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Lost 116 Pages

The first 116 pages of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon were lost.
  • Joseph Smith's mother recorded this event:
    Lucy Mack Smith Martin Harris, having written some one hundred and sixteen pages for Joseph, asked permission of my son to carry the manuscript home with him, in order to let his wife read it, as he hoped it might have a salutary effect upon her feelings...

    After leaving Joseph he arrived at home with the manuscript in safety. Soon after he exhibited the manuscript to his wife...

    For a short time previous to Joseph’s arrival, Mr. Harris had been otherwise engaged, and thought but little about the manuscript. When Joseph sent for him, he went immediately to the drawer where he had left it, but, behold it was gone! He asked his wife where it was. She solemnly averred that she did not know anything respecting it.

    Lucy Mack Smith - Joseph Smith's mother
    Biographical Sketches, ch.25
  • If Joseph Smith truly translated the gold plates then we would expect him to be able to reproduce a second nearly identical translation. This would be an opportunity to demonstrate that Joseph did indeed possess a supernatural gift.
  • However if Joseph was making the story up then we would not expect him to be able to reproduce it verbatim. Rehashing 116 pages from memory may recover major themes but he would not be able to recall every embellishing detail from his original creation.

Joseph's Response

  • Joseph claimed that God forbade him to produce a second translation as evidently whoever took the pages intended to alter the handwritten text to ensure that a comparison with a second translation would deem Joseph a fraud.
  • Lucy recorded Joseph's explanation:
    Lucy Mack Smith There is no doubt but Mrs. Harris took it from the drawer, with the view of retaining it, until another translation should be given, then, to alter the original translation, for the purpose of showing a discrepancy between them, and thus make the whole appear to be a deception.

    Lucy Mack Smith - Joseph Smith's mother
    Biographical Sketches, ch.25
  • Conveniently Joseph claimed that the ancient authors had left a second less detailed record that coincidently covered the same period as the missing 116 pages. Joseph would translate from these, called the Small Plates of Nephi, and revert back to the more detailed large plates when caught up.

1830 Book of Mormon Preface

The original 1830 Book of Mormon contained this preface (removed in subsequent editions):
Joseph Smith TO THE READER—

As many false reports have been circulated respecting the following work, and also many unlawful measures taken by the evil designing persons to destroy me, and also the work, I would inform you that I translated, 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 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 plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New-York.


Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
1830 Preface (p.1) 1830 Preface (p.2)


Joseph needed a way to salvage his story, but avoid having to reproduce the exact text of the missing pages, lest he be exposed as a fraud. Joseph gambled that claiming to have another set of plates would give him cover to produce a different text with the same themes but without the original detail. Only the ardent find this believable and necessary to thwart a dubious threat to edit the original handwritten manuscript.