The Different Accounts Of The Revelation Of The Bible

The precise date when Joe's attention was first called to the

possibility of changing the story about his alleged golden plates

so that they would serve as the basis for a new Bible such as was

finally produced, and as a means of making him a prophet, cannot

be ascertained. That some directing mind gave the final shape to

the scheme is shown by the difference between the first accounts

of his discovery by means of the stone, and the one provided in

his autobiography. We have also evidence that the story of a

direct revelation by an angel came some time later than the

version which Joe gave first to his acquaintances in


James T. Cobb of Salt Lake City, who has given much time to

investigating matters connected with early Mormon history,

received a letter under date of April 23, 1879, from Hiel and

Joseph Lewis, sons of the Rev. Nathaniel Lewis, of Harmony,

Pennsylvania, and relatives of Joseph's father-in-law, in which

they gave the story of the finding of the plates as told in their

hearing by Joe to their father, when he was translating them.

This statement, in effect, was that he dreamed of an iron box

containing gold plates curiously engraved, which he must

translate into a book; that twice when he attempted to secure the

plates he was knocked down, and when he asked why he could not

have them, "he saw a man standing over the spot who, to him,

appeared like a Spaniard, having a long beard down over his

breast, with his throat cut from ear to ear and the blood

streaming down, who told him that he could not get it alone." (He

then narrated how he got the box in company with Emma.) In all

this narrative there was not one word about visions of God, or of

angels, or heavenly revelations; all his information was by that

dream and that bleeding ghost. The heavenly visions and messages

of angels, etc., contained in the Mormon books were

afterthoughts, revised to order."

In direct confirmation of this we have the following account of

the disclosure of the buried articles as given by Joe's father to

Fayette Lapham when the Bible was first published:--

"Soon after joining the church he [Joseph] had a very singular

dream.... A very large, tall man appeared to him dressed in an

ancient suit of clothes, and the clothes were bloody. This man

told him of a buried treasure, and gave him directions by means

of which he could find the place. In the course of a year Smith

did find it, and, visiting it by night, "I by some supernatural

power" was enabled to overturn a huge boulder under which was a

square block of masonry, in the centre of which were the articles

as described. Taking up the first article, he saw others below;

laying down the first, he endeavored to secure the others; but,

before he could get hold of them, the one he had taken up slid

back to the place he had taken it from, and, to his great

surprise and terror, the rock immediately fell back to its former

place, nearly crushing him [Joseph] in its descent. (While trying

in vain to raise the rock again with levers, Joseph felt

something strike him on the breast, a third blow knocking him

down; and as he lay on the ground he saw the tall man, who told

him that the delivery of the articles would be deferred a year

because Joseph had not strictly followed the directions given to

him. The heedless Joseph allowed himself to forget the date fixed

for his next visit, and when he went to the place again, the tall

man appeared and told him that, because of his lack of

punctuality, he would have to wait still another year before the

hidden articles would be confided to him. "Come in one year from

this time, and bring your oldest brother with you," said the

guardian of the treasures, "then you may have them. "Before the

date named arrived, the elder brother had died, and Joseph

decided that his wife was the proper person to accompany him. Mr.

Lapham's report proceeds as follows:--

"At the expiration of the year he [Joseph] procured a horse and

light wagon, with a chest and pillowcase, and proceeded

punctually with his wife to find the hidden treasure. When they

had gone as far as they could with the wagon, Joseph took the

pillow-case and started for the rock. Upon passing a fence a host

of devils began to screech and to scream, and make all sorts of

hideous yells, for the purpose of terrifying him and preventing

the attainment of his object; but Joseph was courageous and

pursued his way in spite of them. Arriving at the stone, he again

lifted it with the aid of superhuman power, as at first, and

secured the first or uppermost article, this time putting it

carefully into the pillow-case before laying it down. He now

attempted to secure the remainder; but just then the same old man

appeared, and said to him that the time had not yet arrived for

their exhibition to the world, but that when the proper time came

he should have them and exhibit them, with the one he had now

secured; until that time arrived, no one must be allowed to touch

the one he had in his possession; for if they did, they would be

knocked down by some superhuman power. Joseph ascertained that

the remaining articles were a gold hilt and chain, and a gold

ball with two pointers. The hilt and chain had once been part of

a sword of unusual size; but the blade had rusted away and become

useless. Joseph then turned the rock back, took the article in

the pillow-case, and returned to the wagon. The devils, with more

hideous yells than before, followed him to the fence; as he was

getting over the fence, one of the devils struck him a blow on

the side, where a black and blue spot remained three or four

days; but Joseph persevered and brought the article safely home.

"I weighed it," said Mr. Smith, Sr., "and it weighed 30 pounds.

In answer to our question as to what it was that Joseph had thus

obtained, he said it consisted of a set of gold plates, about six

inches wide and nine or ten inches long. They were in the form of

a book."*

* Historical Magazine, May, 1870.

We may now contrast these early accounts of the disclosure with

the version given in the Prophet's autobiography (written, be it

remembered, in Nauvoo in 1838), the one accepted by all orthodox

Mormons. One of its striking features will be found to be the

transformation of the Spaniard-with-his-throat-cut into a

messenger from Heaven.*

* Millennial Star, Vol. XIV, Supt.

It was, according to this later account, when he was in his

fifteenth year, and when his father's family were "proselyted to

the Presbyterian church," that he became puzzled by the divergent

opinions he heard from different pulpits. One day, while reading

the epistle of James (not a common habit of his, as his mother

would testify), Joseph was struck by the words, "If any of you

lack wisdom, let him ask of God. "Reflecting on this injunction,

he retired to the woods" on the morning of a beautiful clear day

early in the spring of 1820, and there he for the first time

uttered a spoken prayer. "As soon as he began praying he was

overcome by some power, and "thick darkness" gathered around him.

Just when he was ready to give himself up as lost, he managed to

call on God for deliverance, whereupon he saw a pillar of light

descending upon him, and two personages of indescribable glory

standing in the air above him, one of whom, calling him by name,

said to the other, "This is my beloved Son, hear him."

Straightway Joseph, not forgetting the main object of his going

to the woods, asked the two personages: "which of all the sects

was right. "He was told that all were wrong, and that he must

join none of them; that all creeds were an abomination, and that

all professors were corrupt. He came to himself lying on his


The effect on the boy of this startling manifestation was not

radically beneficial, as he himself concedes. "Forbidden to join

any other religious sects of the day, of tender years, "and badly

treated by persons who should have been his friends, he admits

that in the next three years he "frequently fell into many

foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth and the

corruption of human nature, which, I am sorry to say, led me into

diverse temptations, to the gratification of many appetites

offensive in the sight of God. "It was during this period that he

was most active in the use of his "peek-stone."

On the night of September 21, 1823, to proceed with his own

account, when again praying to God for the forgiveness of his

sins, the room became light, and a person clothed in a robe of

exquisite whiteness, and having "a countenance truly like

lightning, "called him by name, and said that his visitor was a

messenger sent from God, and that his name was Nephi. This was a

mistake on the part of somebody, because the visitor's real name

was Moroni, who hid the plates where they were deposited. Smith


"He said there was a book deposited, written upon golden plates,

giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent and

the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness

of the Everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by

the Saviour to the ancient inhabitants. Also, there were two

stones in silver bows (and these stones, fastened to a

breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim)

deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these

stones was what constituted seers in ancient or former times, and

that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the


The messenger then made some liberal quotations from the

prophecies of the Old Testament (changing them to suit his

purpose), and ended by commanding Smith, when he got the plates,

at a future date, to show them only to those as commanded, lest

he be destroyed. Then he ascended into heaven. The next day the

messenger appeared again, and directed Joseph to tell his father

of the commandment which he had received. When he had done so,

his father told him to go as directed. He knew the place (ever

since known locally as "Mormon Hill") as soon as he arrived

there, and his narrative proceeds as follows:--

"Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario Co., N. Y.,

stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any

in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill, not far from

the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates,

deposited in a stone box; this stone was thick and rounded in the

middle on the upper side, and thinner toward the edges, so that

the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge

all round was covered with earth. Having removed the earth and

obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone,

and with a little exertion raised it up, I looked in, and there,

indeed, did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim and

breastplate, as stated by the messenger. The box in which they

lay was formed by laying stones together in a kind of cement. In

the bottom of the box were laid two stones crosswise of the box,

and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with

them. I made an attempt to take them out, but was forbidden by

the messenger. I was again informed that the time for bringing

them out had not yet arrived, neither would till four years from

that time; but he told me that I should come to that place

precisely one year from that time, and that he would there meet

with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time

should come for obtaining the plates".

Mother Smith gives an explanation of Joe's failure to secure the

plates on this occasion, which he omits: "As he was taking them,

the unhappy thought darted through his mind that probably there

was something else in the box besides the plates, which would be

of pecuniary advantage to him.... Joseph was overcome by the

power of darkness, and forgot the injunction that was laid upon

him. "The mistakes which the Deity made in Joe's character

constantly suggest to the lay reader the query why the Urim and

Thummim were not turned on Joe.

On September 22, 1827, when Joe visited the hill (following his

own story again), the same messenger delivered to him the plates,

the Urim and Thummim and the breastplate, with the warning that

if he "let them go carelessly" he would be "cut off", and a

charge to keep them until the messenger called for them.

Mother Smith's story of the securing of the plates is to the

effect that about midnight of September 21 Joseph and his wife

drove away from his father's house with a horse and wagon

belonging to a Mr. Knight. He returned after breakfast the next

morning, bringing with him the Urim and Thummim, which he showed

to her, and which she describes as "two smooth, three-cornered

diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows

that were connected with each other in much the same way as

old-fashioned spectacles. "She says that she also saw the

breastplate through a handkerchief, and that it "was concave on

one side and convex on the other, and extended from the neck

downward as far as the stomach of a man of extraordinary size. It

had four straps of the same material for the purpose of fastening

it to the breast.... The whole plate was worth at least $500."

The spectacles and breastplate seem to have been more familiar to

Mother Smith than to any other of Joseph's contemporaries and


The substitution of the spectacles called Urim and Thummim for

the "peek-stone" was doubtless an idea of the associate in the

plot, who supplied the theological material found in the Golden

Bible. Tucker considers the "spectacle pretension" an

afterthought of some one when the scheme of translating the

plates into a Bible was evolved, as "it was not heard of outside

of the Smith family for a considerable period subsequent to the

first story."* This is confirmed by the elder Smith's early

account of the discovery. It would be very natural that Rigdon,

with his Bible knowledge, should substitute the more respectable

Urim and Thummim for the "peek-stone" of ill-repute, as the

medium of translation.

* "Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism," p. 33.

The Urim and Thummim were the articles named by the Lord to Moses

in His description of the priestly garments of Aaron. The Bible

leaves them without description;* and the following verses

contain all that is said of them: Exodus xxviii. 30; Leviticus

viii. 8; Numbers xxvii. 21; Deuteronomy xxxiii. 8; Samuel xxviii.

6; Ezra ii. 63; Nehemiah vii. 65. Only a pretence of using

spectacles in the work of translating was kept up, later

descriptions of the process by Joe's associates referring

constantly to the employment of the stone.

* "The Hebrew words are generally considered to be plurales

excellentoe, denoting light (that is, revelation) and truth....

There are two principal opinions respecting the Urim and Thummim.

One is that these words simply denote the four rows of precious

stones in the breastplate of the high priest, and are so called

from their brilliancy and perfection; which stones, in answer to

an appeal to God in difficult cases, indicated His mind and will

by some supernatural appearance.... The other principal opinion

is that the Urim and Thummim were two small oracular images

similar to the Teraphim, personifying revelation and truth, which

were placed in the cavity or pouch formed by the folds of the

breastplate, and which uttered oracles by a voice.... We incline

to Mr. Mede's opinion that the Urim and Thummim were 'things well

known to the patriarchs' as divinely appointed means of inquiries

of the Lord, suited to an infantile state of religion.

"Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature," Kitto and Alexander,


Joe says that while the plates were in his possession

"multitudes" tried to get them away from him, but that he

succeeded in keeping them until they were translated, and then

delivered them again to the messenger, who still retains them.

Mother Smith tells a graphic story of attempts to get the plates

away from her son, and says that when he first received them he

hid them until the next day in a rotten birch log, bringing them

home wrapped in his linen frock under his arm.* Later, she says,

he hid them in a hole dug in the hearth of their house, and again

in a pile of flax in a cooper shop; Willard Chase's daughter

almost found them once by means of a peek-stone of her own.

* Elder Hyde in his "Mormonism" estimates that "from the

description given of them the plates must have weighed nearly two

hundred pounds."

Mother Smith says that Joseph told all the family of his vision

the evening of the day he told his father, charging them to keep

it secret, and she adds:--

"From that time forth Joseph continued to receive instructions

from the Lord, and we continued to get the children together

every evening for the purpose of listening while he gave us a

relation of the same. I presume our family presented an aspect as

singular as any that ever lived upon the face of the earth--all

seated in a circle, father, mother, sons, and daughters, and

giving the most profound attention to a boy eighteen years old,

who had never read the Bible through in his life.... We were now

confirmed in the opinion that God was about to bring to light

something upon which we could stay our mind, or that would give

us a more perfect knowledge of the plan of salvation and the

redemption of the human family."

The Camps On The Missouri The Directions To The Saints About Their Zion facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail