Mormon History

Translating the BOM - 1879

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune October 25, 1879


"Joseph Smith, the Prophet, by his Mother, Lucy Smith." is still another of those rare little books, which can not be to carefully read in order to obtain a correct understanding of Mormonism. The Josephite Mormons are just now republishing it, but in Utah it has been for many years under ban; Brigham Young having pronounced it untrustworthy, and ordered it called in and destroyed. It is therefore sure to contain things that Mormons would like to know. Isn't this human nature? In her life of the Prophet Joseph, Mrs. Smith says:

After these witnesses returned to the house, the angel again made his appearance to Joseph, at which time Joseph delivered up the plates into the angel's hands. The ensuing evening we held a meeting, in which all the witnesses bore testimony to the facts as above stated.

* * * When Joseph was about starting for Palmyra, where the writings were to be executed, Doctor Mcintyre came in and informed us that forty men were collected in the capacity of a mob, with the view of waylaying Joseph on his way thither; that they requested him, (Doctor Mcintyre), as they had done once before, to take command of the company, and, that, upon his refusing to do so, one Mr. Huzzy, a hatter of Palmyra, proffered his services, and was chosen as their leader.

On hearing this I besought Joseph not to go; but he smiled at my fears, saying, "Never mind, mother, just put your trust in God, and nothing will hurt me to-day." In a short time he set out for Palmyra. On his way thither, lay a heavy strip of timber, about half a mile in width, and, beyond it, on the right side of the road, lay a field belonging to David Jacaway. When he came to this field, he found the mob seated on the string of fence running along the road. Coming to Mr. Huzzy first, he took off his hat, and good-naturedly saying, "Good morning, Mr. Huzzy," passed on to the next, whom he saluted in like manner, and the next, and so on till he came to the last. This struck them with confusion, and while they were pondering in amazement, he passed on, leaving them perched upon the fence, like so many roosting chickens, and arrived at Palmyra without being molested. Here he met Mr. Grandin, and writings were drawn up between them to this effect: That half of the price for printing was to be paid by Martin Harris, and the residue by my two sons, Joseph and Hyrum. These writings were afterwards signed by all the parties concerned.

(In a revelation to Martin, one of the most solemn and impressive in the whole collection, Martin is told, in the Book of Commandments, curtly, to "pay the printer's debt." It now reads, "Pay the debt thou hast contracted with the printer.")

When Joseph returned from Palmyra, he said, "Well, mother, the Lord has been on my side today, the Devil has not overpowered me in any of my proceedings. Did I not tell you that I should be delivered from the hands of all my enemies? They thought they were going to perform great feats; they have done wonders to prevent me from getting the book printed; they mustered themselves together, and got upon the fence, made me a low bow, and went home, and I'll warrant you they wish they had stayed there in the first place. Mother, there is a God in heaven, and I know it."

Soon after this, Joseph secured the copyright.

Mr. Pomeroy Tucker, who edited the Wayne Sentinel at the time the Book of Mormon was printed on its press, gives a slightly different view of the relation sustained by the prophet and his father's house towards their neighbors at this time. In his "Origin and Rise of Mormonism" he says:

An anecdote touching this subject used to be related by William T. Hussey and Azel Vandruver. They were notorious wags, and were intimately acquainted with Smith. They called as his friends at his residence, and strongly importuned him for an inspection of the "golden book," offering to take upon themselves the risk of the death-penalty denounced. Of course, the request could not be complied with; but they were permitted to go to the chest with its owner, and see where the thing was, and observe its shape and size, concealed under a piece of thick canvas. Smith, with his accustomed solemnity of demeanor, positively persisting in his refusal to uncover it, Hussey became impetuous, and (suiting his action to his word) ejaculated, "Egad! I'll see the critter, live or die!" And stripping off the cover, a large tile-brick was exhibited! But Smith's fertile imagination was equal to the emergency. He claimed that his friends had been sold by a trick of his; and "treating" with the customary whiskey hospitalities, the affair ended in good-nature.

Mr. Tucker adds:

The whole idea of an attempt to harm Smith in any way, or to rob him of his "golden Bible," is purely a Mormon invention. * * * How to reconcile the act of Harris in signing his name to such a statement, in view of the character of honesty which has always been conceded to him, could never be easily explained. In reply to uncharitable suggestions of his neighbors, he used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon about 'seeing with the spiritual eye,' and the like."

Lucy Smith's "Life of the Prophet" says that the work of translating the Book of Mormon was concluded before the testimony of the witnesses was obtained. (Chap. xxxi.) Mrs. Smith says:

As soon as the Book of Mormon was translated, Joseph dispatched a messenger to Mr. Smith, bearing intelligence of the completion of the work, and a request that Mr. Smith and myself should come immediately to Waterloo. [where the prophet was living, at Whitmer's] The same evening we conveyed this intelligence to Martin Harris, for we loved the man [and depended upon his money], although his weakness had cost us much trouble. Hearing this, he greatly rejoiced, and determined to go straightway to Waterloo, to congratulate Joseph upon his success. Accordingly, the next morning we all set off together, and before sunset met Joseph and Oliver at Mr. Whitmer's.

The next day, Mrs. Smith says, the testimony of three witnesses was obtained. In answerr to the question of Orson Pratt, put to David Whitmer at the interview last summer -- "Do you remember what time you saw the plates?" David replied -- "It was in June, 1829 -- the latter part of the month, and the eight witnesses saw them, I think. on the next day or the day after."

It was probably the fore part and not the latter part of June, when these testimonies were obtained, as both Lucy Smith's "Life of the Prophet" and "The History of Joseph" say that the copyright of the Book of Mormon was obtained after the testimonies had been given. The giving of precise dates and definite details seems for some reason to be avoided in these transcendently important chronicles. The date of obtaining the copyright of the Book of Mormon (not furnished by any Mormon publication) is June 11th, 1829.

Says Mrs. Smith:

Before Joseph returned to Pennsylvania, where he had left his wife, he received a commandment, which was, in substance, as follows:

First, that Oliver Cowdery should transcribe the whole manuscript.

Second, that he should take but one copy at a time to the office, so that if one copy should get destroyed, there would still be a copy remaining.

Third, that in going to and from the office, he should always have a guard to attend him, for the purpose of protecting the manuscript.

Fourth, that a guard should be kept constantly on the watch, both night and day, about the house, to protect the manuscript from malicious persons, who would infest the house for the purpose of destroying the manuscript. All these things were strictly attended to, as the Lord commanded Joseph. After giving these instructions, Joseph returned to Pennsylvania.

Mr. Orson Pratt edited this Life of the Prophet; and in his and Mr. Smith's interview with D. Whitmer, last summer, Joseph F. Smith "suggested that perhaps there were two copies of the manuscript. But Mr. Whitmer replied that to the best of his knowledge there never was ut the one copy. Herein, of course" (adds the reporter of this interview in Deseret News. 16 Nov., 1878.) "he (Whitmer) is evidently uninformed."

But if David Whitmer was 'uninformed,' who is informed respecting the original "transaction?" What became of it? Who took charge of it? Did the same 'angel' who took away the plates, take possession of the first "translation" of them? And was this angel Nephi, Moroni, or Rigdoni?

In the presence of some half-dozen persons (says this report) David Whitmer brought out the MSS. of the Book of Mormon. We examined them closely and those who knew the handwriting pronounced the whole of them, excepting comparatively a few pages, to be in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. It was thought, that these few pages were in the handwriting of Emma Smith and John and Christian Whitmer. We found that the names of the eleven witnesses were, however, subscribed in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. When the question was asked Mr. Whitmer if he and the other witnesses did or did not sign the testimony themselves, Mr. W. replied, "each signed his own name." "Then where are the original signatures?" D. W. -- "I don;t know. I suppose Oliver copied them, but this I know is a correct copy." Some one suggested that he being the last one left of the eleven witnessesm he ought to certify to this copy. Sawyer D. Whitmer (David's son) suggested that he had better reflect about it first and be very cautious.

What became of the autograph testimonies? Did the same, "angel" who took away the plates, take possession not only of the original "translation" of them, but also, the autograph testimonies of the eleven witnesses? And was this angel Nephi, Moroni, or Rigdoni?

The gist is here. The translation was either wholly or nearly completed by June 11th, 1829, when the copyright of the Book of Mormon was obtained. About the middle of April, 1829, according to their mutual statement, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery met for the first time. Dates are of the utmost consequence just on these points. Says the History of Joseph Smith:

In the beginning of the month of June (1829) David Whitmer came to the place where we were residing for the purpose of having us accompany him to his father's place [Fayette, otherwise Waterloo, N. Y.] and there remain until we should finish the work. He proposed that we should have our board free of charge, and the assistance of one of his brothers to write for me, as also his own assistence [assistance] when convenient. Having much need of such timely aid in an undertaking so arduous, we accepted the invitation, and accompanied Mr. Whitmer to his father's house, and there resided until the translation was finished, and the copy-right secured.

Cowdery's statement (or the statement put into his mouth) is --

I wrote with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by that book, "holy interpreters." * * * That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. I wrote it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the prophet.

The History of Joseph Smith does not mention where the prophet was nor what he was doing from the time of obtaining the copyright of the Book of Mormon, June 11, 1829, until April 6, 1830, when the Mormon Church was organized.

Mrs. Smith states that, after securing the copyright and giving injunctions to Cowdery concerning the manuscript, Joseph returned to Pennsylvania.

The question naturally arises, how long did it take the Book of Mormon, save a few pages, to fall from the prophet's mouth on to the twelve or fifteen hundred sheets of paper written by Oliver Cowdery? Would six weeks suffice? It possibly might -- with the miraculous and constant aid of "the Lord." A week, for that matter, would be time enough, or a day, under such circumstances. O foolish Galations, who hath bewitched you?

Note 1: This is yet another article penned by James T. Cobb in his 1879 series on Mormonism for the Tribune. Cobb goes a bit beyond the 1867 speculation of Pomeroy Tucker, who believed Sidney Rigdon had played the role of "John the Baptist" in early Mormon mytholgizing. Cobb here identifies "Rigdoni" as a potential candidate for the "angel" who interacted with Joseph Smith, Jr. before, during and after the composition of the Book of Mormon manuscript in English. The same idea would eventually be picked up and publicized by the Rev. William A. Stanton of Pittsburgh, in sermons he preached in that city during July, 1899. See, for example, Stanton's interesting article for the Chicago Standard of July 22, 1899, entitled "The Relation of Sidney Rigdon to the Book of Mormon," as well as Rigdon biographer Rev. William H. Whitsitt's published identification of Sidney as the angel in Samuel M. Jackson's 1891 book, The Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge and in Rev. John F. Hurst's 1893 book, A Short History of the Christian Church.

Note 2: It seems slightly preternatural that Mr. Cobb, writing in 1879, should choose to close his article with the particular biblical quotation he uses, having spoken previously in the text so often of "Rigdoni." According to Emily Coburn Austin, the Rev. Sidney Rigdon visited the Colesville area of early Mormon activity well before most accounts have him being acquainted with Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, etc. In her 1882 book, Emily says: "Sidney Rigdon came into Colesville [and] preached to a numerous congregation. We did not class him as a Mormon, as we were informed that he was a Baptist minister, from Paynsville, Ohio. The words of his text -- 'O foolish Gallatians, who hath bewitched you that ye should not obey the truth?' It was, indeed interesting, and great attention and silence prevailed; and it was acknowledged by all to be the best sermon ever preached in that vicinity. He stayed several days, seeming to have special business with Joseph Smith and the leaders of the new Mormon church."