Angel Moroni

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For other uses, see Moroni (disambiguation).
Bern Switzerland Temple statue of Angel Moroni

The Angel Moroni (/mˈrn/[1]) is, in Mormonism, an angel that visited Joseph Smith on numerous occasions, beginning on September 21, 1823. According to Smith, the angel was the guardian of the golden plates, which Latter Day Saints believe were the source material for the Book of Mormon, buried in a hill near Smith's home in western New York. Moroni is an important figure in the theology of the Latter Day Saint movement, and is featured prominently in Mormon architecture and art. Three Witnesses besides Smith also reported that they saw Moroni in visions in 1829, as did several other witnesses who each said they had their own vision.

Moroni is thought by Latter Day Saints to be the same person as a Book of Mormon prophet–warrior named Moroni, who was the last to write in the golden plates. The book states that Moroni buried them before he died after a great battle between two pre-Columbian civilizations. After he died, he became an angel, and was tasked with guarding the golden plates, and with eventually directing Smith to their location in the 1820s. According to Smith, he returned the golden plates to Moroni after they were translated and as of 1838 the angel Moroni still had the plates in his possession.[2]

Angel's name and identity[edit]

There have been two conflicting accounts as to the name of the angel. Initially, Smith merely referred to "an angel" without identifying its name. Thus, in an 1831 letter from Lucy Mack Smith to her brother, she discusses Moroni as the person who buried the plates, but does not identify him as the unnamed "holy angel" that gave Smith the means to translate the golden plates.[3] In Smith's 1832 history, he said he was visited by "an angel of the Lord", who mentioned the Book of Mormon prophet "Moroni" as the last engraver of the golden plates; however, Smith's account did not say whether or not the angel was referring to himself as Moroni.[4]

In 1835, Smith identified the angel as Moroni: in 1835, while preparing the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, he made additions to an earlier revelation regarding sacramental wine, and indicated a number of angels that would come to the earth after the Second Coming and drink wine with Smith and Oliver Cowdery.[5] Among those angels, the revelation listed "Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel; to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim".[5] Around this time, Cowdery was writing a history of Smith in which he identified the angel as the prophet Moroni from the Book of Mormon.[6] In July 1838, Smith wrote an article for the church periodical Elders' Journal, in the form of questions and answers, that stated the following:

"Question 4th. How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon?
"Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, as a resurrected being, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them."[7]

However, on May 2, 1838, a few months before Smith's statement in Elders' Journal, Smith began dictating a church history that included a detailed account of his visits from the angel.[8] In this text, Smith identified the angel as "Nephi", which is the name of the Book of Mormon's first narrator.[9] Smith's 1838 identification as "Nephi" was left unchanged when the 1838 history was published in 1842 in Times and Seasons, which Smith edited himself,[10] and in Millennial Star.[11] In the latter, an editorial referred to the 1823 vision and praised "the glorious ministry and message of the angel Nephi".[12] After Smith's death, the identification as "Nephi" was repeated when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) published its first edition of the Pearl of Great Price.[13] It was also repeated in 1853 when Smith's mother Lucy Mack Smith published a history of her son.[14]

As a further complication, Mary Whitmer, mother to one of the Three Witnesses and four of the Eight Witnesses, said she had a vision of the golden plates, shown to her by an angel whom she always called "Brother Nephi",[15] who may or may not have been the same angel to which Smith referred.

Nevertheless, based on Smith's other statements that the angel was "Moroni," and based on both prior and later publications, most Latter Day Saints view Smith's 1838 identification of the angel as Nephi as a mistake, perhaps on the part of the transcriber or a later editor.[16] In the version of Smith's 1838 history published by the LDS Church, as well as the portion canonized by that denomination as the Pearl of Great Price, the name "Nephi" has been changed by editors to read "Moroni".[17] The Community of Christ publishes the original story, including the identification of "Nephi", but indicates "Moroni" in a footnote.[citation needed]

Description[edit]

Descriptions of the angel Moroni vary. In one of Smith's histories, he described him as an "angel of light" who "had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen .… His hands were naked and his arms also a little above the wrists .… Not only was his robe exceedingly white but his whole person was glorious beyond description".[18] According to Smith's sister Katharine, the angel "was dressed in white raiment, of whiteness beyond anything Joseph had ever seen in his life, and had a girdle about his waist. He saw his hands and wrists, and they were pure and white.[19]

Appearances to Joseph Smith and others[edit]

The angel Moroni delivering the plates of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith.

Smith said that on the night of September 21, 1823, Moroni appeared to him and told him about the golden plates that were buried in a stone box a few miles from Smith's home. Smith said that the same angel visited him various times over the course of the next six years; Smith also said that the angel visited after him to retrieve the golden plates after Smith had finished translated a portion of the writing on the plates[20] into the Book of Mormon.[2]

In addition to Smith, several other early Mormons said they had visions where they saw the angel Moroni. Three Witnesses said they saw the angel in 1829: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. Other early Mormons who said they saw Moroni include Emma Hale Smith, Hyrum Smith, Luke S. Johnson, Zera Pulsipher, W. W. Phelps, John P. Greene and his wife Rhoda, John Taylor, Oliver Granger, Heber C. Kimball, Lucy Harris, and Harrison Burgess. Mary Whitmer may also have seen Moroni, although she referred to the angel she saw as "Brother Nephi."

Mortal life of Moroni the prophet[edit]

According to the Book of Mormon, Moroni was the son of Mormon, the prophet for whom the Book of Mormon is named. Moroni may have been named after Captain Moroni, an earlier Book of Mormon figure. Before Mormon's death in battle, he passed the golden plates to Moroni. Moroni then finished writing on the plates and concluded the record, presumably burying them in the hill Cumorah in western New York.

Theological significance[edit]

Angel Moroni USVA headstone symbol

Because of his instrumentality in the restoration of the gospel, Moroni is commonly identified by Latter Day Saints as the angel mentioned in Revelation 14:6, "having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people."

The image of the angel Moroni blowing a trumpet is commonly used as an unofficial symbol of the LDS Church. Moroni appears on the cover of some editions of the Book of Mormon, and statues of the angel stand atop many LDS temples, with most statues facing eastward.

In 2007, the LDS Church claimed that an image of the angel Moroni in an advertisement violated one of the church's registered trademarks.[21]

Theorized origin of the name[edit]

Some scholars have theorized that Smith became familiar with the name "Moroni" through his study of the treasure-hunting stories of Captain William Kidd.[22] Because Kidd was said to have buried treasure in the Comoros islands, and Moroni is the name of the capital city and largest settlement in the Union of the Comoros, it has been suggested[who?] that Smith borrowed the name of the settlement and applied it to the angel who led him to buried treasure—the golden plates. Complementing this proposal is the theory that Smith borrowed the names of the Comoros islands and applied them to the hill where he found the golden plates, which he named Cumorah.[citation needed][23]

Latter Day Saint apologists have reasoned that this line of argument commits the logical error of appeal to probability; they believe that it is unlikely that Smith had access to material which would have referred to the then-small settlement of Moroni.[24] Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley noted the prevalence of names in the Book of Mormon with the root "mor" and suggested that the root may be of Egyptian origin with the meaning of "beloved".[25]

Sculptors[edit]

The Nauvoo Temple was the first Latter Day Saint temple to be crowned with a figure of an angel. This angel, not officially identified as Moroni,[citation needed] was a gilded wooden weathervane sculpted by an unknown artist in 1844. This figure was positioned in a flying horizontal position holding an open book in one hand and a trumpet in the other.

Cyrus Dallin sculpted the first angel which was identified as Moroni.[citation needed] This angel was placed on the Salt Lake Temple during the capstone ceremony on April 6, 1892, one year to the day before the temple was dedicated. Dallin's design is a dignified, neoclassical angel in robe and cap, standing upright with a trumpet in hand. It stands 3.8 meters high, was molded in hammered copper from the plaster original, and covered with 22-karat gold leaf.

Torleif S. Knaphus fashioned a replica of the Dallin angel in the 1930s, but the casting of his angel was never placed on a temple until many years later. In 1983, castings of this angel were placed on the Idaho Falls Temple (8th operating temple), and the Atlanta Temple (21st operating temple).

Millard F. Malin's angel, which was placed on the Los Angeles Temple in 1953 is known as the second Angel Moroni statue. His angel was cast in aluminum, stands 4.7 meters high and weighs 953 kilograms. It has Native American features, wears a Mayan style cloak and holds the gold plates in its left hand.[citation needed]

Avard Fairbanks sculpted the third Angel Moroni statue which was placed on the Washington D.C. Temple, dedicated in 1974. This angel was created as a one-meter model which was sent to Italy where it was enlarged, cast in bronze, and gilded. The finished statue is 5.5 meters high and weighs over 4,000 pounds (1814 kg). The Seattle Washington, Jordan River Utah, and México City México Temples each have a 4.6 meter casting of this statue.

Karl Quilter sculpted his first Angel Moroni in 1978. Two sizes were made, one three meters high, the other just over two meters. These statues were designed to reduce the cost and weight of the previous Angel Moroni statues, in order to become a standard part of the temple architecture. The Quilter angels are made of fiberglass and covered with gold leaf. In 1998, with the construction of many new smaller temples, Quilter was commissioned to create a new angel. This angel was similar in design to his previous angels, but he gave Moroni a slightly larger build, with its left hand opened, and the body turned slightly to show more action. The Bern Switzerland Temple's Angel Moroni is patterned after Quilter's 1998 design. Quilter's Angel Moroni is now on over one hundred temples around the world.[26]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Pronunciation Guide". Book of Mormon. 
  2. ^ a b Joseph Smith–History, 1:60, Pearl of Great Price.
  3. ^ (Morgan 1986, p. 349).
  4. ^ (Smith 1832, p. 4).
  5. ^ a b (Smith et al. 1835, p. 180).
  6. ^ (Cowdery 1835, p. 112).
  7. ^ (Smith 1838b, pp. 42–43).
  8. ^ (Smith 1838a, p. 7).
  9. ^ (Smith 1838a, p. 5).
  10. ^ (Smith 1842, p. 753)
  11. ^ (Pratt 1842, p. 53).
  12. ^ (1842, p. 71).
  13. ^ (Richards 1851, p. 41).
  14. ^ (Smith 1853, p. 79).
  15. ^ (Whitmer 1888, p. 621).
  16. ^ See FAIR Wiki, "Nephi or Moroni".
  17. ^ Joseph Smith–History 1:27.
  18. ^ (Smith 1838).
  19. ^ (Salisbury 1895, p. 11).
  20. ^ Either one-third or two-thirds; accounts vary: http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu/IL/mischig.htm#101781 & http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu/NY/wayn1830.htm#031931[unreliable source?]
  21. ^ Andrew Adams, "Angel Moroni at the Center of Controversial Ad Campaign", KSL Radio, March 23, 2007.
  22. ^ See, e.g.: Huggins, Ronald V. (Winter 2003), "From Captain Kidd's Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism", Dialogue 36 (4): 17–42 
  23. ^ Prior to 1830, most maps and gazetteers referred to the Comoros as "Comora", but do not contain any mention of the name Moroni. The 1830 first edition of the Book of Mormon printed the name "Cumorah" as "Camorah".
  24. ^ See FAIR Wiki, "Comoros Islands and Moroni".
  25. ^ See Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of The Book of Mormon, Semester 3, Lecture 71
  26. ^ Hunter, J. Michael (January 2001). "I Saw Another Angel Fly". Ensign. 

References[edit]

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