Mormon History

Knowledge of the BOM in Ohio Before Publication - 1829

Painesville Telegraph - September 22, 1829

"Golden Bible." -- The Palmyra Freeman says, the greatest piece of superstition that has ever come within our knowledge, now occupies the attention of a few individuals of this quarter. It is generally known and spoken of as the "Golden Bible." Its proselytes give the following account of it:  In the fall of 1827, a person by the name of Joseph Smith of Manchester, Ontario county, reported that he had been visited in a dream by the spirit of the Almighty, and informed that in a certain hill in that town, was deposited this Golden Bible, containing an ancient record of a divine nature and origin. After having been thrice thus visited, as he states he proceeded to the spot and after having penetrating "mother earth a short distance, the Bible was found together with a huge pair of spectacles! He had directed, however, not to let any mortal being examine them, under no less penalty than instant death! They were therefore nicely wrapped up and excluded from the vulgar gaze of poor wicked mortals!" It was said that the leaves of the bible were plates of gold about 8 inches long, 6 wide and one eighth of an inch thick, on which were engraved characters or hieroglyphicks; by placing the spectacles in a hat, and looking into it, Smith could (he said so at least) interpret the characters. An account of this discovery was soon circulated. The subject was almost invariably treated as it should have been with contempt. A few however believed the "Golden" story, among whom was Martin Harris, an honest and industrious farmer of the town of Paltry. So blindly enthusiastic was Harris, that he took some of the characters interpreted by Smith, and went in search of some one, besides the interpreter, who was learned enough to English them; but to all whom he applied (among the number was Professor Mitchell, of New York,) happened not to be possessed of sufficient knowledge to give satisfaction! Harris returned, and set Smith to work at interpreting the Bible. He has at length performed the task, and the work is soon to be put to press in Palmyra. Its language and doctrines are said to be far superior to the book of life!

Note 1: Eber D. Howe took on Madison Kelley as a partner in June of 1829. The June 26th masthead ran the addition "Geauga Free Press," which lasted for several months, until Kelley left the business.

Note 2: The Sept. 22, 1829 issue of the Painesville Telegraph has been generally overlooked by the historians of Mormonism. For example, the biographer of Sidney Rigdon, in his 1994 book omits reference to this issue's "Golden Bible" article entirely, saying instead that "complete back files" for Howe's paper "do not exist," and then skips forward in time to cite the Mormonism article in the Nov. 16, 1830 issue. The author's alleged oversight of the Sept. 22, 1829 article appears suspicious in light of the fact that the entire run of the early Painesville Telegraph has long been available on microfilm on the shelves of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City -- a repository in which this particular biographer reportedly conducted a significant amount of his original research. Interestingly enough, the Sept. 22, 1829 "Golden Bible" article is also missing from the otherwise fairly complete "Articles on Mormonism and Mormon Leaders Appearing in the Painesville (Ohio) Telegraph," a compilation made by Milton V. Backman, Jr. and Larry Salsbury during the 1970s, and since then available at the BYU Lee Library. It seems that certain Mormon researchers have consciously left mention of this particular news item out of their historical reporting -- thus allowing them to assert that Sidney Rigdon never heard of Smith's "Golden Bible" until a copy was presented to him by Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt on Oct. 27, 1830. However, as Rigdon biographer admits, two of Rigdon's religious students, Eliza R. Snow and Orson Hyde, both admitted to knowing of the Book of Mormon at an early date. No doubt these two young "restorationists" read about Smith in their local newspaper in 1829, just as Rev. Sidney Rigdon must have.

Note 3: Eber D. Howe's reprint is a slightly abbreviated one. For a more complete reproduction of Jonathan A. Hadley's Palmyra Freeman article of Aug. 11, 1829, see the Aug. 27, 1829 issue of the Niagara Courier.