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.
behold ye shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words. I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will shew unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the Devil. Wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, I have, through his grace and mercy, accomplished that which he hath commanded me respecting this thing. I would also inform you that the of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of , Ontario county, New-York.
Consistent with the wording of the United States copyright statute for “securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors” of the same, JS identified himself as “author” of the Book of Mormon. (See An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Securing Copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of Such Copies, during the Times Therein Mentioned [31 May 1790], Public Statutes at Large, 1st Cong., 2nd Sess., chap. 15, p. 124–126; and Wadsworth, “Copyright Laws and the 1830 Book of Mormon,” 83.)
The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845. . . . Edited by Richard Peters. 8 vols. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1846–1867.