennial Star 48 (July 5, 1886): 420.
75. William M. Frampton to John E. Booth, September 15, 1901, typescript, microfilm, Church Archives.
76. Samuel W. Richards Statement, May 21, 1907, holograph, 2–3, Church Archives.
77. Jacob F. Gates Affidavit, January 30, 1912, 1, Church Archives. Jacob Gates’s testimony of his meeting with Oliver Cowdery was recorded by his son, Jacob F. Gates.
78. Kansas City Daily Journal, June 5, 1881.
79. David Whitmer to the editor, Kansas City Daily Journal, June 19, 1881; cited in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 71–72.
80. Chicago Times, October 17, 1881; cited in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 74–76.
81. Interview conducted on January 15, 1882, in Richmond, Missouri; published in the Saints’ Herald 29 (March 1, 1882): 68.
82. E. C. Briggs, Letter to the Editor, Saints’ Herald 31 (June 21, 1884): 396–97.
83. James H. Hart, “About the Book of Mormon,” Deseret Evening News, March 25, 1884.
84. George Q. Cannon, interview, February 27, 1884, George Q. Cannon Journal, Church Archives; cited in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 108.
85. St. Louis Republican, July 16, 1884; cited in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 143.