Criticism of Mormonism/Websites/MormonThink/The Lost 116 Pages of the Book of Mormon

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    Response to MormonThink page "The Lost 116 Pages of the Book of Mormon"


A FairMormon Analysis of: MormonThink
A work by author: Anonymous

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"The evil men that were conspiring to alter the original documents could not have done so without it being very obvious"

MormonThink states...

"The official story taught and recorded by the church is nonsensical for the following reasons:

The evil men that were conspiring to alter the original documents could not have done so without it being very obvious that the original document was altered. When Martin Harris was scribing for Joseph, he didn't use a pencil and paper. 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."

FairMormon Response


Questions


A number of criticism are put forth with respect to the lost 116 pages of Book of Mormon manuscript.

  • Some have claimed that Joseph Smith did not re-translate the 116 lost pages of the Book of Lehi because he knew that he could not reproduce the exact same text.
  • Would alterations in a different handwriting to the stolen manuscript have been readily apparent?
  • Some claim that the writing of the 116 pages served as an “apprenticeship” to allow Joseph to improve his writing skills.


Answer


Only Joseph Smith himself knew the exact details of the translation process, despite the opinions of various second hand witnesses. All we know for certain is that the translation was performed by “the gift and power of God.” If one believes that the translation was accomplished through divine means, then one can easily believe that if the Lord wished for Joseph to dictate the exact same text that he did previously, then it would have been so. The Lord, however, knew of the problem to come with the 116 pages, and used the opportunity to teach the Prophet the importance of humility and of the need to heed the Lord’s counsel. As a result, we not only have the opportunity to gain wisdom from the lesson learned by the Prophet, but we also have access to the “plain and precious” teachings that constitute the record of Nephi.

Regarding the possibility of a plan to discredit Joseph by altering the text of the 116 pages of manuscript, consider the following points:

  • 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. In fact, there is some indication that Martin Harris' wife did destroy the 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. This demonstrates that finding a publisher to broadcast at least some text--enough to discredit Joseph--would not have been difficult.
  • Something somewhat similar happened with the Spalding manuscript--the manuscript was found, but it 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.

FairMormon Perspectives offers answers to these questions

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

Detailed Analysis

Background

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 DC 3: and DC 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.

A lesson learned

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 "nonsensical" plan?

Once 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. 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.

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.


On their old website, MormonThink claims...
For example, 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. But they never did this - why? If opponents of the Church really had the lost 116 pages as Joseph claimed, they would have resurfaced in some form to at least attempt to discredit Joseph, even if they would not have been successful.


FairMormon commentary

  • This theory presumes that after Joseph refused to retranslate them, the conspirator(s) decided to destroy the pages.
  • It is easy, as this demonstrates, to spin theories about what "should have" or "would have" happened in the complete absence of any evidence. That the 116 pages existed cannot be doubted. Everything besides that is speculation.




On their old website, MormonThink claims...
3.The general belief at the time was that Martin Harris's wife burned the 116 pages. If she destroyed them, then this entire story is simply made up by Joseph Smith. But the prophet Joseph evidently was afraid she had not, but had secretly hidden them, for the purpose of entrapping him, should he ever attempt to reproduce the pages. If the work was really of God, the manuscript could be reproduced word for word without a mistake. 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." 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.


FairMormon commentary

  •   The author is making mutually exclusive claims:  —When critics need an attack against the Church, any excuse will do, even if they are mutually self-contradictory: if one argument is true, the other cannot be.
    It is interesting to note that when critics on MormonThink discuss how Joseph created the Book of Mormon, that Joseph's memory is assumed to have been phenomenal—enough to memorize sufficient material to dictate in the open with the stone and the hat. Yet, when talking of the lost 116 pages, Joseph's memory "would hardly be adequate" to recreate the lost 116 pages.




On their old website, MormonThink claims...
4.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.


FairMormon commentary

  • 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.




On their old website, MormonThink claims...
Critic's response. First of all Mark Hofmann was caught. Even the Tanners (the biggest enemies of the Church) said his 'Salamander letter' was a forgery but it STILL fooled the Church leaders. 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?


FairMormon commentary

  • This again completely ignores the problem of publishing the pages and swearing via affidavit that the transcription was correct. Such a tactic would be far more plausible if one was known or strongly suspected to have access to the originals (as Lucy Harris did).
  • Again, why did Joseph's allies and family find this scenario persuasive, then? The critics require all of them to be nothing but idiotic, gullible dupes to fall for Joseph's explanation. If they found it persuasive in their time and place, if we do not then that probably shows that we are missing something.




On their old website, MormonThink claims...
But even if that were possible and they found a very skilled forger in the 1820s, Martin Harris would have simply said that it was not his handwriting and he did not write those pages. Martin lived for many decades after the Book of Mormon was published and he would have refuted it. If he simply said he didn't write those pages, as presented by the evil-doers, the whole attempt would have been one of the weakest arguments against the church - hardly Satan's master plan.


FairMormon commentary

  •   The author is using mocking language and hyperbole to try to make his or her point  —The critic intentionally exaggerates claims in order to mock believers.
    When has the loss of the 116 pages ever been claimed to be "Satan's master plan?"
  • This again completely ignores the problem of publishing the pages and swearing via affidavit that the transcription was correct. Such a tactic would be far more plausible if one was known or strongly suspected to have access to the originals (as Lucy Harris did).
  • Again, why did Joseph's allies and family find this scenario persuasive, then? The critics require all of them to be nothing but idiotic, gullible dupes to fall for Joseph's explanation. If they found it persuasive in their time and place, if we do not then that probably shows that we are missing something.




On their old website, MormonThink claims...
FAIR believes that the whole lost 116 pages episode was all meant to be a lesson in humility for Joseph. But FAIR didn't even attempt to explain about the 'evil men', their foolhardy plan, what happened to the manuscript and why didn't the evil men attempt to discredit Smith or do something (anything) with the manuscript. FAIR's explanation simply falls short in trying to explain why Joseph apparently made up the story about the evil men when the evidence is heavily weighted against these evil men even existing.


FairMormon commentary

  • Wait a minute...why would FAIR try to "explain why Joseph apparently made up the story?"
  • Why would FAIR attempt to explain the "evil men?"—everything that we know about them is what is stated in the D&C. Are we supposed to speculate on this?
  • The bottom line is that the Lord used this experience to teach Joseph an important lesson with the loss of the manuscript, and He provided an alternate text to compensate.
  • FAIR thought it obvious that a holograph manuscript was not an absolute requirement for the plan to cause serious problems. Having now spelled it out explicitly and repeatedly, it will be interesting to see if MormonThink adjusts their argument.


Quotes to consider

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.


Additional information

  • The lost 116 pages—It is claimed that Joseph Smith did not retranslate the 116 lost pages of the Book of Lehi because he knew that he could not reproduce the exact same text. They claim that alterations in a different handwriting to the stolen manuscript would have been readily apparent. (Link)


On their old website, MormonThink claims...
Ending summary by critics The lost pages could not have been altered without detection. The lost pages never resurfaced and were very likely burned by Martin Harris's wife. In reality, the lost 116 pages were never produced and what Smith and God had feared never happened. If Harris's wife had really thrown them in the fire, then what would have been the problem with Smith just re-translating them from the beginning again? If the pages were not destroyed, they would have resurfaced at some point because they could still be altered to discredit Smith. But they never resurfaced either because they were destroyed early on by Mrs. Harris or because there were no evil men standing by to alter the pages. Either way, the story about Satan's plan to discredit the prophet was apparently made up by Smith to cover himself. What ultimately happened is exactly what you would expect if Joseph was making up the Book of Mormon. The pages were lost and needed to be redone - it would be a similar story told a little differently.


FairMormon commentary

  • Or, the pages were simply lost, just like many other documents from that time.
  • Have you ever looked at one of these original manuscripts? They are full of strikeouts and changes.
  • Yet, you don't even need the original manuscript to alter the words—all you need to do is publish an altered version of the words. However, when the Book of Mormon was published, the new text bore no resemblance whatsoever to the text of the 116 lost pages, so this option was no longer of any value to anyone who might have wanted to do such a thing. If the original pages were not destroyed, then they were certainly lost.




On their old website, MormonThink claims...
Also, Joseph asked God if he could share the pages and he got a "no" answer twice. Then he got a "yes" answer because he was wearying the Lord with his requests. To believe this, you must accept that God is so impatient he's bothered by someone asking the same question repeatedly. You must also believe that a perfect God can be wrong or change his mind (especially when annoyed by irritating supplicants like Joseph Smith). This conflicted, changeable being doesn't sound like a God anyone should be worshiping, or in fact resemble the God the Mormon's profess to believe in. But if God will change his mind by repeated requests for the same desire, perhaps I should continue to ask God to help me win the lottery.


FairMormon commentary

  •   The author is using mocking language and hyperbole to try to make his or her point  —The critic intentionally exaggerates claims in order to mock believers.
    There is lot of mockery of God going on here. The critics obviously consider a belief in God to be silly.
  • God didn't change his mind—He decided to let Joseph learn a valuable lesson—a lesson that is still taught in Church to this day.
  • How many of you that are parents listen to your children ask for something that they shouldn't over and over again? Do you sometimes go ahead and let them learn for themselves why it wasn't a good idea? Did you "change your mind" about whether it ever really was a good idea or not? We don't think so.




On their old website, MormonThink claims...
A further thought - combining the lost 116 pages with the translation process. 1) God foresaw the loss of the 116 pages and in his infinite wisdom 1500 years prior had a 2nd set of plates made, covering the same time period. ...and... 2) JS "translated" the BOM by putting his face in a hat and seeing the English words which he then dictated to the scribe. The actual golden plates were not "read" and were often not even in the same room. So put the lame 116-page explanation together with the nonsensical translation of plates without the presence of plates and we have... God going to extraordinary lengths to have SECOND set of plates made so that they could NOT be used, in place of the first set of plates that were not used.


FairMormon commentary

  •   The author is using mocking language and hyperbole to try to make his or her point  —The critic intentionally exaggerates claims in order to mock believers.
    Note the characterization of the "lame" explanation and "nonsensical" translation of the plates.




On their old website, MormonThink claims...
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. 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.


FairMormon commentary

  •   The author is making mutually exclusive claims:  —When critics need an attack against the Church, any excuse will do, even if they are mutually self-contradictory: if one argument is true, the other cannot be.
    So men would not have simply destroyed the pages if they wanted to discredit Joseph, but Martin Harris' wife Lucy, who wished to discredit Joseph, is claimed to have done precisely that.
  • We think that the critics find it hard to believe that Satan and "evil men" actually exist at all.
  • Why would the pages have been "worth a lot of money?" To whom? If Book of Mormon manuscript pages were worth a lot of money, then why didn't Joseph sell the original Book of Mormon manuscript instead of putting it in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House? (where a lot of it rotted away before it was recovered). Wouldn't Joseph have wanted that money?
  • If these pages still exist and were located now, we agree that they would be worth a lot of money.




On their old website, MormonThink claims...
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.


FairMormon commentary

  • Really? Why isn't it just as plausible that Martin Harris' wife showed the pages to some "evil men" as part of a plan to discredit Joseph Smith and get the money for their farm back?
  • How would destroying the pages immediately help Mrs. Harris recoup her financial loss? There would be no evidence of the scam! So we should believe that she just got mad, burned the manuscript and then said "Oops! I just destroyed the evidence of the scam."




On their old website, MormonThink claims...
A further problem is that Joseph Smith appears to have falsified canonized scripture (D&C Section 10 and the introduction 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, as well as in the introduction to early versions of the Book of Mormon, then how can his other scriptures that he brought forth be trusted?


FairMormon commentary

  •   The author is begging the question:  —Critics will often assume what they are trying to prove in how they frame questions or describe issues.
    Note how the critics assume that Joseph "falsified canonized scripture" as fact and then proceed to draw a conclusion that no other scripture in the D&C or Book of Mormon can be trusted because of this.
  • MormonThink elsewhere claims that Joseph hallucinated the angel Moroni--they claim he was deceived. Now, they're claiming that he falsified scripture, which requires intent. Their explanation of Joseph shifts depending on their needs.




For further information related to this topic


  • Source quotes without critical commentary
    Brief Summary: If you would like to read all of the source quotes without wading through all of the "Critic's comments," "Apologetic rebuttals" and "Our Thoughts" sections, we present the critical web page as it would appear if only the source quotes were provided without any additional commentary. We also try to provide accurate references and direct links to the original source text rather than simply linking to other websites where you have to search for them. (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗

Notes


  1. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 67.
  2. MormonThink.com website (as of 8 May 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/lost116web.htm
  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.

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