Book of Mormon Notes– How deep can you dig?

2011, March 3

“Book of Mormon: A Response to Critics of Joseph Smith’s Story of the 116 Lost Pages of the Book of Mormon Translation” by grego

Book of Mormon: A Response to Critics of Joseph Smith’s Story of the 116 Lost Pages of the Book of Mormon Translation


So, Joseph Smith gets these golden plates, and starts translating (… or, begins his made-up story with) the Book of Mormon with 1 Nephi.

Whoops! Not so.

1 Nephi was actually written out by Joseph Smith after the completion of the translation of the large plates (Mosiah – Moroni). When his translation of the book of Lehi was lost, instead of going back and translating it again, he continued from Mosiah to Moroni; then he translated the small plates (1 Nephi – Words of Mormon).

He was told that the book of Lehi was not to be retranslated, but that the Lord had prepared for such an event; that in fact, evil men had the pages, and were going to forge the document/ make changes in an attempt to discredit the work. Here’s the revelation concerning this:

Doctrine and Covenants 10:11 And behold, I say unto you, that because [evil men] have altered the words, they read contrary from that which you translated and caused to be written;
12 And, on this wise, the devil has sought to lay a cunning plan, that he may destroy this work;
13 For he hath put into their hearts to do this, that by lying they may say they have caught you in the words which you have pretended to translate.
14 Verily, I say unto you, that I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing.
15 For behold, he has put it into their hearts to get thee to tempt the Lord thy God, in asking to translate it over again.
16 And then, behold, they say and think in their hearts—We will see if God has given him power to translate; if so, he will also give him power again;
17 And if God giveth him power again, or if he translates again, or, in other words, if he bringeth forth the same words, behold, we have the same with us, and we have altered them;
18 Therefore they will not agree, and we will say that he has lied in his words, and that he has no gift, and that he has no power;
19 Therefore we will destroy him, and also the work; and we will do this that we may not be ashamed in the end, and that we may get glory of the world.
31 For, behold, they shall not accomplish their evil designs in lying against those words. For, behold, if you should bring forth the same words they will say that you have lied and that you have pretended to translate, but that you have contradicted yourself.
32 And, behold, they will publish this, and Satan will harden the hearts of the people to stir them up to anger against you, that they will not believe my words.
33 Thus Satan thinketh to overpower your testimony in this generation, that the work may not come forth in this generation.
34 But behold, here is wisdom, and because I show unto you wisdom, and give you commandments concerning these things, what you shall do, show it not unto the world until you have accomplished the work of translation.
35 Marvel not that I said unto you: Here is wisdom, show it not unto the world—for I said, show it not unto the world, that you may be preserved.
36 Behold, I do not say that you shall not show it unto the righteous;
37 But as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous, therefore I say unto you, hold your peace until I shall see fit to make all things known unto the world concerning the matter.

If Smith was making it all up and couldn’t remember what he had written in the first place, there would be no need for unbelievers to alter the words; a better proof would have been to immediately and knowingly put the documents “in escrow” and then Smith could retranslate them; but had this been done and Smith retranslated correctly, it would have been proof that he was a prophet, which was definitely not wanted (or it would have proven he had a great memory).

Some have said that the reason Smith didn’t go back and “retranslate” was because he couldn’t remember what he had written; this is, as often happens with Book of Mormon criticism, contradictory with the oft-used argument to explain how he faked the translation: that Smith never translated, but had the whole thing noted and planned out and memorized and just read it off, pretending to translate. (Once more, this problematic polemic dual polarity of “Joseph Smith genius/ idiot” raises its head, but once more, is seemingly ignored by Book of Mormon critics.) Or, as the Tanners wrote, he could “rather eas[ily] remember the major details, but that “the names and details would become increasingly difficult to remember”, and that he would “undoubtedly make many mistakes with regard to names, cities, lands, kings, military leaders and battles”.
Wow, the logical calisthenics one could go through, and for what? What was this, a history book of military campaigns?
First, let’s take a look at all those things. There aren’t too many people in the beginning, for a while. For the Nephites, there is pretty much one city worth mentioning: Nephi. Lamanites: not much at all. Names: well, pretty much just what is in there—Lehi’s family (that wouldn’t change, right?). Kings? As Jacob says, the names of their kings were: Nephi 1, Nephi 2, Nephi 3, etc. Military leaders and battles? Nephi leads the Nephites, while Laman and Lemuel lead the Lamanites. Um… not hard.
Then, let’s look at what *is* in the Book of Mormon in those chapters that are in the large plates (Mosiah – Moroni), in the “war chapters”: off the top of my head I recall Captain Moroni, Teancum, Amalickiah, Ammoron, Helaman, Lehi… oh my, I forget the Zoramite’s name! Maybe it *was* too hard for Smith, too. Yes, Smith the idiot would have definitely had problems remembering all those things the Tanners wish had been in there to make their story work better (great arguing from a negative, really), but, like not in the rest of the Book of Mormon records, likely weren’t… He definitely would have had problems—other than those many moments that Smith was a genius.
So what does Smith “replace” lands, cities, wars, military leaders, etc. with? Surely something much easier for his brain and memory, no doubt? Nope. Instead, there are many scriptures containing prophecies, doctrinal expositions, important speeches, and lots of little lessons; the smaller plates (1 Nephi – Words of Mormon) are rich. Given the two options, which is harder? No doubt the second, which is what replaced the first. The Tanners seem deluded in thinking that Smith was stupid and the second writings were much easier for him than the first.
Note also that since the smaller plates were not about history much, but stressed spiritual things, much of what is in small plates section doesn’t have to be there! There is no “well, that lost history was 116 pages, so I need to come up with 116 pages or so (of history or anything else) to replace it”. There was no need to copy Isaiah (to fill up pages because he couldn’t think of anything else), or to write much. Frankly, he could have cut the beginning by at least half.
Maybe Smith was too stupid to realize that generally the more he wrote, the more problems there could (and likely would) be, and the more material critics would have to work with. Nevertheless, realize also that what is in the beginning, is very strong apologetically, with regards to the Middle East.
Maybe Smith was too stupid, thinking that perhaps Americans (remember, many think Smith was trying to write a bestseller to get rich) preferred reading Isaiah and doctrinal expositions, etc., instead of war stories with lands, cities, kings, military leaders, etc., mostly with made-up names.

The fact that the original translation didn’t (and still hasn’t) come out suggests to me that it was destroyed (so wehter there was a retranslation or new material, is immaterial), or that to me that Joseph Smith’s translation of 1 Nephi was brilliant, in that those hoping to destroy the work by showing contradictions, couldn’t find any between two separate records of the same time and journey (Lehi leaving Jerusalem – Promised Land). This means that either he did two real translations, or he *could* remember everything he had written, and therefore in the second writing didn’t contradict himself (which goes along with the result of the rest of the Book of Mormon).

Sure, of course there is the possibility that this entire 116 lost pages was just a made-up story to shore up the translation story: it was realized the beginning writing was a failure/ practice and now needed to be disappeared, Martin Harris’ wife (and others) never saw it, or best yet, nothing was ever written/ it never happened; and that the period of Joseph losing the fit of translation/ silence was actually a time of “rethinking” the book’s plan.

But critics at the time said there were the pages, so that wouldn’t work; even if there wasn’t an evil plan and the pages weren’t found and critics gave different answers as to what happened to the papers.

Many said that the lost pages were burned; if the people were honest and that were the case, why wouldn’t Joseph go ahead with the translation? I imagine that if the people were honest and that had been the case, he would have; God told him otherwise.

But no such evil plan has ever been uncovered!, one might say. Well, of course not—even had a master forger done it, years later it might have been possible to discover the forgery and find the claim against Smith being a false prophet, to be false itself; and if the evil men waited, maybe Smith would think there was no need to worry, and would translate it later, and then they could catch him. After he died, it was useless if they couldn’t find anything contradictory between what was in it and what was in the published Book of Mormon.

So why? People were already violently against Joseph Smith and the work. Had he or the religion been discredited by a forgery at that time—even if it had been a horrible forgery of a word or two, and even if it were announced for just a short period—it likely would have succeeded in its purpose of bringing a deathblow to the work.

But, it “would be almost impossible to alter the manuscript without detection” ( , right?
Well, only if it would be impossible to pass off every other lie, hoax, and forgeries, right?

But, surely it “could not have done so without it being very obvious that the original document was altered” (
Says who? That’s the whole point of a forgery—to make it so no one can tell it’s a forgery (at least until the purpose has been accomplished). That would have been nice!

And the whole purpose of stealing the pages (or else why steal them and not give them back in the first place?) was this: to kill the work. There was no intent to see if it was true or not, or to provide the truth, but to stop it.

Another critic argues (
“Martin wrote with ink on foolscap. Any alteration would be very noticeable and not convincing to anyone.
In addition to the rubbing out of old words and rewriting of new words, the handwriting would have been different. Any rudimentary handwriting inspection would have determined that it had been altered, especially easy to determine given that the new handwriting would have occurred in the same spot as the rubbed-out and re-written words.”
Um, how does this critic know how the lost pages were forged?? And, is the critic an expert on forgery? The fact that so many successful forgeries have succeeded under close inspection, and in retrospect seemed ludicrous, should allow for a little more understanding here.
But let’s say that it actually is a bad forgery… Do you think the evil men were going to let Smith and friends “take a look”, or the doubter of their words, or the common man for that matter? I don’t think so.
Or would they find a fellow critic who would be willing to write a few columns in the newspaper, and find a critic in a learned member of another religion or church to confirm and comment on the documents being original?

Would there really be a need for master forgers to rewrite large sections, as the Tanners and others have argued? Of course not. I mean, look at it right now, over 175 years later: many critics’ Book of Mormon arguments hinge on one word. Look at “Adieu”—this *one word* in the book has been toted ad nauseum as a deathblow to the entire work; “in the *land* of Jerusalem”—one word— has had numerous attacks by critics; and there are many other similar arguments and “problems with the Book of Mormon”. Is it hard to believe that the alteration had to necessarily be long and complicated?
What about scratch-outs? All the other scribes had them, why not Martin Harris? And if so, isn’t it easy to alter things that way?
Also, knowing what we know from research on false news stories and redactions, it’s clear even if a story about the translations being contradictory (due to the original being altered—but this little part wouldn’t be mentioned yet; or even “some men claim there are problems”/ “it’s possible”/ “I give my word we didn’t alter it”) were published even once before the alteration was discovered and confirmed, it might have seriously injured the work, or worse.

The critic continues:
“…they could have changed some names of people or places or altered events that are central to the beginning of the Book of Mormon and thereby prove that Joseph’s new translation was in error. If they really thought their alterations would have gone unnoticed they could have changed the names of Nephi’s brothers or the cities they came from or many other items that would have been included in both sets of plates.”
Well, with the spelling of many words at that time, including names, based on personal liking and phonetics, and with examples in English already (Larsen or Larson?), I seriously doubt the alterations of letters in names would have any effect, even in the common man’s mind.

“If the work was really of God, the manuscript could be reproduced word for word without a mistake.”
Is this serious? Any references? Perhaps even from any prophet in the Bible? (Please let me know if you find any.)

“If, however, Joseph created it himself, his memory would hardly be adequate to such a task, without numberless changes or verbal differences-and thus “give himself away,” since he loudly professed to be all the time aided “by the gift and power of God.”
So now, Joseph is an idiot/ has poor memory.
Verbal differences? What does that mean? He would mess up “gather together” for “unite”, or “go” for “come”, or use “had been traveling” for “traveled”? (Yeah, I know, this is knitpicking, I’ll try to stop and stay with the big picture.)

“Since the lost pages never surfaced in any form, it is likely that they were destroyed immediately by Martin Harris’s wife. Therefore, the entire story about someone altering pages is impossible and just made up by Joseph because he knew he could not reproduce those same pages as he was not really translating the Book of Mormon story.”
The first sentence is illogical, but let’s continue to the main point. If the pages were burned, there would be no need to worry about an alteration and being proven wrong, and he could have done it again. Either way, it works without problems, right?

“It is convenient that the prophets of old just happened to make an extra set of plates 1500 years ago to cover this contingency, isn’t it? Not only are the 116 pages lost, we have an explanation of how it was fixed right in the document itself written thousands of years before the event happened.”
Yes and no. Somewhat convenient, but there is no real clear explanation in the Book of Mormon about it. It’s like this: “I was locked out of the house because I had lent my keys away, when my wife pulled out another set, saying, ‘I had a feeling I should bring these…'” Is that impossible? Has that never happened to anyone, maybe even the author? How convenient! Is that story obviously a lie now?

“Although it would be possible for a master forger to forge the documents in the early 1800s, what are the odds that either one of the evil men trying to bring down Joseph was either a master forger or had access to a master forger? It’s not a common skill and since money wasn’t the motive, how could they pay for a skilled forger to even begin this kind of undertaking?”
Ok, at least the author has gone from “impossible” to “possible”! What are the odds that Smith could have written the book? What are the odds that he knew all the Hebraisms? What are the odds that evil men could find a dowser of exceptional skill (which they did)? What are the odds that leaders of other churches would pay for it? Wait, if the key were money, why would anyone fight against Mormonism at all?

“Martin Harris proclaiming that the document was a forgery would not have been so easily dismissed.”
First, how is the critic so sure that Harris would proclaim “that the document was a forgery”? That’s an assumption, especially in light of Doctrine and Covenants 3 and 10.
And if Smith couldn’t remember what he made up and said, how would Harris magically remember all he had or hadn’t written?
And why woudn’t his word have been “so easily dismissed”? Not even his wife believed him and Smith! And I’m sure others would have noted that. Also, from “A biographer of Harris wrote that his “imagination was excitable and fecund.” Harris once imagined that a sputtering candle was the work of the devil. He told a friend that he had met Jesus in the shape of a deer and walked and talked with him for two or three miles. (John A. Clark letter, August 31, 1840 in Early Mormon Documents, 2: 271.) The local Presbyterian minister called him “a visionary fanatic.” (Ronald W. Walker, “Martin Harris: Mormonism’s Early Convert,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Winter 1986):34-35.) A friend, who praised Harris as “universally esteemed as an honest man,” also declared that Harris’s mind “was overbalanced by ‘marvellousness'” and that his belief in earthly visitations of angels and ghosts gave him the local reputation of being crazy.(Pomroy Tucker Reminiscence, 1858 in Early Mormon Documents 3: 71.) Another friend said, “Martin was a man that would do just as he agreed with you. But, he was a great man for seeing spooks.””
Are you sure it would have been hard to dismiss his word that it was a forgery? Put him up against say, a respected minister or two of the community and three men of whatever standing and Harris’ wife. What are the chances of his testimony holding up strongly, as a matter of opinion among the people, especially if Harris’ wife were to say Smith and her husband were just trying to write a book to con people and make money?

“If the testimonies of faithful LDS aren’t shaken by having Egyptologists demonstrate how Joseph Smith’s translation of the Egyptian papyri facsimiles in the Book of Abraham are totally wrong, then why would such an easy explanation as Martin Harris saying the pages were forged cause concern? To your point ‘why should someone believe the Church when we have the proof right here in front of us’ that Joseph did not translate the Book of Abraham facsimiles correctly?”
Sounds like a good argument, but where’s the proof that any of these claims are true? Once more, over time, the Abraham argument tilts more and more in favor of Smith.
It seems the author is so intent on pointing out other problems with the LDS Church, a simple matter is forgotten: there wasn’t a large group of “faithful LDS”! In fact, there weren’t *any* LDS. Whoops.

“Also it would have prompted a detailed scrutiny of certain pages and if any inconsistencies such as slightly different handwriting, different paper, different ink, etc. were found only on the pages that Martin said he didn’t write, then it would be enough evidence to at least say it’s a stalemate – he said/she said. The faithful LDS would of course believe the LDS person and the critics would believe the non-LDS people. The Church would go on.”
Yes, it might have—and even a redemptive scrutiny would have been too late.
Once more, the author assumes this was all about “faithful LDS” believing Smith and that the (non-existant, yet-to-be-established) Church “would go on”…

“ALSO, if it would be so easy to forge the 116 pages to discredit Smith then why wouldn’t the forgers have tried to alter the 116 pages even if Joseph was to tell the same basic story but from another source? As stated above, the forgers could still very easily have changed things that would be common to both the first 116 pages and to the rest of the BOM and just as effectively proved Smith a fraud. For example they could have changed the names of people like Nephi to Napham or change the names of cities like Jerusalem to Galilee or change any number of things that would cause problems for the published part of the Book of Mormon.”
In addition to many assumptions, I have already critiqued these arguments in response(s) further up.

“Continuing on with the Book of Mormon translation does not prevent conspirators from presenting the Book of Lehi with contradictions in it. This was master forger Mark Hofmann’s ultimate goal, to forge the book of Lehi with contradictions to the rest of the Book of Mormon in it. Because the Book of Lehi presumably contained the key details on how the Israelites arrive at the New World, more or less the same story had to be told in different words – the Book of Nephi.”
Am I missing an argument here, or is there really nothing to begin with?

“If the evil men were smart enough to be able to have the documents forged to such a degree as to escape detection, then surely they would realized that they could still foil Smith by changing some of the 116 pages to cause inconstancies with the BOM story.”
Perhaps. But it seems they didn’t.

“Our thoughts
We find it hard to believe that Satan and some evil men were really behind the plot to steal the 116 pages. The stolen pages would have eventually come forth, in probably a failed attempt to discredit Joseph.”
Wow, now convenience is on the other foot… Beliefs and assumptions don’t win arguments.

“If nothing else they would have been worth a lot of money so we can’t imagine why the evil men, if they existed, would not have used the pages to either try to discredit Joseph, ransom them to Martin and Joseph or hold on to them to eventually sell them. The stolen pages wouldn’t have simply been destroyed by men who went to such trouble to obtain them.”
Just a moment ago I was hearing the critic say there was no money in this; now it’s been changed to “they would have been worth a lot of money”—which one is it? Or is it all just based on a matter of argumental convenience?

“Instead it seems much more plausible that Martin Harris’ wife had immediately destroyed the pages to defy her husband. If that’s the case we wonder if there could be any other reason why Joseph would make up the story about Satan’s plan to discredit him? We have not yet been able to think of any other reasonable explanation to answer Joseph’s actions other than he was not really translating an ancient document as he claimed.”
Plausible. If so, what difference would it make?

“A further problem is that Joseph Smith appears to have falsified canonized scripture (D&C Section 10 and the inroduction to the 1830 version of the BOM) by making up a story about evil men stealing the lost 116 pages in an attempt to discredit him when it seems obvious that there were no evil men and that Mrs. Harris likely destroyed the manuscript. If Joseph did make up this story, and have it canonized as scripture in the Doctrine & Covenants, then how can his other scriptures that he brought forth be trusted?”
Beliefs, assumptions, desires to get extra unrelated hits in on an enemy… Please, at least some facts, evidence, and/ or logic! This is so shaky, it can’t even stand.

“There’s an episode of the cartoon South Park called “All About the Mormons”. In the episode, a faithful LDS family tells the story of the lost 116 pages to a neighbor boy they are trying to convert. They tell this story as proof that Joseph Smith was telling the truth and Mormonism is true. Perhaps the most telling comment we’ve ever heard about the lost 116 pages debacle comes from the neighborhood boy, who, after hearing the story of the lost 116 pages, exclaims “”Wait, Mormons actually know this story and they still believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet?”
Depends on what story you hear, but yes, I do. Am I a Mormon just because of this story? No, and I wouldn’t expect anyone to be. Are you an anti-Mormon just because of this story? Given your arguments here, I doubt it.

“Sandra Tanner has an interesting theory about the lost 116 pages. We haven’t fully explored this theory but basically it states that the retranslated portion of the first part of the Book of Mormon is very different from the rest of the book. Names and specific details seem to be intentionally left out from this section of the book such as the names of Ishmael’s daughters and names of kings. The reasoning is that Joseph probably wasn’t 100% sure of some of the specific details of the original 116 pages and he didn’t want to take the chance that the lost 116 pages may contradict him on names or other details. Therefore, he purposely omitted certain details, which is why the beginning of the Book of Mormon seems to be different than the rest of the Book of Mormon. When Joseph was dictating the events that occurred after the time period, that was covered by the original 116 pages, he then started including more specific details that would not have been in the original lost pages and could not be challenged.”
Nice theory. Unfortunately for the theory, this is exactly the reason for the small plates—it was already said in Doctrine and Covenants 10.
In fact, it’s also in the Book of Mormon, in 1 Nephi 1:16-17: And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account.
17 But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life.

In addition to all that…
Doctrine and Covenants 3:12-13:
12 And when thou deliveredst up that which God had given thee sight and power to translate, thou deliveredst up that which was sacred into the hands of *a wicked man* (Martin Harris),
13 Who has set at naught the counsels of God, and has broken the most sacred promises which were made before God, and has depended upon his own judgment and boasted in his own wisdom.

Doctrine and Covenants 10:
1 Now, behold, I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings which you had power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of *a wicked man* (He says it once more; Martin Harris), you have lost them.
5 Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and *that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work*.
6 Behold, *they have sought to destroy you; yea, even the man in whom you have trusted (Martin Harris) has sought to destroy you*.
7 And for this cause I said that *he is a wicked man, for he has sought to take away the things wherewith you have been entrusted; and he has also sought to destroy your gift*.
8 And because you have delivered the writings into his hands, behold, wicked men have taken them from you.
9 Therefore, you have delivered them up, yea, that which was sacred, unto wickedness.
10 And, behold, Satan hath put it into *their* hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated, which have gone out of your hands.
29 Now, behold, *they* have altered these words, because Satan *saith unto them: He hath deceived you* (mostly Martin Harris and his wife?)—and thus he flattereth them away to do iniquity, to get thee to tempt the Lord thy God.
33 Thus Satan thinketh to overpower *your* (not Martin Harris’) testimony in this generation, that the work may not come forth in this generation.
36 Behold, I do not say that you shall not show it unto the righteous;
37 But as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous (like with Martin Harris), therefore I say unto you, hold your peace until I shall see fit to make all things known unto the world concerning the matter.

Mrs. Harris and others confirmed that Martin Harris was hoping to make money, reports Bushman from other sources in “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling”. What if one of those evil men hoping to profit from this alteration venture also happened to be Martin Harris, and along with the forgery, would come his false testimony? How would that have been met? Given what the Lord says, this could have been a possibility.

Not that it would matter, I guess, but if Smith knew who asked him to retranslate the lost portion, he could probably figure out who had them.

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