A Quick Summary of the Lost 116 Pages
The Lost 116 Pages
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 conning him out of his money. After God denied Joseph's request two times, 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 all know, Martin then lost the manuscript which was 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 the first part of the Book of Mormon or it would be a book with no beginning.
Now consider that Joseph Smith was using his "seer stone" in a top hat to translate the Book of Mormon, and that Joseph Smith even used that seer stone to view the Book of Mormon 'gold plates' when they were hidden in an empty log. From the new Saints book: "Hearing of the danger, Joseph looked into the Urim and Thummim and saw that the plates were safe."
This is important because it highlights that Joseph Smith claimed to be able to find objects with his "seer stone" (keep in mind the idea of the "Urim and Thummim" was not developed until years later) 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 such as Joseph Smith, the magic only seems to work when they are in control of the situation, but when it's time to delivery the treasure would 'slip away' or in this case Joseph doesn't even try to locate it because he knows the "seer stone" can't actually locate anything.
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 buried treasure? (Harris interview with Joel Tiffany, 1859, in Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 2: 303)
When Joseph Smith was not in control, his ability to use the "seer stone" to convince others of its magical abilities evaporated, which is why instead of locating them with the stone, Joseph Smith turned to revelations to find a way out of the mess Martin Harris create for him.
Joseph soon had a revelation from God (now known as D&C 10) not to re-translate the pages:
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, of course, 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 in 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. On a side note, if we are to believe that God was so worried about Joseph Smith being exposed for false material, why did He 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?
Can we also make a quick note here to mention that 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.
Joseph then claims through revelation that God actually knew this was going to happen all along, and had Nephi make another set of backup plates that cover the exact same time-frame as the lost pages! This is just a perfect coincidence for Joseph, because he could now recreate the basic concept of the first 116 pages without needing the specific details to match because the first 116 pages now focus on 'spiritual' matters in order to avoid getting the details wrong.
This alone is a massive problem for the credibility of the Book of Mormon, but it gets worse once you read the first 116 pages 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!). A few highlights:
Joseph Smith 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.
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 of what Joseph needs to accomplish in this rewriting of 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 Isaiah 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 very 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. Combine that with Joseph's claimed revelations from God that really make no sense given that God (by this account from Joseph) would allow Joseph to be proven incorrect from the Book of Abraham just a short time later.
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 with so many other elements of Joseph Smith's productions, the most obvious explanation is that the Book of Mormon was a creation of Joseph Smith and that as we receive more information that conclusion only becomes more apparent as long as you are willing to approach this information with an open mind.
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.
But in the case of Joseph Smith, he relied on revelations to create a way out of 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 deus ex machina via revelation to retrofit a second set of plates into the translation narrative that just happened to fit the exact same timeline that went missing.
The bottom line is that when you take a step back and look at these issues, it becomes clear which outcome requires no stretching of common sense or reasonable thought, and which outcome just defies all logic and evidence. Personally I think the Book of Abraham or DNA and the Lamanites are bigger "smoking guns" because we have source material to work with, but the lost 116 pages are essential to understanding how Joseph Smith created the Book of Mormon and, more importantly, how he used revelations to benefit himself and establish authority when he was losing control.
While taking this new information in with an open mind is a difficult thing to do as a believing member, it is essential if you want to determine the truth about Joseph Smith's truth claims along with the foundations of the church. Please contact us anytime if you would like more information on these issues, or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more articles, posts, and updates. Thank you for reading!