Question: Was Joseph Smith afraid to reproduce the text of the lost 116 pages of Book of Mormon manuscript because he could not do so?

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Question: Was Joseph Smith afraid to reproduce the text of the lost 116 pages of Book of Mormon manuscript because he could not do so?

It is inconsistent for the critics to believe that Joseph was capable of dictating in the manner that he did, and yet could not have easily dictated an alternate text to replace that which was lost

Upon completing the translation of the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, known as the Book of Lehi, Martin Harris, who had acted as scribe during this period of time, asked the Prophet if he could show the manuscript to his wife Lucy. After repeated inquiries of the Lord, Joseph reluctantly agreed to let Martin take the manuscript home. The manuscript disappeared after Martin showed it not only to his wife, but to a number of other people as well.[1] Rather than re-translate the original portion of the record, the Lord instructed Joseph to translate an additional set of plates that had been provided, the record of Nephi, as described in DC 3: and DC 10:.

Critics have attempted to come up with a secular explanation of why Joseph Smith would create an entirely different text rather than simply reproducing the text of the 116 lost pages. One argument used by critics is that Joseph was afraid to reproduce the text of the 116 pages because he could not do so, and that he therefore chose to avoid the issue by creating an entirely different text.

Given the descriptions of the translation process by various witnesses, it is apparent that the translation proceeded in a very linear fashion. Each day Joseph would pick up the translation where he had left off the day before, without any recital of the previously written text. It is inconsistent for the critics to believe that Joseph was capable of dictating in this manner, and yet could not have easily dictated an alternate text to replace that which was lost. For the believer, it is much easier to accept that the Lord, in His wisdom, knew of the problem that would occur and provided an alternate text.

The loss of the 116 pages did not stop the Book of Mormon from coming forth. If the Book of Lehi (Mormon’s abridgment of what is currently found in the first books in the Book of Mormon today) had been preserved, we would not have had the “more spiritual” first person narrative of Nephi and Jacob. The incident provided a very valuable lesson about the importance of not opposing the Lord’s will. This incident affected the Prophet very deeply, and he was more determined than ever to regain the ability to translate. The lessons taught by this incident are meaningful and are taught even today to members of the Church.

The Lord taught Joseph an important lesson with the loss of the manuscript

The Lord taught Joseph an important lesson with the loss of the manuscript, and He provided an alternate text to compensate. It wasn't necessary to obtain the original pages, therefore there was no reason for Joseph to attempt to locate it using a seer stone. The Lord did not command him to do so. In fact, the Lord commanded Joseph not to retranslate the pages, therefore this is really an issue of whether or not one believes that Joseph was actually a prophet. Had the pages not been lost, we would not have the following:

And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men. For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words— Yet you should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble. Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall. But remember, God is merciful; therefore, 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.

A looser translation model might cause other problems

Another possibility is raised by Brant Gardner. Gardner argues that the Book of Mormon translation was not a word-for-word process, and that Joseph had considerable freedom in how he rendered the text. This means that even a divinely-inspired translation would not be the same (and certainly not word-for-word the same) if done twice. Given the expectations in Joseph's environment (which saw scripture as inerrant and divinely inspired word-for-word), this might have caused problems for Joseph's contemporaries. They expected, even demanded that scripture be inerrant and revealed word-for-word. David Whitmer, for example, would later complain that Joseph ought not to edit the revelations he received--David was still stuck with the view of revelation shared by most nineteenth century believers.

Further Evidence Against This

In the 1830 preface to the Book of Mormon, Joseph explains why he didn't try to retranslate the lost portion, identifying the reasons given by the Lord in D&C 10. Given this, if the conspiring men were planning to introduce a modified document, they would now immediately fall under scrutiny, since Joseph preemptively identified the conspiracy. By coming forward, they would actually substantiate Joseph's claim of prophecy! By sharing this revelation with Joseph, the Lord called these men into question before they even had a chance to carry out their plan.

Additionally, the Book of Mormon never mentions the small plates of Nephi after the Words of Mormon. If Joseph translated the Book of Lehi, lost it, and waited several months before beginning in Mosiah again, wouldn't Joseph want to back up his claim for two sets of plates by mentioning it from Mosiah through Moroni? Wouldn't he want to throw in a plug for the"second set of plates" to add plausibility to his claim? But the only time we hear of these plates are 1 Nephi through the Words of Mormon--the only people who actually wrote on the plates. It would make sense that Nephi, Jacob, etc, would mention repeatedly which plates they are writing on. It also makes sense that Mosiah through Moroni are more concerned with the large plates of Nephi, since those are the records that are being updated.


Notes

  1. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 67.