Appendix 2: Copies of Book of Mormon Characters, Introduction

Document Transcript

Featured are three documents—one apparently created by , one penned by , and one published as a broadside by a church-affiliated newspaper—that claim to include copies of characters JS transcribed from the . Although it is unlikely that JS was involved directly in the creation of any of these “characters documents,” each may have derived from a text JS created. Since none of the three documents can be verified as copies of a specific JS document, they are included in an appendix to this volume rather than as featured texts.
According to his history, JS obtained the on 22 September 1827 in , New York, and returned them to an after he finished the Book of Mormon, about the end of June 1829. JS’s history added that he was commanded not to show the plates to anyone: “I should not show them to any person, neither the breastplate with the only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them, If I did I should be destroyed.” While the plates were in his possession, JS kept them hidden from view—encased in a log in the woods, in a barn, or underneath a bed. When the plates were not secretly stored, JS kept them covered from view under a tablecloth, stored in a wooden box, or enclosed in a sack, despite considerable pressure from skeptics, family members, friends, and his scribes to see them. Fulfilling a JS revelation, eleven witnesses viewed the plates at about the end of June 1829 and signed statements testifying of them. There is no evidence that any of these witnesses saw or handled the plates except on the occasion described in their statements, and none ever claimed to have copied characters from the plates. later recalled that an angel showed the plates to his mother, , in 1829, but there is no indication that she copied any of the characters either. Therefore, any characters copied from the plates were copied only by JS, meaning that if the documents presented here contain characters that originated from the gold plates, they must have derived from a JS document.
JS had the plates in his possession between September 1827 and June 1829 and could have copied characters from them anytime during that period. He created at least one document with copied characters by early 1828, when took a document containing characters copied by JS to scholars in , , and . While most extant accounts of JS copying characters from the gold plates focus on this event, he likely created other documents containing characters before he returned the plates, a possibility also supported by differing accounts of the copying process. For example, recalled that JS’s wife helped produce a document containing the characters; because she presumably never saw the plates, she must have copied a document previously transcribed by JS. Reuben Hale, Emma’s brother, may have helped JS create an additional document; a statement reportedly made by Reuben’s brother David indicated that Reuben “assisted Joe Smith to fix up some characters such as Smith pretended were engraven on his book of plates.” If these accounts are correct, JS created, at the very least, two documents containing characters.
Several accounts describing texts containing characters from the plates likewise suggest the existence of multiple documents—documents with content completely different from one another. Neither JS’s earliest account nor ’s account explains what was copied or the number of characters copied. John Clark, an Episcopalian pastor in , claimed that had shown him a document with characters from the plates. He wrote that Harris “carefully unfolded a slip of paper, which contained three or four lines of characters.” The first and third documents featured below are similar in format to the document Clark described, although they vary in the number of lines and in the number of characters in each line. Accounts apparently describing different documents may in fact be describing the same document in various stages of completion; in other words, one eyewitness may describe a document that was later added to and described differently by someone else. Similarly, accounts that seem to describe the same document may refer to similarly formatted documents with different content.
A number of extant accounts appear to describe more complex documents that included more than just samples of characters from the plates. A later report by printer Orsamus Turner, for example, suggests that showed Turner’s informant an untranslated copy of the Book of Mormon title page in an attempt to convince him to print the book. also claimed that JS “transcribe[d] the Egyptian alphabet” from the plates. JS’s later history describes a document that included copies of the characters along with their translation, a document that may have been similar to the second document featured below. The most intricate account of a characters document came from , one of the scholars Martin Harris visited. Anthon reportedly described the paper shown to him as “a singular scrawl” that “consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns.” In an 1841 letter, Anthon reportedly stated that the document had “columns, like the Chinese mode of writing,” and “Greek, Hebrew, and all sorts of letters . . . intermingled with sundry delineations of half moons, stars, and other natural objects, and the whole ended in a rude representation of the Mexican zodiac.” If this description is accurate, the document Harris showed Anthon was longer and more complex than any of the surviving texts.
JS may have created separate characters documents for different purposes. For example, the document shown to Anthon was likely created for scholars who might identify, verify, or translate the characters. The document described by Orsamus Turner may have been created especially to persuade a printer to publish the Book of Mormon. JS likely also copied characters for a broader audience; one resident remembered that documents containing characters from the plates were exhibited publicly. JS and others may have also wanted personal copies, and in later years JS showed copies of the characters to visitors such as and Reverend George Moore.
The three documents featured were all purported to include characters copied from the gold plates, and they likely are representative of characters JS copied from the plates.
Documents

Footnotes

  1. 1

    JS’s history records that “by the wisdom of God they [the plates]remained safe in my hands untill I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand, when according to arrangement the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him and he has them in his charge untill this day.” Peter Bauder, a critic of the church who interviewed JS in 1830, wrote, “After he had a part translated, the angel commanded him to carry the plate into a certain piece of woods, which he did:—the angel took them and carried them to parts unknown to him.” In 1834 Eber D. Howe recorded part of the sworn testimony of Leman Copley, including his recollection of a conversation between JS and Joseph Knight Jr. According to Copley, Knight said that “after he [JS] had finished translating the Book of Mormon, he again buried up the plates in the side of a mountain, by command of the Lord.” In an 1841 interview in Nauvoo, Illinois, JS’s brother William Smith related that “at length he [JS] was directed by a vision to bury the plates again in the same manner; which he accordingly did.” (JS History, vol. A-1, 8; Bauder, Kingdom and Gospel of Jesus Christ, in Vogel,Early Mormon Documents, 1:17; Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 277; James Murdock, New Haven, CT, 19 June 1841, Letter to the Editor, Congregational Observer, 3 July 1841, in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 1:479.)  

    Vogel, Dan, ed. Early Mormon Documents. 5 vols. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996–2003.

    Howe, Eber D. Mormonism Unvailed: Or, A Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion, from Its Rise to the Present Time. With Sketches of the Characters of Its Propagators, and a Full Detail of the Manner in Which the Famous Golden Bible Was Brought before the World. To Which Are Added, Inquiries into the Probability That the Historical Part of the Said Bible Was Written by One Solomon Spalding, More Than Twenty Years Ago, and by Him Intended to Have Been Published as a Romance. Painesville, OH: By the author, 1834.

  2. 2

    JS History, vol. A-1, 5; see also Knight, Reminiscences, 3; Metcalf, Ten Years before the Mast, 70–71; and Revelation, Mar. 1829 [D&C 5:11–13].  

    Knight, Joseph, Sr. Reminiscences, no date. CHL. MS 3470.

    Metcalf, Anthony. Ten Years before the Mast: Shipwrecks and Adventures at Sea! Religious Customs of the People of India and Burmah’s Empire. How I Became a Mormon and Why I Became an Infidel. No publisher, 1888.

  3. 3

    Joseph Knight Sr. wrote, “Now it soon got about that Joseph Smith had found the plates and People Come in to see them But he told them that they Could not for he must not shoe [show] them But many insisted and ofered money and Property to see them But for keeping them from the People they persecuted and abused them and they ware obliged to hide them.” Emma Smith explained in an interview that “they lay in a box under our bed for months but I never felt at liberty to look at them.” In an 1879 interview with Joseph Smith III, she stated, “The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth.” Lucy Mack Smith explained that when JS first obtained the plates, he hid them in a hollowed-out birch log. Isaac Hale explained that in 1829 JS hid the plates in a wooded area near his house. (Knight, Reminiscences, 3; Nels Madsen, “Visit to Mrs. Emma Smith Bidamon,” 1931, CHL; Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, 290; Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 5, [11]; Isaac Hale, Affidavit, Harmony, PA, 20 Mar. 1834, in “Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian [Montrose, PA], 1 May 1834, [1]; see also Joseph Smith III to E. Horton, 7 Mar. 1900, in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 1:546.)  

    Knight, Joseph, Sr. Reminiscences, no date. CHL. MS 3470.

    Madsen, Nels. “Visit to Mrs. Emma Smith Bidemon,” 27 Nov. 1931. CHL. MS 852.

    Saints’ Herald. Independence, MO. 1860–.

    Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian. Montrose, PA. 1831–1836.

    Vogel, Dan, ed. Early Mormon Documents. 5 vols. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996–2003.

  4. 4

    See Revelation, Mar. 1829 [D&C 5:11–13]; Revelation, June 1829–E [D&C 17:1–3]; Testimony of Three Witnesses, Late June 1829; and Testimony of Eight Witnesses, Late June 1829.  

  5. 5

    Joseph F. Smith, New York City, NY, to John Taylor et al., [Salt Lake City, Utah Territory], 17 Sept. 1878, draft, Joseph F. Smith, Papers, CHL; Stevenson, Journal, 9 Feb. 1886 and 2 Jan. 1887; see also Andrew Jenson, “Eight Witnesses,” Historical Record, Oct. 1888, 621.  

    Smith, Joseph F. Papers, 1854–1918. CHL. MS 1325.

    Stevenson, Edward. Journals, 1852–1896. Edward Stevenson, Collection, 1849–1922. CHL. MS 4806, boxes 1–4.

    The Historical Record, a Monthly Periodical, Devoted Exclusively to Historical, Biographical, Chronological and Statistical Matters. Salt Lake City. 1882–1890.

  6. 6

    The only time JS lost possession of the plates, according to his own account, was for a brief period during summer 1828. (JS History, vol. A-1, 11.)  

  7. 7

    See Bennett, “Read This I Pray Thee,” 178–216. JS explained that the copy of the characters he made for Harris was taken from the plates. However, in his description of the translation process, David Whitmer related that “a spiritual light would shine forth, and parchment would appear before Joseph, upon which was a line of characters from the plates, and under it, the translation in English; at least, so Joseph said.” If JS did see the characters on the seer stone he may have copied them from the seer stone instead of the plates. (JS History, vol. A-1, 9; J. L. Traughber Jr., “Testimony of David Whitmer,” Saints’ Herald, 15 Nov. 1879, 341.)  

    Bennett, Richard E. “‘Read This I Pray Thee’: Martin Harris and the Three Wise Men of the East.” Journal of Mormon History 36 (Winter 2010): 178–216.

    Saints’ Herald. Independence, MO. 1860–.

  8. 8

    See, for example, JS History, ca. Summer 1832, 5; JS History, vol. A-1, 9; Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 6, [7]; and Knight, Reminiscences, 3–4.  

    Knight, Joseph, Sr. Reminiscences, no date. CHL. MS 3470.

  9. 9

    Though it is unknown for what purpose Emma Smith helped JS prepare a characters document, it was likely to prepare a duplicate copy or to improve the characters’ appearance. Knight stated that JS and Emma “drew of[f] the Caricters” together, which suggests that Emma was helping to improve the transcription. If that was the case, JS might have made a rubbing from the plates instead of copying them by hand since Emma, who never saw the original characters on the plates, would not have been able to improve upon JS’s freehand transcription accurately. (Knight, Reminiscences, 3.)  

    Knight, Joseph, Sr. Reminiscences, no date. CHL. MS 3470.

  10. 10

    Blackman, History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, 104.  

    Blackman, Emily C. History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. From a Period Preceding Its Settlement to Recent Times. . . . Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen and Haffelfinger, 1873.

  11. 11

    JS History, ca. Summer 1832, 5; Knight, Reminiscences, 3.  

    Knight, Joseph, Sr. Reminiscences, no date. CHL. MS 3470.

  12. 12

    [John A. Clark], “Gleanings by the Way. No. VI,” Episcopal Recorder, 5 Sept. 1840, 94.  

    Episcopal Recorder. Philadelphia. 1831–1919.

  13. 13

    Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase, and Morris’ Reserve, 215.  

    Turner, Orsamus. History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase, and Morris’ Reserve; Embracing the Counties of Monroe, Ontario, Livingston, Yates, Steuben, Most of Wayne and Allegany, and Parts of Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming. To Which Is Added, a Supplement, or Extension of the Pioneer History of Monroe County. . . . Rochester: William Alling, 1851.

  14. 14

    Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 6, [7]; see also Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 538 [Mormon 9:32].  

  15. 15

    JS History, vol. A-1, 9.  

  16. 16

    Charles Anthon, New York City, NY, to Eber D. Howe, Painesville, OH, 17 Feb. 1834, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 270–272.  

    Howe, Eber D. Mormonism Unvailed: Or, A Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion, from Its Rise to the Present Time. With Sketches of the Characters of Its Propagators, and a Full Detail of the Manner in Which the Famous Golden Bible Was Brought before the World. To Which Are Added, Inquiries into the Probability That the Historical Part of the Said Bible Was Written by One Solomon Spalding, More Than Twenty Years Ago, and by Him Intended to Have Been Published as a Romance. Painesville, OH: By the author, 1834.

  17. 17

    Charles Anthon, NY, to Thomas Winthrop Coit, New Rochelle, NY, 3 Apr. 1841, in Clark, Gleanings by the Way, 233. Orsamus Turner also described the document Harris had as containing “concentric circles” with characters written inside, between, and outside the lines. (Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase, and Morris’ Reserve, 215.)  

    Clark, John A. Gleanings by the Way. New York: Robert Carter, 1842.

    Turner, Orsamus. History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase, and Morris’ Reserve; Embracing the Counties of Monroe, Ontario, Livingston, Yates, Steuben, Most of Wayne and Allegany, and Parts of Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming. To Which Is Added, a Supplement, or Extension of the Pioneer History of Monroe County. . . . Rochester: William Alling, 1851.

  18. 18

    Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase, and Morris’ Reserve, 215; Henry G. Tinsley, “Origin of Mormonism,” San Francisco Chronicle, 14 May 1893, 12; see also [John A. Clark], “Gleanings by the Way. No. VI,” Episcopal Recorder, 5 Sept. 1840, 94.  

    Turner, Orsamus. History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase, and Morris’ Reserve; Embracing the Counties of Monroe, Ontario, Livingston, Yates, Steuben, Most of Wayne and Allegany, and Parts of Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming. To Which Is Added, a Supplement, or Extension of the Pioneer History of Monroe County. . . . Rochester: William Alling, 1851.

    San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco. 1865–1925.

    Episcopal Recorder. Philadelphia. 1831–1919.

  19. 19

    Oliver Cowdery, “Egyptian Mummies,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, Dec. 1835, 2:235.  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

  20. 20

    Cannon, “Reverend George Moore Comments on Nauvoo, the Mormons, and Joseph Smith,” 11.  

    Cannon, Donald Q. “Reverend George Moore Comments on Nauvoo, the Mormons, and Joseph Smith.” Western Illinois Regional Studies 5, no. 1 (Spring 1982): 5–16.