Book of Mormon/Translation/The lost 116 pages

The lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript

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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 D&C 3 and D&C 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.

Question: Would alterations in a different handwriting to the stolen 116 pages of Book of Mormon manuscript have been readily apparent?

This perspective ignores the fact that it would have been a simple matter to publish Joseph's purported translation with alterations

One critical website has claimed that the story is "nonsensical" because any changes made to the transcript would be noticeable.[2] This perspective ignores the fact that it would have been a simple matter to publish Joseph's purported translation with alterations, and then either "lose" or conveniently destroy the original manuscript.

A local paper was happy to plagiarize the Book of Mormon text before it was even published and print excerpts in the newspaper. The Smiths had to use the threat of legal action to get him to stop.[3] This demonstrates that finding a publisher to broadcast at least some altered text--enough to discredit Joseph--would not have been difficult.

Something somewhat similar actually happened with the Spalding manuscript: the manuscript was found, but was hidden by those wishing to discredit Joseph

Something somewhat similar actually happened with the Spalding manuscript--the manuscript was found, but was hidden by those wishing to discredit Joseph. His critics simply requested affidavits from people who claimed to have read the manuscript, and who testified that it matched the Book of Mormon. This was the dominant critical theory for explaining the Book of Mormon until the Spalding manuscript was found, disproving the theory. How much better to have people (like Lucy Harris) who could publish what they claimed and would swear were Joseph's actual words from the original translation?

If this story is so "nonsensical," then why did none of Joseph's friends, allies, or family find it suspicious at the time? Like many critics' theories, this one requires everyone involved except Joseph to be complete dunces. They obviously found the possibility plausible, which suggests that if we do not, we are missing something about how they saw things. It is possible that an alteration that would not stand up to 21st century forensics might be far more persuasive to many in a rural 19th century audience, crippling the Restoration before it began.

Don Bradley, "Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages"

Don Bradley,  Proceedings of the 2012 FAIR Conference, (August 2012)
[Y]es, there really are things we can know about what was in the lost pages. There are several kinds of evidence for their content....Using the various types of evidence for the Book of Lehi’s contents, and piecing together the various fragments like puzzle pieces, a larger picture of the book’s contents begins to emerge.

Click here to view the complete article

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources


  1. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 67.
  2. website (as of 8 May 2012). Page:
  3. "Prior to the publication of the book some pages of the manuscript were published by Abner Cole, an ex-justice of the peace, who published the Palmyra Reflector under the name Obadiah Dogberry. On December 29, 1829, Dogberry published the present Chapter 1 of First Nephi and the first the verses of Chapter 2. The issues of January 13, and 22, 1830, published more the Book of Mormon text, but Smith threatened to take Cole to court for violation of copyright and Cole ran no more of the excerpts." - Leonard J. Arrington, "Mormonism: From Its New York Beginnings," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 13 no. 3, 125.