Book of Mormon: The Lost 116 Pages
In our last three sections, we covered Joseph Smith from his involvement in treasure digging to the translation of the Book of Mormon. Now we want to spend a few sections going over the Book of Mormon, showing why the problems that scholars have encountered show that the Book of Mormon is without question a 19th century book as church historian and patriarch Richard Bushman acknowledges:
“I think right now the Book of Mormon is a puzzle for us, even people who believe it hardily in every detail, it’s a puzzle.
To begin with we have the puzzle of translation: translating the book without the plates even in sight and wrapped up in a cloth on the table. So, it’s not something that comes right off the pages, the characters on the plates. So we don’t know how that works.
And then there is the fact that there is phrasing everywhere–long phrases that if you google them you will find them in 19th century writings. The theology of the Book of Mormon is very much 19th century theology, and it reads like a 19th century understanding of the Hebrew Bible as an Old Testament. That is, it has Christ in it the way Protestants saw Christ everywhere in the Old Testament. That’s why we now call it “Hebrew Bible” because the Jews never saw it quite that way. So, these are all problems we have to deal with.” (Richard Bushman Interview, Mormon Discussions)
Before we get into the Book of Mormon as we have it today, we wanted to cover the account of the "Lost 116 Pages" of the Book of Mormon, and what this incident tells us about not just the Book of Mormon, but Joseph Smith's credibility and confidence as a prophet of God.
As we mentioned in the last section on translation, when Joseph Smith began translating the Book of Mormon, Martin Harris wanted to show his wife Lucy the manuscript to calm her fears that Joseph Smith was defrauding him out of his money. Joseph Smith claimed to ask God two times and that Martin's request was denied, but Martin continued to plead with Joseph to let him take the manuscript back. Joseph Smith asked God a third time, and Joseph claimed that God then allowed Martin to take the manuscript back home. As we've noted elsewhere, the power of three is a very strong element of magical thinking that we've shown in these overviews.
After Martin took the manuscript back home, he lost the manuscript which was most likely taken by his wife Lucy. Upon returning, Joseph exclaimed "Oh, my God! All is lost! all is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned." (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, 1853) That Joseph said that 'All is lost' is a pretty good summary of his predicament: He knew he could never replicate the first 116 pages because he was not even 'translating' from the golden plates, but he also needed to replace the first part of the Book of Mormon or it would be a book with no beginning.
Now remember that Joseph Smith was using his seer/peep stone in a top hat to translate the Book of Mormon and that Joseph Smith even claimed to use that seer stone to view the Book of Mormon gold plates when they were hidden in an empty log. As we covered in the gold plates overview, when Emma told Joseph there was a plot to obtain the plates, Joseph Smith looked into his stone and claimed to view the plates that were still in the hollow log and that they were safe.
This is important because it highlights that Joseph Smith claimed to be able to find objects with his seer/peep stone including the plates, yet when the 116 pages went missing, Joseph Smith never attempted to locate the lost pages and certainly never did discern what happened to them.
As is common for treasure diggers (or any other people claiming supernatural abilities) such as Joseph Smith, the magical abilities only work when they are in full control of the situation, but when it was time to deliver on the promises, the treasure would 'slip away' because something was done guardian took them deeper into the ground. In this case, Joseph doesn't even try to locate it in front of anyone because he knows the seer stone can't actually locate anything nor tell him the fate of the 116 pages. He had no control over the pages at this point, and unlike being able to claim to see the gold plates, there was nothing Joseph Smith could do.
To put another way, this would've been a massive opportunity for Joseph Smith to prove that he was not only a prophet of God, but that his abilities as a seer were real. Martin Harris recalled a time that Joseph Smith was able to find a pin in a pile of shavings with his seer stone, yet we are to believe that Joseph Smith was unable to locate the lost 116 pages with the very stone he claimed to view the gold plates with along with all sorts of buried treasure? (Harris interview with Joel Tiffany, 1859, in Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 2: 303)
With the 116 pages now out of his control, Joseph Smith claimed a revelation from God that chastises both himself and Martin Harris (much more harshly) for losing the manuscript. From D&C 10:
Now, behold, I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings... into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them.... you also lost your gift at the same time; and your mind became darkened....
And, behold, Satan hath put it into their hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated...
Behold, I say unto you, that you shall not translate again those words which have gone forth out of your hands;
For, behold, they shall not accomplish their evil designs in lying against those words. For, behold, if you should bring forth the same words they will say that you have lied and that you have pretended to translate, but that you have contradicted yourself.
And, behold, they will publish this, and Satan will harden the hearts of the people to stir them up to anger against you, that they will not believe my words. (Doctrine and Covenants 10:1, 2,10,30-32)
This revelation is believed to have been written in April 1829, which means that it was written well after the event happened, and as Joseph is about to resume dictation with Oliver Cowdery. The current D&C 10 is slightly different, and again retrofits he term "Urim and Thummim" into the first verse, which was not in the original. As we've discussed, that term was later added to give Joseph's seer/peep stone a more biblical context. This revelation is about ten months after the 116 pages were lost, which has given Joseph Smith time to find a new scribe along with a way to work around the lost pages.
This revelation is very much for the benefit of Joseph Smith to give himself cover since he knew he could not replicate the first 116 pages. It would be incredibly obvious if someone tried to alter Joseph's original 116 pages since people did not have the resources to recreate an entire page of manuscript with altered words in the handwriting of Emma Smith (or any other scribe he used during this time such as Martin Harris). And even if Lucy Harris did find a "master forger" that could complete such an improbable task, she could have just as easily done it for any other part of the Book of Mormon anyway if Joseph's revelation was correct. Put another way, if people were going to say that Joseph Smith contradicted himself with the new beginning to the Book of Mormon, they could have done it anyway.
On a quick side note, if we are to believe that God was so worried about Joseph Smith being exposed for false material, why did God allow Joseph to translate the Book of Abraham when we now know the source material had nothing to do with Abraham? Or why would God allow Joseph to use King James Bible errors or Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon? Again, as we go through these overview topics, I hope you can see the inconsistencies and contradictions that arise as Joseph Smith makes changes and claims revelations to solve the problems he is dealing with.
Again, the lost 116 pages could have been another great chance for Joseph Smith to prove himself a prophet. If he re-translated them and they were the same (which would have been the case with the seer stone in a hat since history would indicate a tight translation), he's a true prophet. If he re-translated them and those with "evil designs" altered the pages, it would be a win for Joseph because it would be obvious the words had been altered on foolscap paper, which would only enhance his appeal and solidify his credibility. There was no downside to re-translating the pages unless Joseph Smith knew he couldn't do it.
This incident leads Joseph Smith to decide on the best way to translate the Book of Mormon, which is why it is so important to understand the dictation order of the Book of Mormon.
Knowing the Ending When Writing the Beginning
Because Joseph Smith kept the replacement text for the lost 116 pages until after the Book of Mormon was finished, it allowed for him to create the beginning of the book while already knowing how it ends. We will discuss below the history of the "small plates," but for now we will refer to them as "small plates" because that is how the church describes them. In a lot of ways, the "small plates" that replaced the 116 pages serve as a sequel to the Book of Mormon, and as such leave clues as to it being written after the rest of the Book of Mormon.
Some of the best examples of this come from Brent Metcalfe, a former member and scholar of Mormonism. Metcalfe has pointed out some of the problems that arise from Joseph Smith writing the “small plates” books after completing the rest of the Book of Mormon.
One easy way to show that Joseph Smith authored the Book of Mormon is to note the shift of his use of the phrase therefore and wherefore. From his book New Approaches to the Book of Mormon:
As you can see above, the author of the Book of Mormon almost exclusively uses the phrase “therefore” in the chapters of the Book of Mormon beginning with Mosiah through Ether, but in Ether we see a change where the use of “therefore” is replaced with “wherefore.” That change then continues through the end of the Book of Mormon and then back into the beginning books that were written after the ending from the 'small plates.'
That might seem like a small thing, but it shows that the author made this change in dictation and brought into not just the Book of Mormon, but the revelations being dictated concurrently with the production of the Book of Mormon.
This alone is not a smoking gun against Joseph Smith, but is another fingerprint that gives us a clue that Joseph Smith is the author of this text. The fact that the change from therefore to wherefore occurs concurrently with the Doctrine and Covenants shows this is not a change that is on the gold plates, but one that is coming through Joseph Smith's scriptural speaking style.
As I mentioned above, the problem with replacing the “116 Pages” material after finishing the Book of Mormon is that the author knows the ending, but in the Book of Mormon that actually gives us further clues as to the authorship.
Brent Metcalfe notes that the birth date of Jesus is known to the early prophets from the small plates, but is unknown to the later prophets who would of course have the same records as Lehi and Nephi. From Metcalfe:
“Enveloping is particularly evident in discussion of the advent of Jesus. For example, early in the narrative Nephi relates that Lehi (1 Ne. 10:4), an angel (19:8), and “the prophets” (2 Ne. 25:19) had all predicted that Jesus would be born 600 years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem. However, subsequent Book of Mormon prophets seem unaware of these extraordinary oracles.
At a Nephite revival, King Benjamin comments that “the time cometh, and is not far distant … [that the Lord] shall come down from heaven … and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay” (Mosiah 3:5). This comment is surprising since the scriptures he possessed presumably told him this would not occur for over 120 years. Alma speaks of Jesus’ advent in similarly general terms: “the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand” (Alma 5:28, 50); “the time is not far distant” (7:7); “not many days hence” (9:26); and “the day of salvation draweth nigh” (13:21).25 Alma sincerely hopes “that it might be in [his] day” (v. 25). His reticence or inability to disclose Jesus’s birth date is explicable in his admission, “we know not how soon” (ibid.; emphasis added). Thus Alma, Benjamin, and their audiences did not know what Lehi, Nephi, an angel, anonymous Old World prophets, and their sacred literature had known with certainty: that Jesus would be born 600 years after the Lehites departed for the Americas.
When Samuel the Lamanite subsequently enters the scene, in contrast to Benjamin’s and Alma’s imprecision, he boldly specifies “for five years more cometh … then cometh the Son of God” (Hel. 14:2). Absent is any indication that Samuel merely echoes the inspired utterances of his forebears, Lehi and Nephi, or other prophets, including an angel. This particular point is paramount, for the potency of Samuel’s oracle lies in its absolute uniqueness. If Samuel’s prophecy is simply a repetition of earlier prophecies, it could scarcely be used to authenticate his prophetic calling (16:4-5). When Samuel’s followers are sentenced to death prior to Jesus’s advent, it is because his prophecy did not appear to be true, excluding any mention of Lehi or Nephi (3 Ne. 1:5).
The enveloping is obvious: Lehi and Nephi explicitly preach the date of Jesus’s birth; Benjamin and Alma speak only in generalities; [p.417] Samuel, like Nephi, is explicit. But when we analyze the passages in the order they were dictated, the enveloping pattern is replaced with a linear pattern. Prophets in the earliest part of the dictation lack specific knowledge of Jesus’ birth date. However, with Samuel a date of five years is given. At the expiration of the allotted time, the signs appear as prophesied. In this context the narrative explains: (1) that “father Lehi … Nephi … almost all of our fathers … have testified of the coming of Christ” (Hel. 8:22); and (2) that the year Jesus was born “was six hundred years from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem” (3 Ne. 1:1).
Passages such as these paved the way for the next stage of thematic development. What started as an editorial remark that 600 years had elapsed is transformed into a literal prophecy from the lips of Lehi, Nephi, an angel, and unidentified prophets. These prophecies were not dictated until the 600-year date had been firmly established in 3 Nephi.26” (Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon)
I realize that this is a long passage to cite, but it is a crucial one to understanding how Joseph Smith was implementing ideas into the Book of Mormon’s early authors that were not developed until later in the book. This also occurs with the visit of Jesus Christ to the Americas. From Brent Metcalfe:
“Edwin J. Firmage (1992) points to Nephite prophecies concerning Christ’s appearance in the Americas as another example of this phenomenon. With specificity unprecedented in ancient literature, Nephi tells of being enraptured in a panoramic vision of the life of Jesus… Nephi views the natural cataclysms immediately preceding the coming of the resurrected Christ to America. He sees Jesus’s visit to the survivors and his selection of twelve disciples (1 Ne. 12:4-8; cf. 2 Ne. 26:1, 9, 32:6).
In the early part of Mormon’s abridged history, prophecies about the coming of Jesus say nothing about his resurrection advent in the Americas (see Mosiah 3:5ff; 7:27, 15; Alma 4:13; 5:50; 6:8; 7:7ff). Benjamin, Abinadi, both Almas—all of whom know minute details of Jesus’s life—never mention that a glorified Christ will appear to the Lehites (see Mosiah 3:1ff; 15:1-16, 15; 18:1-35; Alma 7:7-14). Not until Alma 16:20 is this clearly stated: “Many of the people did inquire concerning the place where the Son of God should come; and they were taught that he would appear unto them after his resurrection” (emphasis added). The people’s uncertainty, which Alma himself shares (7:8), implies that nothing had been taught about a promise that Christ would visit America, a promise Nephi earlier described in detail. When, for the first time in Mormon’s abridgment, priests teach the Nephites “that he would appear unto them after his resurrection”—absent any reference to Nephi’s prodigious vision—”the people did hear with great joy and gladness,” seemingly acknowledging the newness of the idea.”
Again, these are all fingerprints left behind from the author of the Book of Mormon, and when you know the order of dictation for the Book of Mormon, it makes perfect sense. But when you read the Book of Mormon in the published order, you can tell that the early books know the end of the Book of Mormon before the middle books do. This is incredibly important when looking at the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, because these kinds of problems are simply irreconcilable with the claims that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text.
I highly recommend reading Brent Metcalfe’s writings on the ‘Mosian Priority’ for the Book of Mormon dictation chronology, which covers these issues above in more detail along with the other problems that arise from Joseph Smith writing the ‘small plates’ books after finishing the Book of Mormon. Among those issues are:
A shift from Penitent to Christocentric Baptism
Denominationalism and Eschatology in the use of "Church/Churches"
Malachi Among the Nephites
The Use of Messiah and Christ in the Book of Mormon
These are all important issues that help us to better understand not just the order that the Book of Mormon was written, but that Joseph Smith was the author who knew the ending of the book when he wrote the beginning.
The Development and Implimentation of the “Small Plates”
One important element of the lost 116 pages story is that God has prepared a way around this problem, knowing that Martin Harris would eventually lose the manuscript. From the church’s Come Follow Me manual:
“More than 2,400 years in advance, the Lord prepared to compensate for the lost pages of the Book of Mormon (see 1 Nephi 9).” (Come Follow Me)
The actual history of the “small plates” is much more complicated than that, and, in fact, contradicts this assertion from the church’s Come Follow Me manual. From a great article on the “Lost Plates of Nephi:”
“Per Metcalfe, Joseph Smith would have resumed his dictation in what is currently the beginning chapters of Mosiah (some of this early material would have been the terminus of the 116 page manuscript, but not lost), so in order to experience the existing Book of Mormon in the same order that Smith dictated it, we should begin our reading here. The first chapter in Mosiah mentions two sets of plates: the Plates of brass (which were brought over from Jerusalem and contained many Old Testament writings) and the Plates of Nephi. Notice only one set of “Plates of Nephi” is mentioned here, without any qualifiers such as “large” or “small.” King Benjamin instructs his sons to read them both, noting that the plates of Nephi contain “the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now.” That is, the Plates of Nephi are a multi-generation first-person account that has been handed down for hundreds of years. Verse eight also offers a clue that we are reading a redaction rather than the raw text from the plates of Nephi themselves, saying “many more things did king Benjamin teach his sons, which are not written in this book.” The May 1829 revelation likewise references that the account so far is a redaction of the Plates of Nephi: “an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, is engraven upon the plates of Nephi; Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.” Although the name and nature of the redactor is not described until much later,5 we shall refer to the redacted record hereafter as the “Plates of Mormon,” keeping in mind that they are so far described as a redaction of a singular set of plates known as the “Plates of Nephi.” The idea of passing the Plates of Nephi down from generation to generation and appending new information to them is repeated throughout the volume.
However, modern Mormons usually describe not one, but two separate Plates of Nephi, in addition to the Plates of Mormon. The “Brief Explanation About The Book Of Mormon” included in the beginning of the Book of Mormon makes such a distinction. But it’s notable that from the Book of Mosiah all the way through the Book of Moroni, there isn’t a single mention of a second set of Plates of Nephi. They are always referred to as a single volume.” (The Lost Plates of Nephi)
This is very important because it follows with the dictation order for the Book of Mormon. In other words, there is no mention of the “small plates” until we get to the replacement text of the 116 pages. This shows that Joseph Smith was either still hoping that the 116 pages might be recovered or that he still had not decided how he was going to replace the text until he was forced to decide.
You can even see in the revelation Joseph Smith claimed that the “small plates” were not revealed by God as members are taught today. From the article:
“For example, multiple LDS manuals erroneously state that D&C 10 refers to the small plates: “the Lord commanded that Joseph Smith not retranslate the portion of the plates from which the 116 pages had been translated. Instead, the Lord commanded the Prophet to translate the record contained on the small plates of Nephi.”7 Another manual states, “The Prophet was commanded to translate the small plates to replace the 116 lost pages (see D&C 10:43–45).”8 This misconception is frequently propagated by faithful scholars and apologists as well.9 But D&C never describes the small plates. D&C refers to only two sets of plates: The Plates of Nephi, and their redaction (the Plates of Mormon). Note carefully what Smith is instructed to do:
“And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, is engraven upon the plates of Nephi; Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi. And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account—Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained; And behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi…Behold, they have only got a part, or an abridgment of the account of Nephi. Behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work.” (D&C 10, emphasis added)
Joseph Smith is not told about a second, redundant set of Plates of Nephi. He is instructed to translate the original Plates of Nephi. This is clear for a few reasons:
1. Smith is instructed to translate the Plates of Nephi down to the reign of king Benjamin, or until he comes to that which he has already translated. The instructions about where to terminate his translation implies the record goes beyond the reign of Benjamin. Later, the revelation refers to this section as “the first part” of the engravings of Nephi, again emphasizing that this is only a portion of the plates of Nephi. The small plates end at the reign of King Benjamin, and are reproduced in their entirety in the modern Book of Mormon, so this cannot be referring to the small plates.
2. Smith is reminded of a previous passage from the manuscript that “a more particular account” was given on the plates of Nephi. Words of Mormon informs us that Mormon wasn’t even aware of the small plates while redacting those passages, and randomly stumbled across them at around the same point in the narrative where Smith resumes dictation. Likewise, Smith could not be reminded of a reference to the small plates that had not been written yet (as they aren’t mentioned anywhere from Mosiah through Moroni). The Plates of Nephi referred to here must be the same set that Mormon has been abridging.
3. Perhaps most importantly, the revelation specifically ties the source of the abridgment (ie the “large” plates) to the account Smith must later translate, emphasizing that the lost 116 pages contain only “a part, or an abridgment” of Nephi’s account, and telling Joseph that he will supply this missing material in its expanded version.” (The Lost Plates of Nephi)
The revelation in D&C 10 actually makes more sense when you don’t impose the idea of “small plates” onto it as the church does today. What Joseph Smith is saying is that the Book of Mormon is an abridgement of the ‘Plates of Nephi,’ and that God can now have Joseph Smith just translate directly from the ‘Plates of Nephi’ to replace the text. In other words, the replacement text would have more material – not less.
The article continues to detail this problem in more detail:
“Another contemporaneous example is found on the Title Page of the Book of Mormon. Smith claimed the title page was translated from the final leaf of the Golden Plates, representing Moroni’s final word. However, we know that the title page was dictated no later than the first few days of June 1829, previous to the completion of the transcription process, for inclusion with the copyright application for the Book of Mormon.10 The Title Page mentions only the singular “Plates of Nephi,” which is described there once again as the source for Mormon’s abridgment. It also mentions the abridgment of the Book of Ether, but not the small plates.” (The Lost Plates of Nephi)
Again, what this article is showing is that Joseph Smith does not conceptualize the small plates until he is forced to replace the text of the 116 pages, which occurs after the Book of Mormon’s ending is written. From the article:
“The idea of a second, smaller set of plates doesn’t appear until 1 Nephi, which comes after Mosiah through Moroni in dictation order. There, Nephi describes his record as an abridgement of his father’s record.11 Later, Nephi describes this new record as “not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people.” He goes on to say that the larger, more complete volume he he has “given the name of Nephi; wherefore, they are called the plates of Nephi,” This is also the first time he describes the large plates as being more secular in comparison to the small plates. He does not give the small plates a name here, reinforcing that the “Plates of Nephi” are not the small plates. The secular vs spiritual nature of the plates is repeated in 1 Nephi 19. There, Nephi reiterates the expectation that those plates are to be passed down from generation to generation. He also mentions that the smaller plates may have “other wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord,” a coy hint that these plates were prepared specifically to account for the future lost 116 page manuscript.” (The Lost Plates of Nephi)
This point is key in that not only are the small plates not developed until the replacement text - which shows us that the later prophets did not know of their existence – but that Joseph Smith is writing the small plates into the text almost like a character on The Office gives a small look to the camera because they’re letting the audience in on the process.
Back to the article:
“This second set of plates is first referred to as the “small plates” in Jacob 1:1, but are still not described as the Plates of Nephi or the Small Plates of Nephi. In fact, the first (and only) proper name given to them is the “Plates of Jacob.” It is unlikely that this could have been an error where “Book of Jacob” was intended, since the description specifically alludes to the physical crafting of the plates…
In contrast to the singular nature of the Plates of Nephi from Mosiah through Moroni, which are sometimes described in conjunction with the brass plates but never the small plates, the large and small plates are nearly always differentiated from each other from 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon. This pattern spans multiple “authors,” including Nephi, Jacob, Jarom, Abinidom, and Mormon.14 When the text is read in Mosiah priority order, it is clear that the “small plates” were a late invention in the creation of the text.” (The Lost Plates of Nephi)
This article takes an approach I have not previously seen, which is to show that Joseph Smith makes the “small plates” a late addition that only occurs once he is forced to replace the lost 116 pages. As we detailed above, this actually fits in quite well with the translation process, in that the “beginning” of the book appears to know a lot of details that the middle prophets are not aware of, and the idea of “small plates” would be another example of this problem.
As we mentioned above, the article details how D&C 10 actually states that Joseph Smith would be translating the unabridged Plates of Nephi to replace the text, but he instead creates the idea of “small plates” that are different in nature than the original records. The article discusses a possible reason for that:
“The most obvious impetus for Smith introducing the small plates rather than stick to his divinely revealed plan of translating the Plates of Nephi is time. The 116 pages represented an abridgment of the Plates of Nephi; by promising the source material in place of the abridgment, Smith had unwittingly signed up to produce a manuscript larger and more comprehensive than the original one. A second, smaller volume would be a very attractive alternative. This theory elegantly explains the Book of Mormon’s emphasis on the size difference between the two sets of plates (one smaller, one larger). It can also explain the supposed difference in content. As mentioned before, the small plates are self-described as less interested in history, and more interested in spiritual matters. This description has long puzzled readers of the Book of Mormon, who often note that both sections of the Book of Mormon are a blend of history and theological discourse. The supposed difference in tone is difficult to detect. However, this explanation allows Smith to breeze through hundreds of years of history once the origin story of the Nephites and Lamanites is adequately explained.” (The Lost Plates of Nephi)
This is a very important part to the story, because it shows that Joseph Smith was looking to keep the replacement text for the lost 116 pages vague so that it could not be directly compared to the original text as the threat of Lucy Harris (or someone else) still possessing them was still hanging over Joseph Smith’s head. And that takes us to a discussion of what is actually in the replacement text for the 116 pages.
The Vagueness of the Text of the "Small Plates"
The inability of Joseph Smith to re-translate the Lost 116 Pages is a massive problem for the credibility of the Book of Mormon, but it gets worse once you read the replacement text and realize just how careful Joseph Smith is to avoid giving any details out at all. The Tanners did an amazing write-up of this problem called 'A Black Hole in the Book of Mormon,' where they document the lengths Joseph goes to in order to avoid contradicting himself from the first 116 pages (about 400 years of history of the Nephites and Lamanites). I want to cover a few highlights from their article that illustrates just how careful Joseph Smith is to avoid giving specifics in this replacement text.
Joseph Smith, who I am presuming to be the author of the Book of Mormon, goes to great lengths to write in the Book of Mormon that the 'small plates' are not meant to give out much information. Jacob writes that he should "write upon these plates a few of the things which I considered to be most precious; that I should not touch, save it were lightly, concerning the history of this people which are called the people of Nephi.... he said that the history of his people should be engraven upon his other plates." That seems odd for a record of their people, but makes sense once you realize what Joseph needs to accomplish here, which is to explain why the stories are not the same between what was originally lost and what he is replacing that material with.
Only 11 people are named in the first book of Nephi, and no additional names are given at all in the second book. Yet Joseph names ten Old Testament characters by name and even "prophetically speaks of Jesus some 600 years before his birth and claims that he knew that "the name of the apostle of the Lamb was John..." (1 Nephi 14:27)" Joseph goes to great lengths to avoid giving out names of extended family members, likely because he couldn't remember them and knew those could easily be exposed. "... my father... called the children of Laman, his sons, and his daughters, and said unto them: Behold, my sons, and my daughters of my first-born... after my father had made an end of speaking... he caused the sons and daughters of Lemuel to be brought before him... he spake unto them, saying: Behold, my sons and my daughters, who are the sons and the daughters of my second son..." (2 Nephi 4:3, 8, 9)
Nephi married one of Ishmael's daughters, yet we never even are told her name! "...I Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael to wife." (1 Nephi 16:7) In addition, Nephi neglects to name his children (1 Nephi 18:19), the children of his brothers, or the children of Ishmael. That makes no sense until you consider the context, which is that Joseph Smith is filling in missing material that he knows cannot contradict what he had already produced in the 116 pages.
We then get two new names in the book of Jacob (Sherem, Enos) and two more new names in the book of Jarom (Jarom, Omni). Jarom states that 238 years have passed, which means that the Book of Mormon only gives four new names in almost 230 years of history (the first 11 names are from the beginning years)!
Joseph is even vague on the names of kings: "Now Nephi began to be old, and he saw that he must soon die; wherefore, he anointed a man to be a king and a ruler over his people now, according to the reigns of the kings." (Jacob 1:9) Later in the chapter, Jacob says "the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts." Again, no more new names given until we come out of the 116 pages and then Joseph begins naming kings (Mosiah, Benjamin).
In the first 116 pages, dating is very vague as well to avoid contradictions with the original 116 pages that Joseph feared might be still in the possession of Lucy Harris. Dating is super precise later in the book of Mormon ("And it came to pass that Mosiah died also, in the thirty and third year of his reign, being sixty and three years old; making in the whole, five hundred and nine years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem." (Mosiah 29:46)), but in the lost 116 pages everything is intentionally vague: "...my father, Lehi... waxed old. And it came to pass that he died, and was buried." (2 Nephi 4:12)
The same problem happens with directions and locations. From the Tanner's article: "It is very interesting to note that Nephi never referred to the place where he and his people lived as a "city," and he did not name even one Nephite or Lamanite city! Before he came to the New World, Nephi spoke of the "city" Jerusalem six times and referred to "the city of Nazareth" two times, but after he came to the New World, he was completely silent with regard to the names of New World cities. As a matter of fact, none of the other writers who followed Nephi through the black hole period mentioned the name of any city. Mosiah 7:1 is the first place that we find the name of a city: "...king Mosiah... was desirous to know concerning the people who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi...""
There are other issues with unrecorded wars, filler material, the use of large sections of Isaiah (there are 13 chapters of Isaiah in 2 Nephi - from the King James Bible) instead of giving actual history or information about the people the plates are written about, etc. I would highly recommend that anyone interested read the Tanners' article which can be found here. It helps to give a much more comprehensive picture as to how Joseph Smith rewrote the 116 pages in a way that was so vague as to avoid being proved a fraud if Lucy Harris did indeed keep the original manuscript.
Apologetic Responses to the 116 Pages
There isn't as much apologetic material on the 116 pages as the more common topics, but there is an article from "Review of Books on the Book of Mormon" that covers the writings of both the Tanners and Brent Metcalfe. This publication is edited by Daniel Peterson, the author of Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-Day Saints, and is known for being a more aggressive apologetic source. This particular review is by Matthew Roper.
I want to just highlight a few points here because I think it helps to illustrate one of the ways apologists work with difficult problems, because this is a theme that we will see as we continue these overview topics.
From Matthew Roper:
"As I have argued previously, none of those who witnessed Joseph Smith dictate the Book of Mormon mention his use of a Bible, and its apparent absence during the translation of the Book of Mannon poses serious problems for the Tanners' theory of deliberate biblical plagiarism. The Tanners go to great lengths to show that some LDS writers, such as B.H. Roberts and Sidney B. Sperry, have suggested that, when the Prophet came across passages which paralleled the King James translation, he may have taken out a Bible and simply followed the KJV insofar as it agreed with the ancient text."
This is an apologetic that we often see, because we do have testimony from Emma Smith that there was no other manuscript that Joseph Smith was using. The problem, however, is that there is simply no way to explain that long streches of King James material that is incorporated in the Book of Mormon with errors and all.
Again, if we believe the accounts of translation that Joseph's stone would reveal the text and would not disappear until written correctly, it becomes problematic when Joseph Smith is using long stretches of material from the King James Bible with mistranslations and errors. Even Richard Lloyd Anderson concedes this in the September 1977 issue of Ensign:
“Summarizing the view taken by Latter-day Saint scholars on this point, Daniel H. Ludlow emphasizes the inherent variety of independent translation and concludes: “There appears to be only one answer to explain the word-for-word similarities between the verses of Isaiah in the Bible and the same verses in the Book of Mormon.” That is simply that Joseph Smith must have opened Isaiah and tested each mentioned verse by the Spirit: “If his translation was essentially the same as that of the King James version, he apparently quoted the verse from the Bible.”  Thus the Old Testament passages from Isaiah display a particular choice of phraseology that suggests Joseph Smith’s general freedom throughout the Book of Mormon for optional wording.” (Anderson, September 1977 Ensign)
Roper then goes into Emma's testimony, but as we covered in the testimony section it's problematic. For one, we know Emma is working to paint Joseph Smith in the best light - she denies that he was ever involved in polygamy, which is absolutely a lie. Second, these passages from the Bible simply do not make sense if they are coming through Joseph's seer/peep stone. Either God is including King James language and mistranslations that were not available until well after the Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith is pulling them from the Bible.
But turning back to the topic at hand, Roper addresses the issues with the 116 Pages. Regarding the criticism that Joseph Smith claiming that God was worried about Lucy Harris altering the original manuscript:
"If the plot against the Prophet had succeeded, it could conceivably have undermined the faith of some of Joseph's closest supporters, whose help and devotion were crucial to the success of early Mormonism. Early Mormons already faced an uphill battle. The Prophet's enemies would hardly have needed to produce the original manuscript to harden the hearts of the people and hinder the work from progressing. All they would have had to do was print the altered version. After that, the manuscript might have been destroyed or lost, but the effect would have been the same. They would have claimed that the corrupted version was the earlier one."
This is a problem we pointed out above, which is that if Lucy Harris or any of the other "wicked" or "evil" people wanted to claim Joseph Smith made it up, they could have done it regardless of Joseph Smith being unwilling and unable to re-translate the 116 pages. Roper even makes this point when he says that "All they would have had to do was print the altered version." That alone negates the entire purpose of creating a second set of plates to avoid re-translating - if they wanted to use the story to bring Joseph Smith down by fraudulent ways, they would've done it anyway.
Furthermore, there was no "plot against the prophet." Lucy Harris most likely burned or hid the manuscript so that Martin Harris would stop giving Joseph all of their money. If there was a plot, it was to prove that Joseph Smith could not replicate those lost pages again, and, if you want to call that a plot, it succeeded.
More from Roper on the discrepencies about which prophets knew about Nephi's prophecy on Christ returning in 600 years:
"The Tanners' interpretation of this passage [Alma 13:21-26] is not the only, nor even the most reasonable, explanation of it. As I see it, one may reach several different conclusions depending on how one interprets the references to Christ's "coming" in verses 24-26. Here I will suggest four possible interpretations. Alma's reference to Christ's coming could refer to: (I) Christ's birth. (2) Christ's atonement, (3) Christ's post resurrection appearance to the Nephites in the New World, or (4) Christ's general coming, including all aspects of his life and mission in the meridian of time - his birth, life, teachings, suffering, death, and resurrection, culminating for the Nephites in his appearance to the m shortly after he rose from the dead."
We've covered this before on the site, but one trick apologists use is to reframe the text itself to fit the problem. A good example of this is the apologetic that "translation" doesn't mean translation for the Book of Abraham, that "dark skin" doesn't actually mean skin even though the text makes clear that the skin is the curse, or reframing the 1832 First Vision account to include the possibility that while Joseph Smith says it was only one personage, it was God introducing Jesus and then leaving before Jesus appears.
The biggest problem here is that Roper highlights parts of the verses that he feels make his point, but he neglects to address the problem at hand. For example, Alma 13:25 says:
"And now we only wait to hear the joyful news declared unto us by the mouth of angels, of his coming; for the time cometh, we know not how soon. Would to God that it might be in my day; but let it be sooner or later, in it I will rejoice."
Nephi's prophecy gives a very specific 600 year timeline for Christ's coming, yet here Alma says "we know now how soon" Christ will come. That's the point that both the Tanners and Metcalfe are making - how does Nephi give such a specific prophecy, yet when you get out of the 'small plates' books, they all of the sudden become unaware of it?
Is it possible that the interpretation of from the Tanners and Metcalfe aren't the most reasonable? Sure, anything is possible. But the point is that, as we outline above, there are a series of issues that all fit together well to show that the 'small plates' prophets knew the ending of the Book of Mormon before the middle prophets do. So I would argue that the most logical explanation of it is that the author of the Book of Mormon was filling in the gaps of the lost pages knowing the ending, and as such left us clues not just in the content such as Christ's coming, but the writing clues such as the change in therefore and wherefore covered above.
One more point from Roper about Alma being unaware of Nephi's prophecy:
"In responding to the Tanners' and Metcalfe's claim that this verse poses a serious problem for the Book of Mormon, John Tvedlnes has argued that Alma and perhaps other Book of Mormon prophets in Mosiah-Moroni may have been unfamiliar with the prophecies on the small plates of Nephi. The Tanners argue that this explanation is unreasonable because Alma had received all the plates from Mosiah before becoming chief judge (pp. 49-50) and should therefore have been familiar with their contents, including the 600 year prophecy. The Tanners' objections dissolve when we recall that Alma had a voluminous library of scriptural records, far beyond anything we have today-not merely a few books... In addition to the brass plates, the account of Ether, and the voluminous record of the Nephite history on the large plates, Alma also would have had the record of the Zeniffite colony (Mosiah 9-22), the record kept by Alma at He lam from which Mormon made pan of his abridgment of the book of Mosiah (Mosiah 23- 24), and perhaps other records as well inc1uding the small plates. This would be a fairly imposing corpus to read, much less to master and remember."
Again, this is missing the point. Nephi's prophecy isn't just some mundane detail in the records of these people - it's the central, crowning event in the Book of Mormon. That we are to believe that it would just be forgotten because it's just one detail of a "voluminous" record is really downplaying the importance of Christ in the early books.
Furthermore, as we covered in our section on the gold plates, the idea of robust records on metal plates is 100% anachronistic. In some ways this argument from Roper further shows this was written in the 19th century, because there simply were not records such as this written on brass plates, and when Lehi left he would not even have had access to the Old Testament as it is because much of it was not written and certainly not compiled together by that point. We will cover this in much more detail in the following sections on biblical scholarship and the Book of Mormon.
One other area of Roper's account that I want to point out is how Roper spends nine pages showing similarities between phrases in the "small plates" material with the "large plates." According to Roper, this is proof that the small plates were indeed known to the large plates authors and were not an afterthought by Joseph Smith to fill in the lost pages.
Here are a few examples from Roper from this section:
"For there is nothing which is good save it comes from the Lord; and that which is evil cometh from the devil." (Omni 10:25)
"For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil." (Alma 5:40)
"It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle in unbelief." (1 Nephi 4:13)
"It is better that thy soul should be lost than that thou shouldest be the means of bringing many souls down to destruction." (Alma 30:47)
"Ye know that the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, who were the armies of Pharaoh." (1 Nephi 17:23-24, 27)
"For he has brought our fathers out of Egypt, and he has swallowed up the Egyptians in the Red Sea." (Alma 36:28)
"The compass, which had been prepared of the Lord." (1 Nephi 18:12)
"The ball, or compass, which was prepared for my father by the hand of the Lord." (2 Nephi 5:12)
"And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director-or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it." (Alma 37:38)
If you read these verses, you can see that they're not quite the same. The point here is that there have been a lot of writings showing where Joseph Smith pulled close phrases from materials around him such as the Late War, View of the Hebrews, etc that are roundly mocked by apologists because they are not identical. I don't believe Joseph Smith plagiarized those books because they are not the same, just as I can see above that Joseph Smith is using similar themes and phrases, but these do not show that the later prophets knew of the earlier writings anymore than it shows that a single author wrote the Book of Mormon in the 19th century.
The last example is actually a great example - Joseph Smith mentions the compass in both 1 and 2 Nephi, but does not call it a Liahona there. In Alma he uses the name Liahona and says that 'our fathers' called it Liahona, and then never uses that name again. Alma says the fathers called it Liahona, yet it's never called that earlier in the Book of Mormon. This shows the inconsistencies that come from a book that was orally dictated, where most names are used in one slice of time and then never used again.
We see this also with the Nephite currency, which is mentioned effectively in one section of the Book of Mormon before a quick callback in the Sermon at the Temple to replace 'farthing' from the Sermon on the Mount as Joseph Smith realized that was a problematic word for the Book of Mormon when copying in the King James version of the Sermon on the Mount, and then the currency is never mentioned again.
A study of the rewritten 116 pages in the Book of Mormon along with taking them in context of what Joseph Smith was dealing with at the time leaves us with a very clear conclusion as to what was happening. As I've been highlighting in these sections, these are more of Joseph Smith's fingerprints that we can see on the Book of Mormon, in this case looking at how careful Joseph Smith is in the replacement text against how specific he becomes in the rest of the Book of Mormon.
The story of the lost 116 pages actually gave Joseph Smith two golden opportunities to prove himself as a prophet of God - he could have used his seer stone to locate and recover the lost 116 pages just as he claimed to view the golden plates and locate buried treasure, or Joseph could have reproduced the 116 pages which would have been proof to the entire world that he was translating an ancient record in a divine manner.
We know from the translation accounts that he was reading directly off the seer/peep stone, which means that re-translating the 116 pages would have been exact had it truly been an ancient record being restored through Joseph Smith. There would be no fear that names, cities, and dates would change if it was the tight translation that the accounts tells us it was, which would make this an easy test for Joseph Smith to pass.
Instead Joseph Smith claimed a revelation to fix the problem because as was mentioned above, treasure diggers who use magic are only effective when they are in control of the situation. Once Joseph Smith was no longer in control when the pages went missing, he invoked revelation to retrofit a second set of plates into the translation narrative that just happened to fit the exact same timeline that went missing. If you read D&C 10 you can see Joseph Smith thinking through how he would finish the process, which scholars can use to help show how Joseph Smith created the Book of Mormon along with how he was able to speak in the voice of God.
That Joseph Smith cites revelation that specifically makes claims that the "wicked" and "evil" people would alter the 116 pages when it would be incredible obvious if they tried to forge a document is problematic enough, but the text itself shows us clearly that the author of the Book of Mormon knew the ending of the story when writing the books from the 'small plates.'
D&C 10 simply makes no sense if you're looking at it without a believing viewpoint. Joseph Smith dictates that God tells him:
"And behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words."
There was never any indication that anyone altered the words at this point, but Joseph Smith immediately knows that if he attempts to retranslate the 116 pages he will be at risk of being exposed. In other words, this revelation shows a deep insecurity from Joseph Smith that he cannot replace the text, and that if he attempts to do so he will be immediately exposed.
As we continue into the overview sections on the Book of Mormon, we will continue to show where Joseph Smith leaves his fingerprints on the text, and when we take these sections in totality it is simply inescapable that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century text.
Our next section is going to begin the very deep dive into what biblical scholarship tells us about the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and other scriptures from Joseph Smith. In my opinion this is an important as any common criticism of the Book of Mormon, because as we've talked about already, the author of the Book of Mormon uses the King James Bible as a foundational text which is then incorporated into the Book of Mormon. If there are parts of the Bible that are not historical being used in the Book of Mormon as literal, historical stories, that is going to present insurmountable problems the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
And we are going to be begin this section on biblical scholarship at the very start: Adam and Eve.