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Commentary on Joseph Smith—History
|Title||Commentary on Joseph Smith—History|
|Publication Type||Book Chapter|
|Year of Publication||2022|
|Authors||Smoot, Stephen O.|
|Book Title||The Pearl of Great Price: A Study Edition for Latter-day Saints|
|Publisher||Book of Mormon Central|
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1:1–2 At the outset of this history, the Prophet specifies the purpose behind his writing. Events leading up to the drafting of this history included the tribulations of the Kirtland apostasy of 1837 and the mounting tensions that eventually exploded as the Missouri Mormon War of 1838, which ended with Joseph Smith’s incarceration in Liberty Jail that winter. In addition, since the founding of the Church in 1830, publications that sought to discredit Joseph and the Church continued to multiply and circulate (compare Doctrine and Covenants 123:1–6). The intent behind the 1838 history and Joseph Smith’s sometimes defensive, even defiant language is made more comprehensible in this historical context.
1:3 The Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith Family. Joseph Smith Sr. (1771–1840) and Lucy Mack (1775–1856) were married in Tunbridge, Vermont, on January 24, 1796. Both came from multigenerational New England families. Their first unnamed son died in childbirth in 1797 and is left unmentioned by the Prophet in this brief family history (as is another brother, Ephraim, who died less than two weeks after his birth in 1810). Here the Prophet names his surviving siblings by age starting with his brothers and then his sisters. When left unadjusted for gender and survival into adulthood, the order of the children in the family goes unnamed son (1797), Alvin (1798–1823), Hyrum (1800–1844), Sophronia (1803–1876), Joseph Jr. (1805–1844), Samuel Harrison (1808–1844), Ephraim (1810), William (1811–1893), Katharine (1813–1900), Don Carlos (1816–1841), and Lucy (1821–1882). Missing content. An addendum penned by scribe Willard Richards on or before December 2, 1842, recounts episodes from the Prophet’s boyhood, such as the harrowing experience of having his leg operated on after contracting typhus fever and the abuse the boy suffered at the hands of a certain Caleb Howard, who had been hired by Joseph Sr. to help move the family to New York. An interlinear note here in the manuscript from Richards alerts readers to this content, but it appeared too late for the T&S and MS printings of the history, and consequently the 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price. Another addendum here in the manuscript provides the birth information and paternal genealogy of Joseph Sr. (see also the commentary at Joseph Smith—History 1:20, 27–28).
1:4 The Year of Alvin Smith’s Death. In the manuscript the date of Alvin’s death is provided as November 19, 1823, in an interlinear insertion by Willard Richards. This is the date found on Alvin’s tombstone, which is still standing in the Palmyra, New York, cemetery. In the published version of the history in both the T&S and the MS as well as in the 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price, the date is not provided. In a history prepared between 1834 and 1836, Joseph mistakenly gave the date of Alvin’s death as November 19, 1825. The 1902 edition of the Pearl of Great Price prepared by James E. Talmage also incorrectly gave the date as November 19, 1824, an error that was perpetuated until the 1981 edition. The move to Palmyra, New York. Joseph Sr. moved to Palmyra, New York, in the summer of 1816. Lucy and the children, including Joseph Jr., left for New York to meet Joseph Sr. later that winter. Before moving to Palmyra, Joseph Sr. and Lucy had lived in multiple towns in Vermont and New Hampshire (including Tunbridge, Vermont; Randolph, Vermont; Royalton, Vermont; Sharon, Vermont; Lebanon, New Hampshire; and Norwich, Vermont). The move to Manchester, New York. Manchester Township lies just a few miles south of the Palmyra village to which the Smith family relocated between 1816 and 1817. During the winter of 1818–1819 the family moved into a log home that was adjacent to forested land in Manchester. Although the forested land was in Manchester Township, the cabin itself was still in Palmyra Township (but not the village).
1:5 The timing of the First Vision. Here the Prophet places the timing of the events leading to the First Vision as beginning “some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester,” meaning 1819–1820. In a previous history (JS1832) he specified that he became “seriously impressed” with religious matters and the welfare of his soul “at about the age of twelve years,” meaning in 1818. Harmonizing the accounts indicates that the events leading up to the First Vision (Joseph’s personal quest for salvation, his concern over the contention he saw between religious denominations and local revivalism) took place between the years 1818 and 1820. Revivals in the Palmyra, New York, area. Historians have documented religious revivals and camp meetings occurring in the “region of country” or “the whole district of country” near Palmyra (or western New York more generally) beginning in 1818. Although the 1838 history seems to place this activity principally in 1820, it does not confine it to only Palmyra. In light of Joseph’s other histories (primarily JS1832), a broader chronological perspective should be kept in mind. Methodism, Presbyterianism, and Baptists. In addition to these three branches of Protestantism, the early United States was home to Congregationalists, Quakers, Shakers, Episcopalians, Universalists, and other groups in a diverse religious cultural landscape. Joseph, by his own account, favored Methodism (1:8) but did not join the movement, while his mother, Hyrum, Samuel, and Sophronia joined the Presbyterians (1:7). Joseph Sr. was attracted to Universalism and was otherwise religiously unaffiliated, as were Joseph’s brothers Alvin and William.
1:7 Joseph’s age at the time of the First Vision is given here as occurring in his “fifteenth year” (meaning when he was fourteen years old). Elsewhere in this account, Joseph gives his age as “between fourteen and fifteen years of age” (1:22) and “a little over fourteen years of age” (1:23) at the time of the event. In other histories Joseph gave his age as “in the 16th year of my age” (JS1832), “about 14 years old” (JS1835), and “about fourteen years of age” (JS1842). The age given in the 1838 history is consistent with the 1835 and 1842 histories and with contemporary secondhand accounts (OP1840, OH1842, DNW1843). Joseph’s age in the 1832 history was inserted interlineally by scribe Frederick G. Williams and is off by one year in the other accounts (Joseph would have been fifteen years old in the sixteenth year of his age). Assuming the stated age in the 1832 history came from Joseph and not from Williams, it merely indicates a lapse in memory or poor arithmetic on the Prophet’s part.
1:11 The first of many scriptural citations in the 1838 history appears here. The language at 1:5 draws from Luke 17:21 (“Lo, here! Lo, there!”), but this is the first overt scriptural citation. James 1:5, however, was not the only biblical passage that Joseph drew inspiration from as he wrestled with which faith to join. His 1835 account (JS1835) reports that Matthew 7:7 also prompted him to seek God in prayer. Additionally, the 1832 history (JS1832) recounts the influence of Hebrews 13:8 and Psalm 14:1 on young Joseph’s thinking at the time. But as the Prophet indicates here, it was James 1:5 that had the most profound effect on him, as also mentioned in the other contemporary first- and secondhand renditions of the First Vision.
1:13 Joseph’s primary motivation to seek God in prayer in this account is to resolve his confusion over which denomination to join. In the 1832 history (JS1832) the emphasis is on Joseph seeking forgiveness for his sins. These motives are not mutually exclusive. Besides the obvious fact that one of the main reasons people join a particular religious denomination over another is precisely to achieve a sense of salvation and an assurance of eternal security, historians have pointed out how these two categories had conceptual overlap in conversion accounts (especially Methodist accounts) contemporary with the Prophet. Both motivations could be true at the same time: confused and dismayed over the religious divisions of his day (and even in his own family, which was religiously split), Joseph felt insecure and unsure about his eternal standing before God and so sought wisdom about which church to join precisely to find some assurance that he would achieve salvation.
1:14–15 Timing of the vision. In this history Joseph places the timing of the First Vision “early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty.” This is the most precise any of the Prophet’s firsthand accounts get in timing the vision. Satan attempts to stop Joseph. The supernatural opposition that attempted to prevent young Joseph from praying is also mentioned in the Prophet’s 1835 account (JS1835). In this account Joseph describes how his “tongue seemed to be swollen in [his] mouth” so that he was unable to speak, and he writes that he “heard a noise behind [him], like some person walking towards [him].” When he looked around he “saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking.” The language and imagery of Joseph being surrounded by darkness and feeling doomed to destruction but rallying his strength to continue calling on God parallels the experience of Moses described at Moses 1:20. The secondhand account provided by Orson Hyde (OH1842) speaks of this “thick darkness” as a “dark cloud” and mentions the adversary filling Joseph’s mind “with doubts and . . . all manner of inappropriate images.”
1:16 Each of Joseph’s firsthand accounts mentions a bright, fiery light that the boy saw in the vision. In the 1832 history (JS1832) the Prophet described seeing “a pillar of fire” but then crossed out “fire” and substituted it with the word “light.” The 1835 account (JS1835) mentions “a pillar of fire,” or a “pillar of flame which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed.” And the 1842 Wentworth Letter (JS1842) speaks of “a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day.” Contemporary secondhand accounts report the same thing: Orson Pratt (OP1840) described “a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above,” and David Nye White (DNW1843) simply calls it “a light,” while Alexander Neibaur (AN1844) records “a fire towards heaven.”
1:17 Two Personages. With one exception, each first- and secondhand account of the First Vision from the Prophet’s lifetime explicitly speaks of young Joseph seeing two heavenly personages. Some of these accounts (JS1835; DNW1843; AN1844) describe one personage appearing before the other, and other accounts (OP1840; OH1842; JS1842) describe the two personages as appearing exactly alike in features and likeness. Although Joseph himself did not record a detailed description of the personages he saw, one secondhand account (AN1844) records that Joseph described the personage in the pillar of fire or light as having “light complexion [and] blue eyes” with “a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders, his right arm bear.” The exception mentioned above is the 1832 history (JS1832), which does not overtly speak of two personages. It records, “The Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord.” Scholars have proposed various ways to reconcile the 1832 history with the later accounts. The most persuasive is that the title Lord, used twice, is referring to God the Father in the first instance and then to the Son in the second. This would harmonize with the accounts that speak of one personage appearing before the other and that claim that the two personages looked exactly alike. “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” Two secondhand accounts (DNW1843, AN1844) report that this testimony was given by the Father during the vision. The 1832 and 1835 accounts (JS1832, JS1835) might allude to the Father’s testimony but are not explicit. These two accounts, as well as Orson Pratt’s (OP1842), mention that the Lord forgave Joseph’s sins.
1:18 As noted above (see the commentary at 1:13), in this account the main question Joseph raises is which church he should join. This agrees with many of the other reports of the vision (JS1835; OP1840; OH1842; JS1842; DNW1843; AN1844). In his earliest account (JS1832), the Prophet emphasized his personal search for salvation without explicitly couching this quest in the context of what denomination he should join. Never entered into my heart. This phrase (“for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong”) was, for reasons unknown, omitted in the 1902 edition of the Pearl of Great Price and was not restored until the 1981 edition. It is present in the manuscript version of this history, in the T&S and MS printings, and in the first two editions of the Pearl of Great Price (1851 and 1878). In another draft of the 1838 history the parenthetical comment reads, “For I supposed that one of them were so,” which suggests some amount of ambivalence was still in Joseph’s mind at the time of the vision. At first glance, this parenthetical remark would appear to contradict Joseph Smith—History 1:10 (“Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together?”) and the 1832 account (JS1832) in which Joseph reports he had “found that mankind did not come unto the Lord, but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith, and there was no society or denomination that [was] built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.” Scholars have proposed various ways to read these accounts in harmony and stress that minor variations such as these do not suggest calculating attempts to fabricate a story.
1:19 They were all wrong. Here and in the next verse Joseph is informed by the Lord that the churches of his day were in apostasy and that he should join none of them. This point is captured in all the extant accounts of the vision from the Prophet’s lifetime except one (JS1835). Joseph’s choice to report the Lord’s rather blunt and sweeping condemnations in this account (For example, “they were all wrong . . . ,” “all their creeds were an abomination . . . ,” “those professors were all corrupt . . .”) may be at least partially in response to the recent opposition and hostility in Kirtland and Missouri that were fresh on the Prophet’s mind (See also the discussion in the commentary at Joseph Smith—History 1:1, 22–23). Another one of Joseph’s firsthand accounts (JS1842) uses much softer language than is used in this verse. It should also be kept in mind that this is Joseph’s paraphrasing of what the Lord told him, not necessarily a direct quotation, so it is uncertain how much of the language is specifically from the Lord and how much was shaped by Joseph himself. They draw near . . . the power thereof. Quotations or paraphrases of Isaiah 29:13 and 2 Timothy 3:5. According to two accounts (JS1832 and AN1844) the Lord also drew from the language of Psalm 14:3 (“there is none that doeth good, no, not one”). The totalizing language in Psalm 14:3 is congruent with the Lord’s sweeping condemnations in Joseph Smith—History 1:19.
1:20 Joseph indicates that he deliberately left out some of the Lord’s words to him in the vision. We are left to speculate on exactly what else the Lord may have told him, but from details in the other extant accounts of the vision, it most likely included matters related to the apostasy, the forthcoming restoration of the gospel, and Joseph’s personal standing before God. In the 1835 account (JS1835) the Prophet indicates that he saw “many angels” in the vision. The number and identity of these angels and whether they too related anything to Joseph in the vision is unknown. Joseph also fails to describe how long the vision lasted. Since he was told “many other things” during the vision that are not recorded and since, as he says next, when he came to himself he was lying on his back and physically exhausted (see also DWN1843), it might be supposed that the vision lasted some time. Joseph’s reply to his mother. When asked by his mother what was on his mind, young Joseph refrained from telling her what he had just experienced. Instead, he provides a roundabout and ironic way of informing her of what the Lord had just told him about not joining any church, including her own (recalling that earlier at 1:7 he specifies that his mother and some siblings had joined the local Presbyterian church). When the light . . . almost in my infancy. This portion of the narrative was inserted into the text as an addendum by Willard Richards on December 2, 1842, probably at the time Joseph related the incident to him.
1:21–23 The Methodist preacher. The identity of this preacher is unknown. One promising candidate is Reverend George Lane (1784–1859). Lane was active as an itinerant minister in northern Pennsylvania and western New York between 1819 and 1825. Secondhand sources (for example, OC1834) identify Lane as being one of the ministers who had a pronounced influence on young Joseph in prompting him to seek God in prayer. But there are problems with accepting Lane as this minister, not the least being that the Prophet himself does not positively identify him. The preacher’s reaction. Joseph remembers how shocked he was at how contemptuously the preacher treated the account of his vision. The reaction obviously made enough of an impression that eighteen years later the Prophet still remembered it. This negative first reaction to Joseph telling others about his vision may account, in part, for why the Prophet was generally reluctant to publicly report his visionary experiences. Persecution. Here the theme of persecution against the Prophet appears at its strongest. Joseph mentions the negative, skeptical reaction he received when he told others about his vision in some of his other accounts (for example, JS1832), but it is in this retelling that the language is most potent. It is very likely that Joseph’s recollection of the degree and severity of this opposition, as well as the language he chose to describe it, was influenced by the recent persecutions of Kirtland and Missouri
1:24–26 Joseph compares himself to the Apostle Paul. See Acts 26. Joseph uses the bold defense Paul offered before Herod Agrippa II as a comparable example to his own feelings and experience as he affirmed the reality of his vision before a skeptical public. Joseph’s biblical-minded audience would have immediately understood the significance of this comparison. What Joseph learned from the vision. Latter-day Saints today have extrapolated several important truths from the First Vision, including points that touch on the nature of the Godhead and the reality of modern revelation. Per his own account (see Joseph Smith—History 1:26), Joseph himself walked away from the First Vision with two primary truths in mind: that he was not to join any of the churches of his day (inasmuch as they were in apostasy) and that God does in fact answer prayers.
1:27–28 This portion of the history transitions the narrative from the Prophet’s early life and the First Vision to the first appearance of Moroni on the night of September 21, 1823. This sequence (early life > First Vision > appearance of Moroni) can be found in both earlier and later histories prepared by the Prophet (JS1832; JS1835; JS1842) and in histories prepared by contemporaries (OP1840). The First Vision and the appearance of Moroni were thus two of the pivotal early events of the unfolding Restoration as narrated by the Prophet himself. Youthful errors. The Prophet’s 1832 history (JS1832) also mentions how young Joseph “fell into transgressions and sinned in many things” in the intervening years between the First Vision and the appearance of Moroni. The 1835 history (JS1835) likewise describes how Joseph “had not kept the commandments” during this time. However, here the Prophet insists that he is not guilty “of any great or malignant sins.” (This qualifier was likely added both to prevent the wrong impression and to rebut public accusations of Joseph’s alleged deplorable behavior.) In these accounts, as in the 1838 history, Joseph is quick to also describe how he repented of his youthful sins and that it was during his penance that Moroni made his first appearance. In making this confession . . . cheery temperament. This portion of text was added to the history in an addendum penned by Willard Richards on December 2, 1842 (see also the commentary on Joseph Smith—History 1:1, 20).
1:30–32 The appearance of Moroni is retold in other firsthand and contemporary secondhand reports (see JS1832, JS1835, JS1842, OC1834, OP1840, OH1842, LMS1844). Description of the messenger. In an earlier history (JS1835) the Prophet described how with the angel’s appearance “the room was illuminated above the brightness of the sun.” According to this account, Moroni’s features were “naked, pure, and white,” and the personage was “clothed with purity inexpressible.” Oliver Cowdery (OC1834) similarly reported “a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness” appearing in the room with the visitation of the angel, who Cowdery described as having a “countenance [like] lightning” and wearing a “garment [that] was perfectly white.”
1:33 In the manuscript copy, the name of the angel is given here as Nephi. This was almost certainly a clerical or scribal error. Sources from both before and after the 1838 history, including those from Joseph himself, identify the messenger as Moroni. The error in the manuscript, however, was not caught until decades after its composition, and so the mistaken identity of the angel was perpetuated in print, including in the T&S and MS printings of the history in the 1840s and in the 1851 first edition of the Pearl of Great Price.
1:34 Here the Book of Mormon, including its origin and contents, is referenced for the first time in this history. Joseph’s narrative about bringing forth and translating the record will occupy the next thirty-four verses. As with the First Vision, the Prophet gave multiple accounts of the coming forth and translation of the Book of Mormon. Many of these accounts, in fact, were retold right alongside his other renditions of the First Vision (see JS1832; JS1835; JS1842). Clearly in Joseph’s mind the two events were linked and were considered foundational to his prophetic calling. Written upon gold plates. Joseph and other witnesses to the plates, or those who otherwise handled them in some capacity, described them as being gold or having “the appearance of gold”; weighing between forty to sixty pounds; measuring about six or seven inches wide, eight inches long, and four to six inches thick; having individual plates as thick as “common tin” or parchment; having a portion sealed; having three D-shaped rings binding the plates; and being “engraved” on both sides with “characters” or “hieroglyphics.” An account of the former inhabitants of this continent. Although on occasion the Prophet appealed to artifacts from both North and Central America as evidence for the antiquity of the Book of Mormon, he never gave a detailed description of the geography or of the ancient setting of the events recorded in the text. During the Prophet’s lifetime, readers of the book began formulating geography theories to situate the text in a real-world setting, but none of these nor any subsequent theories have ever arisen to the level of revealed authority for the Church as a whole. In her memoirs (LMS1844), Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, related how Moroni instructed young Joseph about the ancient inhabitants of America as the boy prepared for the recovery and translation of the record, a detail the Prophet also reported in another history (JS1842).
1:35 Joseph’s use of the term “Urim and Thummim” to describe the instrument he recovered with the plates (compare JS1835) likely takes its lead from early Church leaders W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery (OC1834, including the excerpted passage below), who both had previously drawn a connection between the biblical oracular device and the Nephite “interpreters” (see Exodus 28:30; Numbers 27:21; Mosiah 8:13; 28:11, 13) in Church publications. In his earliest account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (JS1832), the Prophet described this instrument as a set of “spectacles” that had been prepared to translate the book without giving it the name Urim and Thummim. Besides attesting to the use of the Nephite interpreters that were deposited with the plates, eyewitnesses to the translation of the Book of Mormon also described Joseph placing another seer stone in his possession in the bottom of a hat, drawing the brim of the hat over his face to block out external light, and then reading off the translated words as they appeared in the stone. It is unclear precisely when in the course of translation the Prophet used the Nephite interpreters and when he used his personal seer stone. Part of this confusion is because the term “Urim and Thummim” was eventually used to describe both the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone. In any case, the overriding theme that is emphasized in these and other accounts of the translation of the record is the miraculous nature of the work that was beyond Joseph’s natural abilities.
1:36–41 Toward the end of his life, nearly twenty years after Moroni’s appearance, Joseph would return to Malachi 3–4 in his exposition on the doctrine of sealing and of baptism for the dead (See Doctrine and Covenants 128:17–18; compare Doctrine and Covenants 2; 27:9; 110:13–16). That prophet was Christ. Moroni’s quotation of Acts 3:22–23 in turn draws from Deuteronomy 18:15, 19 and Leviticus 23:29 (compare 1 Nephi 10:4; 22:20). The fulness of the Gentiles. Alluding, perhaps, to Romans 11:25 (compare Luke 21:24; Doctrine and Covenants 45:24–30).
1:42 The Book of Mormon foretold that special witnesses would be selected to view the plates “by the power of God” and bear testimony to the world (see 2 Nephi 27:12–13; Ether 5). These special witnesses (Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer) were selected by revelation (see Doctrine and Covenants 5:11–18; 17). Other men and women had tactile encounters with the plates in various indirect ways (for instance, hefting the plates as they were wrapped in a tow frock or tracing them with a finger as they were left covered on a table). The testimony of the Eight Witnesses complements the testimony of the Three by describing their experience of having been shown the plates and handling them directly without any supernatural or visionary experience.
1:45 The apocalyptic warnings of Moroni during his second visit are consonant with the scriptures the angel cited during the first visit, particularly with Joel 2:28–32.
1:46 Moroni’s warning was prescient since according to Joseph in his 1832 history (JS1832) and Oliver Cowdery (OC1834), upon his first encounter with the plates Joseph was tempted by their monetary value. For this he earned the angel’s censure.
1:48–50 Lucy Mack Smith recounts (in LMS1844) how Joseph was initially reluctant to tell his father about his encounter with the angel out of fear that his father would not believe him. On the contrary, as related here and in another history (JS1835), Joseph Sr. not only believed the boy’s account but “wept” and assured Joseph that “it was a vision from God.
1:51 The “hill of considerable size” where the plates lay deposited goes unnamed in this history as it does in Joseph’s other firsthand accounts of the recovery of the plates. During the Prophet’s lifetime, Latter-day Saints began identifying this hill as Cumorah, the same hill mentioned in the Book of Mormon as the location of the final Nephite destruction. Joseph appears to have accepted this identification but did not explicitly make the connection until the end of his life (see Doctrine and Covenants 128:20). Whether the Prophet arrived at this identification by revelation or simply adopted a usage that was already common among members of the Church is unknown. Convenient to . . . the top. This block of text was inserted into the manuscript of the 1838 history by scribe James Mulholland on a loose slip of paper pinned to the manuscript and marked with an asterisk. A brief note from Mulholland on the slip of paper explains that this text was included at his (Mulholland’s) recommendation “in order that the history be satisfactory.”
1:53 Unmentioned here (see commentary at Joseph Smith—History 1:46) is the rebuke Joseph received from the angel after being tempted by the monetary value of the gold plates. Also unmentioned here is the detail preserved in the recollection offered by Joseph Knight (an early supporter of the Prophet) that the Prophet was instructed to bring his older brother Alvin with him to the hill the next year.
1:56 Date of Alvin’s death. The year of Alvin’s death was erroneously given as 1824 in the manuscript of the 1838 history and the T&S and MS printings. This error was not corrected until the 1981 edition of the Pearl of Great Price. In fact, Alvin died on November 19, 1823. (See also the commentary at 1:4.) Josiah Stoal. Josiah Stoal (or Stowell; 1770–1844) was a farmer and sawmill owner and early supporter of the Prophet, acting as a witnesses for the defense when in 1826 Joseph was brought before a court in South Bainbridge, New York, on charges of being a “disorderly person” because of his money digging. Stoal was also present in the Smith home in New York when Joseph arrived with the plates in 1827, and he joined the Church in 1830. Money digging. Searching for lost items and purported lost treasure through “magical” means such as seer stones or divining rods was practiced by some in Joseph’s day. The Smith family participated, to some extent, in this folk magic culture, which they and other devout Christians of the time did not necessarily see as incompatible with their faith in biblical miracles. Joseph himself had a local reputation for being someone who could be consulted to locate lost objects with a seer stone, which is why Stoal hired him in the first place. The Prophet never denied his youthful forays into money digging, but he later did distance himself from these activities and downplayed the influence folk magic had on his early upbringing.
1:57–58 Isaac Hale (1763–1839), his wife, and their daughter Emma (1804–1879) were living in Harmony, Pennsylvania, at the time of the 1825 digging excursion. Isaac was a farmer, hunter, innkeeper and, along with his daughter, active in the Methodist church in Harmony. He was deeply skeptical of his son-in-law’s claims to having seen visions (as mentioned here and confirmed by other sources), which led to increased tensions between the two and likely influenced Joseph’s memory of having felt persecuted during this time.
1:59–60 Reminiscences from sources both hostile and friendly toward Joseph confirm that some local Palmyra residents took his claims to having golden plates so seriously that they attempted to steal them on multiple occasions.
1:61–62 Joseph and Emma moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, in December 1827 with the financial assistance of Martin Harris (1783–1875), a prosperous and well-regarded Palmyra farmer. They lived at first with Emma’s parents but shortly thereafter moved into their own small home near her parents’ house.
1:63 According to Joseph’s 1832 history (JS1832) the decision to send Martin to New York with a copy of the characters from the Book of Mormon plates came at the prompting of a revelation. Some sources (including LMS1844) indicate that Joseph was at first unsure precisely how to accomplish the translation, and so the decision to consult with scholars arose, in part, to help get some initial assistance or bearings therewith. His own account. It is unknown when Harris penned this first-person account of his visit with Charles Anthon (1797–1867), a renowned scholar of ancient cultures and languages in his day. It is only preserved here in the 1838 history and was likely drafted sometime before his excommunication from the Church in December 1837 (in any event, it must have been drafted before the commencement of the composition of this history in the spring of 1838).
1:64–65 Besides Charles Anthon, Harris also visited with and consulted the linguist and diplomat Luther Bradish (1783–1863) and the scholar Samuel Mitchell (1764–1831) respecting the characters. The details and outcome of Harris’s visit with Bradish are unknown. Historical sources do not make it clear whether Harris visited Mitchell before or after Anthon. By his account, Harris makes it sound as though he visited Anthon and then Mitchell (1:65), but other sources reverse the order. In either case, these are the three known contacts Harris made as he consulted with scholars. Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic. At the time of the composition of this report “Chaldaic” or “Chaldean” was used to designate Aramaic, and “Assyriac” to designate cuneiform (that is, the script of ancient Assyria). Anthon’s account of the meeting. Anthon left three known accounts describing this encounter. In each of them, he indicates that he expressed skepticism that the characters were authentic and claimed that he warned Harris that he was being conned. Anthon’s own version of this episode thus differs dramatically from Harris’s. Anthon’s accounts are not entirely free from problems, however, because he contradicts himself in some key details. Whatever exactly was said in their meeting, Harris left convinced Joseph had an ancient record in his possession and was a lifelong supporter of the Book of Mormon. ‘I cannot read a sealed book.’ Paraphrase of Isaiah 29:11. Anthon may have uttered this line sarcastically, but Martin and Joseph took it as a sign that the biblical prophecy in Isaiah 29:11–12 had been fulfilled (see JS1832).
1:66 Chronological jump. Martin Harris’s consultation with scholars occurred in February 1828. As it appears in the canonical text, the narrative skips ahead a year to April 1829, leaving out significant events like the birth (and soon death) of Joseph and Emma’s firstborn child (a son) and the loss of the 116 pages of the translated Book of Mormon manuscript in the summer of 1828. An account of the loss of the 116 pages had previously been recorded in Joseph’s 1832 history (JS1832), and in fact, the manuscript version of this history as well as the T&S and MS publications contain an account of the loss of the 116 pages and reproduce the revelations that are now sections 3, 4, 5, and 10 of the Doctrine and Covenants. For reasons unknown (maybe to conserve space) Franklin D. Richards opted to drop this content from the 1851 Pearl of Great Price. Oliver Cowdery. Oliver Cowdery (1806–1850) served as the principal scribe in the translation of the Book of Mormon from April 1829 to its completion in mid- or late-June of that year. With some assistance, he also prepared a copy of the original manuscript of the book for publication. Besides being informed of Joseph’s divine calling by the Smith family (as mentioned in this verse), according to Joseph’s 1832 history Oliver also had a vision of the plates and felt a confirming witness from God that he should assist in the work (compare Doctrine and Covenants 6:22–23). Omitted material. The manuscript version of the history and the T&S and MS versions reproduce sections 6, 7, 8, and 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants along with additional narrative about Joseph’s work of translating with Oliver, which was omitted in the 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price.
1:68–70 Priesthood restoration accounts. The restoration of the priesthood is mentioned briefly in Joseph’s 1832 history, which speaks of “the reception of the holy priesthood by the ministering of angels.” From this it seems that the 1832 history was going to give a fuller account of the priesthood restoration, but unfortunately the text ends abruptly with Joseph narrating his time in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Over his lifetime Joseph only gradually divulged the details about the priesthood restoration, partly because of “a spirit of persecution” which obliged him to keep the details private at first (Joseph Smith—History 1:74). First- and secondhand accounts of the priesthood restoration were recorded in scattered reports. Some contemporary hostile sources from the early 1830s indicate that Oliver Cowdery and other early Latter-day Saints were claiming divine commission and the visitation of angels connected to their ecclesiastical authority. Until the sons of Levi . . . righteousness. Paraphrase of Malachi 3:3.
1:72 Joseph reports that the Aaronic Priesthood was restored on May 15, 1829. He does not, however, in this history or in any other known firsthand account record the date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood (compare Doctrine and Covenants 128:20). Rather, he only indicated vaguely in this verse that the angelic messenger promised him and Oliver that the higher priesthood would “in due time be conferred on [them].” The precise date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood is thus unknown, and historians have offered different possibilities ranging from May 1829 to the summer of 1830. Although a later date cannot be rule out, an earlier date seems more likely. In any case, later reports of the priesthood restoration are broadly corroborated by earlier accounts that refer to Joseph and Oliver’s receiving a divine commission from God through the ministry of angels.
1:75 As with the opening verses, the concluding verse in the canonized version of this history ends on a note of defiance in the face of persecution. As so presented in its canonized form, this serves as a sort of narrative envelope that frames the entire history. The 1838 history itself continues well past where it concludes here in the canonized text.
Oliver Cowdery’s Account This account first appeared in the Messenger and Advocate in October 1834 in the first of a series of eight letters to William W. Phelps (OC1834). It has appended the Prophet’s own narrative as published in the Pearl of Great Price in each edition of the text since the 1851 first edition.
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