Processing the Plates:
The Presence and Absence of the Gold Plates
|For six weeks in the summer of 2011, researchers convened at the Maxwell Institute to discuss the topic “The Cultural History of the Gold Plates.” The seminar was sponsored by the Mormon Scholars Foundation, hosted by the Maxwell Institute, and directed by Richard Bushman.The Summer Seminar Working Papers 2011 were presented at a BYU symposium on August 18, 2011. Working papers are unpublished, unedited, unpolished drafts. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Maxwell Institute or BYU.|
In the winter of 1873, Elizabeth Kane, a faithful Presbyterian, attended a dinner party at the home of a Mormon family in Southern Utah. She later wrote in her journal, “I know so little about the history of the Mormons that the stories that now followed by the flickering firelight were full of interest to me. . .The most curious thing was the air of perfect sincerity of all the speakers. I cannot feel doubtful that they believed what they said.1 Elizabeth’s simple observation demonstrates a collision of two perspectives, but nicely pinpoints the profound difference between fiction and religion—a distinction that significantly impacts the study of Mormonism, with its fantastic stories of gold plates and ministering angels. For when a religion is seen as entirely divine it is also entirely separate from fiction. Fiction as the literary critic James Wood notes, “asks us to judge its reality; religion asserts its reality.2 The stories told to Elizabeth at this dinner party may sound to her like fiction, but these stories assert themselves in the lives of those telling them as clear and as real as any other experience—which is what Elizabeth finds so curious. Although religion and fiction potentially share certain similarities, a religion held to be entirely divine maintains an authority and truth-value that powerfully asserts itself within the lives and experience of its believers.
Noting this difference between fiction and religion hopefully illuminates some of the potential problems associated with studying the gold plates and the foundations of Mormonism. The “war of words and tumult of opinions” surrounding the existence of the gold plates or sensibility of Joseph Smith’s visions can potentially distract or interrupt an actual study of the religion itself. To study Mormonism as a religious system, rather than a work of fiction, is not to judge Mormonism’s authenticity, but to explore its possibilities by investigating the reality it asserts.
This perspective is particularly relevant to the study of an object as scandalous as the gold plates. Overlooking the disputes concerning the existence of the gold plates, the purpose of this paper is to explore how the presence and absence of the gold plates function within the reality that Joseph Smith and his gold plates assert.
Considered a sacred artifact, the gold plates are cloaked with complexity and shrouded in mystery, troubling any attempt to easily categorize either the plates or Joseph Smith’s experience. The inclusion of the physical plates into Joseph Smith’s story of angelic visitations separates him from the likes of other historical visionaries, as it moves Joseph’s experience from the realm of the purely spiritual or immaterial into the material and tangible world. At the same time, the role the supernatural played in the discovery, possession, and translation of the plates frustrates any attempt to consider the plates a typical archaeological artifact. Parroting the words of detractors, in his 1837 pamphlet “A Voice of Warning,” Parley Pratt illustrates the problems with considering the gold plates a standard archaeological artifact. Parley writes,
Well, now, says the objector, if it were not for the marvellous, your book would be considered one of the greatest discoveries the world ever witnessed…But who can stoop in such humility as to receive any thing (“in this enlightened age, renowned for its religion and learning,”) from the ministering of angels, and from inspiration?3
The circumstances surrounding the gold plates, as Parley’s fictional objector accurately deduces, necessitate and therefore create, in the minds of believers, a world that allows for the marvelous. Viewing the miraculous as logical becomes a common feature of Mormonism, as Dan Jones’ demonstrates in his 1847 history of the church that begins with the opening line, “It is completely illogical to deny angelic ministry nowadays, while admitting that it was reasonable for angels to come to men in former times.4 These types of statements demonstrate an unwillingness to separate the plates from the miraculous, and instead indicate a level of comfort with the miraculous that secures the story of the gold plates within the context of angels, revelations, and visions.
In addition to the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the plates, the plates themselves do not operate like any other archaeological artifact. Although the physicality and materiality of the plates remains certain, as one of their most attested attributes, the plates do not always seem subject to the same type of ontological boundaries that other physical objects do. Along with having restrictions placed upon who can view the plates, during Joseph’s tenure with the plates, they pass curiously back and forth between human and angelic possession. Perhaps most universally perplexing is their final return to the angel Moroni. The existence and then absence of material evidence capable of corroborating Joseph’s claims raises sincere and significant questions.
But understanding the function of the gold plates within the Mormon reality, is to consider the plates not only an ancient artifact preserved by God and revealed through the ministry of an angel, but also as an ancient record constructed by human hands and containing the history of a real but forgotten people. As the Book of Mormon is believed to be an actual history, determining the role and purpose of the plates, both their presence and their absence, necessitates investigating the function of the plates both in the hands of Joseph Smith and within the covers of the Book of Mormon.
At first glance, the depiction and role of the plates within the Book of Mormon seems to complicate rather than facilitate an understanding of Joseph Smith’s possession of them. Despite the sacralizing of the plates throughout the Book of Mormon, and the link they may forge to a world pervaded by contact with divinity, other than the mandate to construct the plates and maintain a constant record, the life of the plates, as narrated in the Book of Mormon, really avoids any reference to overt supernatural contact. The plates are considered sacred, but passed down from one righteous possessor to another without direct intervention from divinity.5 Examining the life of the plates in the Book of Mormon reveals that, although considered sacred, there seems to be no recorded instances associating the possession or protection of the plates directly with the miraculous.
This of course raises immediate discrepancies between the plates in the Book of Mormon and the plates under Joseph’s charge. Throughout the Book of Mormon the plates were preserved by the hand, or at least in the hands, of men. Passed down from one generation to another the plates enjoyed an unbroken succession of human or earthly possessors right down to Joseph Smith, who uncovered them from the precise place the mortal Moroni buried them. The most significant discord arises from Joseph’s not continuing the tradition of his predecessors. If Joseph followed the pattern documented in the Book of Mormon, the plates should have been handed down through the new generation of prophets. Joseph’s turning the plates over to angelic guardianship, rather than continuing to pass them down through mortal lineage, creates a curious and suspicious rupture from tradition. This incongruity lies at the heart of the mystery surrounding the current absence of the plates. Why did Joseph suddenly deliver the earthly record into the hands of an angel?
Not only are the plates not passed down to Joseph’s successors, but Joseph’s tenure with the plates regularly involves the power of God intervening to physically protect the plates—even from Joseph himself. Several prominent accounts of Joseph’s first interaction with the plates include details that display the extent to which the plates assume miraculous protection. Lucy Mack Smith’s 1845 account, Joseph Knight Sr.’s undated account, William Smith’s 1884 testimony, John Corrill’s 1837 A Brief History of the Church, and Willard Chase’s 1833 affidavit6 , all relate Joseph’s first encounter with the plates and include the same interesting detail. According to their accounts, Joseph is actually able to obtain the plates on his first visit, but then immediately loses them as a result of disobedience to the commands of the angel. In Joseph’s mother Lucy’s account, which seems to include most of the details contained within all of the others, Joseph arrives at the appointed spot, views the plates, retrieves them from the box and then considers the possibility that there might be something else valuable inside the box. Lucy narrates,
“In the excitement of the moment he laid the record down. . .When he turned again to take up the record it was gone but where he knew not nor did he know by what means it was taken. He was much alarmed at this. He kneeled down and asked the Lord why it was taken from him. The angel appeared to him and told him that he had not done as he was commanded in that he laid down the record in order to secure some imaginary treasure. Joseph was then permitted to raise the stone again and there he beheld the plates. The same as before he reached forth his hands to take them but was thrown to the ground—when he recovered the angel was gone and he arose and went to the house.7
This account, and the others that contain the same details, raise a whole host of questions concerning the materiality of the plates—as they seem to depict the plates significantly departing from the conduct they observed throughout the Book of Mormon narrative. The details of this account seem to transform the plates from a sacred object, entirely controlled and handled by mortal hands and under mortal protection, into an enchanted object subject to divine protection. Thus, even from Joseph’s initial interaction with the plates, the plates receive divine physical protection not previously documented in the record of their history.
Yet, while the Book of Mormon omits any narrative display of the plates being protected and preserved through miraculous means, it does contain a chapter that outlines the possession and preservation of sacred things. Chapter thirty-seven of the Book of Alma records the high priest Alma passing the plates and other sacred relics to his son Helaman. After charging Helaman with his new responsibility, Alma details the principles surrounding the earthly possession and divine protection of sacred things, warning,
And now remember, my son, that God has entrusted you with these things, which are sacred, which he has kept sacred, and also which he will keep and preserve for a wise purpose. . .And now behold, I tell you by the spirit of prophecy, that if ye transgress the commandments of God, behold, these things which are sacred shall be taken away from you by the power of God. . .But if ye keep the commandments of God, and do with these things according to that which the Lord doth command you, (for you must appeal unto the Lord for all things whatsoever ye must do with them) behold no power of earth or hell can take them from you, for God is powerful to the fulfilling of all his words” (Alma 37: 14-16).
These verses provide the best lens for examining Joseph’s possession of the plates, as they both connect and reconcile the differences previously mentioned between Joseph’s possession of the plates and the possession of the plates by prophets throughout the Book of Mormon. With preservation, and therefore protection, as the underlying basis, the possession of these sacred things, according to Alma, appears contingent upon the faith and obedience of the possessor. Joseph’s tenure with the plates can be seen as operating around Alma’s instruction: “if you transgress the commandments of God, behold, these things which are sacred shall be taken away from you by the power of God. . .But if ye keep the commandments of God. . . no power of earth or hell can take them from you” (37:15-16). The reality of this promise explains the difference between the largely routine life of the plates in the Book of Mormon, and the marvelous life of the plates under Joseph’s tenure, where they repeatedly intersect with the miraculous, receiving varying degrees of protection by the power of God before ultimately climaxing in their final return to the angel Moroni.
Consider again Joseph’s initial interaction with the plates. In accordance with Alma’s warning to Helaman, upon Joseph’s transgressing the commandments concerning the use of the plates, the plates were literally taken from Joseph by the power of God—which consisted of their disappearing from his view and miraculously returning to the stone box from where they were originally obtained. Thus, rather than viewing Joseph’s first encounter with the plates as a creating a discord with the Book of Mormon narrative, Joseph’s initial encounter, and his entire possession of the plates thereafter, may be seen as fluid and consistent with the terms that Alma outlines to Helaman. During Joseph’s first experience with the plates, he discovered firsthand the reality of the covenants and promises associated with the plates, mainly that transgression leads to their being physically removed from his possession. This is the lens through which the presence and absence of the plates may be viewed, the power of God literally removing them from Joseph’s possession when he transgresses the terms of their use.
Joseph’s 1838 account8 detailing his eventual reception of the plates is entirely preoccupied with their protection. Moroni delivers full guardianship of the plates and the Urim and Thummim to Joseph explaining that his full exertions would be needed to keep them safe. Like the Book of Mormon prophets before him, Joseph assumes the role of possessor and protector of the plates—becoming subject to the covenants associated with their possession, as 8 outlined by Alma. However, Joseph is eventually forced to deliver the plates and the Urim and Thummn to the angel Moroni following Martin Harris’ loss of the 116 manuscript pages9 Being forced to turn the plates over to Moroni following transgression seems to clearly invoke Alma’s promise that “if ye transgress the commandments of God, behold, these things which are sacred shall be taken away from you by the power of God.”
The loss of the 116 pages is definitely the hinge moment in Joseph’s relationship to the plates, and initiates their slipping back and forth between present and absent. Upon first receiving the plates, Joseph is entirely in charge of their welfare. From initially hiding them in the woods, to dislocating his thumb fending off thieves, securing a chest to put them in, hiding them under a hearth, and even decoying detractors with an empty wooden box, Joseph exerts all his physical effort towards their safety. Lucy’s account suggests that Joseph’s anxiety concerning the safety of the plates permeates the entire Smith household. While Lucy explained that Joseph often relied upon the Urim and Thumimm to warn him of imminent danger, she also makes it clear that the actual responsibility of physically guarding the plates remained Joseph’s alone.10 In accordance with the directions of the angel, Joseph was able to protect them through the obedient exertion of all his efforts. Even while transferring the plates across states, the protection of the plates depended upon Joseph’s ingenuity, as leaving prior to his announced departure and hiding the plates in a barrel of beans prevented their being taken, despite Joseph and Emma’s wagon being searched twice by two different law enforcement officials11 . Once in Harmony, Joseph is able to continue to keep the plates safe and produce the first 116 pages of the manuscript, before turning the manuscript over to Martin Harris’s care after repeatedly petitioning the Lord for permission.
Just as Joseph entered into a covenant in order to possess the plates, Martin too is compelled to enter into a covenant before he is able to take charge of the manuscript.12 Of course, Martin violates the terms of his covenant, loses possession of the 116 pages, and is never able to recover them. The loss of the 116 pages weighs heavily upon Joseph. Lucy claims that the prospect of their being lost made Joseph physically ill, and upon confirming that they were lost Joseph cried out, “All 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.”13 Assuming responsibility for the loss of the manuscript, Joseph’s anguished response reflects an understanding of the connection between his obedience and his calling. It seems that the terms that Alma outlined are carried out, as Moroni, presumably acting under the power of God, physically removes the plates from Joseph’s possession.14 Joseph receives a revelation explaining, “When thou deliveredst up that which God had given thee sight and power to translate, thou deliverdst up that whish is sacred into the hands of a wicked man. . .And this is the reason that thou has lost thy privileges for a season” (D&C 3: 12, 14). Fortunately for Joseph, his loss of privilege to translate the plates appears temporary as the Lord instructs, “repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work” (D&C 3:10). Joseph is still called to the work, but his forfeiting the plates directly into Moroni’s care constitutes an entirely new chapter in the history of the plates.
Until this time, the plates had either been buried in the earth, or in the possession of a mortal man. An angelic-being in direct possession of the plates is unprecedented in the recorded history of the life of the plates. Moroni takes the plates from Joseph only in consequence of 10 Joseph’s disobedience. Importantly, Moroni’s retrieval of the plates constitutes a major shift in the care, function, and availability of the plates.
When Joseph is able to resume translating the plates again, he never seems to regain the same complete possession over the plates that he once experienced. Joseph’s relationship to the plates seems entirely different—beginning with the act of translating. As Richard Van Wagner and Steven Walker have explained, “Consensus holds that the “translation” process was accomplished through a single seer stone from the time of the loss of the 116 pages until the completion of the book. Martin Harris’s description of interchangeable use of a seer stone with the interpreters, or Urim and Thummim, refers only to the portion of translation he was witness to—the initial 116 pages. The second point of agreement is even more consistent: The plates could not have been used directly in the translation process. The Prophet, his face in a hat to exclude exterior light, would have been unable to view the plates directly even if they had been present during transcription.”15 There may be many possible reasons for this change in translation method, but David Whitmer offers a probable suggestion in an 1881 interview, where he explained, “The “interpreters” were as I understood taken from Smith and were not used by him after losing the first 116 pages. . .It is my understanding that the stone referred to was furnished him when he commenced translating again after losing the 116 pages.”16 Although Whitmer’s account faces some contradiction from other sources, his suggestion that Joseph permanently lost possession of the Urim and Thummim and was provided with a stone in its stead, does provide a potential reason for the change in translation method. Whatever the reason, he first-person accounts of the translation process following the loss of the 116 pages indicate that Joseph no longer used the Nephite interpreters to translate, and his translation no longer directly involved the plates at all.17
Along with altering the translation process, Joseph’ loss of the 116 pages seems to impact his personal responsibility over the physical protection of the plates. Where Joseph was once dislocating thumbs, pulling up floor boards, and leaving decoy boxes in attempts to protect the plates, Joseph seems entirely less preoccupied with the protection of the plates after the loss of the 116 pages and when he again resumes translation. In fact, when Joseph moves from Harmony to the Whitmer home, rather than hiding the plates in the trusty barrel of beans, both Lucy Smith and David Whitmer explain that Joseph did not take the plates with him at all. According to Lucy’s account, when Joseph inquired of the Lord as to how the plates should be conveyed to the Whitmer home, “His answer was that he should give himself no trouble about, [it] but hasten to Waterloo and after he arrived a[t] Mr. Whitmer’s house if he would go immediately to the garden he would receive the plates from the hand of an angel to whose charge they must be committed for safety.”18 This experience illuminates Joseph’s new relationship to the plates, as he has clearly lost the privilege of being alone responsible for their protection. Where Joseph once transferred the plates by himself, Moroni now assumes the responsibility. David Whitmer even relates encountering Moroni on their journey to Fayette, “David described him saying he had on something like an old-fashioned knapsack. . . right across his shoulders, 12 and on his back he was carrying something of considerable weight.”19 Joseph identified the stranger as Moroni, and the bundle on his back as the plates, even explaining that they were being delivered by Moroni for safety reasons. Again, Moroni’s physically transferring the plates, and being solely in charge of their protection, even while Joseph is still in the process of translating them, is unprecedented in the recorded history of the plates. Joseph’s new relationship to the plates now completely revolves around a direct and regular intersection between his mortal self and the angelic being Moroni.
Perhaps most interesting are David Whitmer’s repeated accounts wherein he claims that Joseph never fully receives the plates again at all after the loss of the 116 pages, but was only granted access to them when he requested. To one newspaper reporter in 1881 Whitmer explained, “When Joseph was again allowed to resume 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.”20 Interestingly enough, the accounts of Joseph’s possession of the plates following the loss of the 116 pages do not do much to refute Whitmer’s claims. Along with transcribing the Book of Mormon without directly consulting the plates, and Joseph’s seemingly more relaxed and hands-off approach towards their protection, the accounts of people hefting the plates while concealed in some type of shroud also seem to disappear after the loss of the 116 pages.21 Furthermore, it was not Joseph who showed the plates to the three witnesses, but Moroni. When Moroni appeared to the three witnesses, he had already had the plates in his possession, and presented them along with the breastplate, sword of Laban, and Liahona, all sacred things he 13 seemed to have in his possession.22 In regards to the eight witnesses, according to Lucy’s account, the eight witnesses all saw the plates in the woods near the Smith home in Palymra. Lucy explains that after the plates were translated, but during the process of arraigning publication, when some of the Whitmer’s were visiting, the witnesses “retired to a place where it was customary for the family to offer up their secret prayers—as Joseph had been instructed that the plates would be carried their by one of the ancient Nephites. Here it was that those 8 witnesses recorded in the Book of Mormon looked upon the plates and handled them” (455-456). According to Lucy, just as the angel transferred the plates from Harmony to the Whitmer home, “a Nephite,” and there is obviously some ambiguity surrounding this term, transfers the plates from the Whitmer home to the woods near Palmyra.
Now whatever the exact terms of Joseph’s possession of the plates both prior to and following the loss of the 116 pages, the event seems to profoundly alter Joseph’s relationship to the plates. One thing that seems consistent before the loss, after the loss, and throughout the Book of Mormon, is the constant imperative to preserve, and therefore protect, the plates. Both the Book of Mormon and other revelations of Joseph contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, claim that these sacred things are being preserved for a wise purpose, yet to be fulfilled, and known only to God.23 Since Joseph’s time this wise purpose often manifests itself to the minds of believers largely in the form of the non-translated sealed portion of the gold plates, still to be revealed and therefore still requiring that the plates be preserved and protected. The words of Alma spoken to his son Helaman, and the words of Moroni spoken to Joseph, both indicate that 14 preservation and therefore protection is the chief objective of anyone possessing these sacred things. In the Book of Mormon, Alma explicitly describes the specific terms associated with the protection and possession of the plates. Joseph’s possession of the plates, including his own protection of them and Moroni’s eventual taking them in consequence of disobedience, seems to assert the relevancy of Alma’s words in the discussion of the presence and absence of the plates. As Joseph kept the commandments of God, in accordance with Alma’s words, “no power of earth or hell could take them from him.” But when he transgressed the commandments of God, they were taken away from him by the power of God and delivered into the hands of an angel. Whether or not Joseph ever fully received them back into his possession, the fact that the plates remain under angelic guardianship today, still absent from the possession of mortal men, seems to suggest a lack of obedience somewhere. For if obedience remained, the promise was that “no power of earth or hell could take them,” and protecting the plates, sealed portion and all, would not require an angel.
Elizabeth A Kane. Gentile Account of Life in Utah’s Dixie: 1872-1873. Tanner Trust Fund: University of Utah, 1995. 70.
James Wood. The Broken Estate. London: Jonathan Cape, 1999. XV.
Parley P. Pratt “A Voice of Warning.” New York City: W. Sanford, 1837.
Dan Jones. “History of the Latter-day Saints from their Establishment in the Year 1823.” Defending the Faith: Early Welsh Publications. Translated and Edited by Ronald D. Dennis. Published by the Religious Studies Center, BYU, Provo, Ut. Printed by Covenant Communications, American Fork Utah, copyright 2003. Originally published in Welsh in 1847.
The potential exception here would be Jesus’ reviewing the record and then requesting that the words of Samuel the Lamanite be added to it, described in 3 Nephi 23: 7-14, but even this does not deal with the possession or protection of the plates as an object, but the content within the plates.
Lavina F. Anderson, ed. Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001; Dan Jesse. “Joseph Knight’s Recollections” BYU Studies 17.1 (1976), 2; John Corril. A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints. St. Louis, Missouri: By Author. 1839; “The Old Soldier’s Testimony. Sermon Preached by Bro. William B. Smith, in the Saints’ Chapel, Detroit, Iowa, June 8th, 1884. Reported by C.E. Butterworth,” Saints’ Herald 31 (4 October 1884): 643-44; Willard Chase Statement, Circa 11 December 1833 from Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unveiled (Painesville, Ohio: E.D. Howe, 1834), 240-248, as cited in Dan Vogel’s Early Mormon Documents, 1:504.
Lucy’s Book 346-7.
8.Written in 1838, but not published until 1842 in the Times and Seasons Vol. 3 no. 12, May 2, 1842, 772.
9.Lucy’s Book, 425. Times and Seasons vol. 3, no. 14. 16 May 1842, 786; Vol. 3, no. 15, 1 June 1842, 786.
10.Lucy’s Book, 389.
Parley P. Pratt, A Voice of Warning.
12.D&C 5, Lucy’s Book 411.
13.Lucy’s Book 418.
Lucy’s Book, 425. Times and Seasons: vol. 3, no. 14. 16 May 1842, 786; Vol. 3, no. 15, 1 June 1842, 786.
Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, “Joseph Smith: ‘The Gift of Seeing,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15:2 (Summer 1982), 53. See also Zenas H. Gurley Interview, 14 January 1885, Richmond, Missouri Gurley Collection, LDS Church Archives, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook’s David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness. Provo: Utah, 1991. 157.
David Whitmer to Kansas City Journal, Corrections to 1 June 1881 Interview Kansas City Journal, 19 June 1881 as cited in Lyndon W. Cook’s David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness. Provo: Utah, 1991. 72.
See Van Wagoner and Walker “The Gift of Seeing.” Consider David Whitmer’s interview with Nathan Tanner, Jr. Interview, 13 April 1886, Richmond, Missouri, Nathan Tanner, Jr. Journal, LDS Church Archives, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook’s David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness. Provo: Utah, 1991. “I then asked him if he ever handled the plates, and he said that he did not at any time. I referred to his going down after Joseph and Emma to the plates and them to his fathers, and he said the plates were not in the wagon, nor did he see them or at all during the translation. He said that they were in the possession of the Angel during this time” (188).
Lucy’s Book 450.
Orson Pratt/Joseph F. Smith Interview, 7-8 September 1878, Richmond, Missouri, Joseph F. Smith Collection, LDS Church Archives. As cited in Lyndon W. Cook’s David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness. Provo: Utah, 1991. 49. See also footnote 19.
Kansas City Journal Reporter Interview 1 June 1881, Richmond, Missouri Kansas City Journal, 5 June 1881, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook’s David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness. Provo: Utah, 1991. 63.
Along with this absence see footnote 19 where David Whitmer claims to never having even seen the plates while journeying or in translation, shrouded or not.
David Whitmer is of course largely quoted on this account in various interviews, for an accumulation of these interviews see Lyndon W. Cook’s David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness. Provo: Utah, 1991. For a thorough handling of all the witnesses experiences, see Richard Lloyd Anderson’s Investigating Book of Mormon Witnesses. Salt Lake City: Utah, Deseret Book Company, 1981. See also Joseph’s own account in the Times and Seasons Vol. 3 no. 21 September 1, 1842, 898.
See Alma 37: 18-19 and D&C 5:4-10 for similar treatments.