JS, Preface to Book of Mormon, [, Ontario Co., or , NY, ca. Aug. 1829]. Featured version, titled “Preface,” typeset [ca. Aug. 1829] for Book of Mormon, [iii]–iv. For more complete source information, see the source note for the Book of Mormon.
From mid-April to mid-June 1828, JS and his principal scribe, , finished a portion of the , producing a substantial manuscript. JS then set aside the translation work to care for his wife after she gave birth, providing Harris opportunity to return to his home in , New York. Before departing, he successfully pleaded with JS to allow him to take the manuscript to show certain members of his family. Not long after Harris’s return to Palmyra, however, the manuscript was lost. This caused JS great distress and contributed to the translation being largely discontinued until April 1829, when began serving as JS’s scribe.
JS and began where JS and had left off. They worked intently day after day, and the translation progressed steadily. As JS contemplated the work’s completion, he became concerned about whether he should retranslate the lost portion. A spring 1829 revelation addressed this concern, warning him against doing so. Though it is unclear what happened to the missing pages, the revelation implied that the manuscript had been stolen by those seeking to discredit JS and further prophesied that if he were to retranslate the section he had already dictated, his enemies would publish an account deriding the translation as a fraud. Instead, the revelation directed JS to translate another portion of the plates called the plates of Nephi, which covered the same period as the lost manuscript.
While revelations that JS dictated in 1828 and 1829 referred to the lost manuscript in generic terms, JS’s mention of 116 pages in the preface to the Book of Mormon was the first time he specified the number of pages lost. This page count may be an approximation based on the page numbering found on the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. The top of page 117 in that copy marks the beginning of the book of Mosiah, which corresponds to the end of the period covered in the pages lost by . However, the process of preparing the printer’s manuscript and providing portions to the typesetter suggests that the printer’s manuscript may not have comprised 116 pages by the time JS wrote the preface.
In the preface, JS addressed false rumors about the Book of Mormon, briefly described how the pages were lost, and quoted the revelation concerning the missing manuscript. Included as part of the first sixteen-page gathering of the Book of Mormon, the preface is thus JS’s first autobiographical account to appear in print, as well as the first publication of any portion of his revelations.
Skousen, Royal. “Critical Methodology and the Text of the Book of Mormon,” review of New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, edited by Brent Lee Metcalf. Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6, no. 1 (1994): 121–144.
The first gathering of the Book of Mormon, including this preface, was likely printed by mid-September 1829. The title page was first published on 26 June 1829 in the Wayne Sentinel, representing the first portion of the Book of Mormon to be published. The title page, however, is typically categorized as part of JS’s translation, rather than as a revelation. (News item, Wayne Sentinel [Palmyra, NY], 26 June 1829, .)
Wayne Sentinel. Palmyra, NY. 1823–1852, 1860–1861.
As many false reports have been circulated respecting the following work, and also many unlawful measures taken by evil designing persons to destroy me, and also the work, I would inform you that I , by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon; which said account, some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again—and being commanded of the Lord that I should not translate the same over again, for Satan had put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God, by altering the words, that they did read contrary from that which I translated and caused to be written; and if I should bring forth the same words again, or, in other words, if I should translate the same over again, they would publish that which they had stolen, and Satan would stir up the hearts of this generation, that they might not receive this work: but behold, the Lord said unto me, I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing: therefore thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi, until ye come to that which ye have translated, which ye have retained; and [p. [iii]]
The Book of Mormon opens with the account of two prophets, Lehi and his son Nephi. Their records and the records of around one thousand years of history were abridged by Mormon, one of the last prophets of the Book of Mormon, from whom the volume of scripture gets its name. (See Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 151–152, 529 [Words of Mormon 1:3–6; Mormon 6:6]; Title Page of Book of Mormon, ca. Early June 1829.)
Several sources, including Lucy Mack Smith’s history, claim that Martin Harris’s wife, Lucy, took the manuscript and did not return it. Eber D. Howe, who provided an early account of the events, was ambiguous about whether the manuscript was destroyed or preserved. He wrote that early church members “sometimes charged the wife of Harris with having burnt it; but this is denied by her.” (Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, 134; Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 22; see also Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 45–46.)
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.
Tucker, Pomeroy. Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism: Biography of Its Founders and History of Its Church. New York: D. Appleton, 1867.
From this point to the penultimate sentence of the preface, much of the text quotes or paraphrases a revelation received a few months earlier concerning the translation. (Compare Revelation, Spring 1829 [D&C 10:10–43].)