Lost 116 pages

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The "lost 116 pages" were the original manuscript pages of what Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, said was the translation of the Book of Lehi,[1] the first portion of the golden plates revealed to him by an angel in 1827. These pages, which had not been copied, were lost by Smith's scribe, Martin Harris, during the summer of 1828 and are presumed to have been destroyed. Smith completed the Book of Mormon without retranslating the Book of Lehi, replacing it with what he said was an abridgment taken from the Plates of Nephi.[2]


Joseph Smith said that on September 22, 1827, he had recovered a set of buried golden plates in a prominent hill near his parents' farm in Manchester, New York. Martin Harris, a respectable but superstitious[3] farmer from nearby Palmyra, became an early believer and gave Smith $50 (equivalent to $1,346 in 2023) to finance the translation of the plates.[4] Lucy Harris, Martin's wife, also donated some of her own money and offered to give more, even though Smith denied her request to see the plates and told her that "in relation to assistance, I always prefer dealing with men rather than their wives."[5][failed verification]

Smith and his wife, Emma, moved to her hometown of Harmony, Pennsylvania, in late October 1827, where he began transcribing the writing on the plates.[6] When Harris left Palmyra to visit Smith without taking his wife along, she became suspicious that Smith intended to defraud her and her husband.[7]

When Harris returned, Lucy refused to share his bed, and she had a suitor of her daughter surreptitiously copy the characters on the Anthon transcript that Smith had given to Harris.[8] Lucy then accompanied her husband back to Harmony in April 1828, when Martin agreed to serve as Smith's scribe.[9] Before returning home after two weeks, Lucy searched the Smith house and grounds for the plates but was unable to locate them. Smith said he did not need their physical presence to create the transcription[10] and that they were hidden in nearby woods.[11]

Harris as Smith's scribe[edit]

From April to June 1828, Harris acted as Smith's scribe as Smith dictated the manuscript using the Urim and Thummim and seer stones.[12] By the middle of June, Smith had dictated about 116 manuscript pages of text.[13]

Harris continued to have doubts about the authenticity of the manuscript,[14] and he "could not forget his wife's skepticism or the hostile queries of Palmyra's tavern crowd." Smith's mother, Lucy, "said that Harris asked Joseph for a look at the plates, for 'a further witness of their actual existence and that he might be better able to give a reason for the hope that was within him.' When that request was denied, he asked about the manuscript. Could he at least take it home to reassure his wife?"[15] After denying his request twice, Smith, with a great deal of uneasiness, said that the Lord had given permission, and he allowed Harris to take the manuscript pages back to Palmyra on condition that he show them to only five named family members. He even made Harris bind himself in a solemn oath.[16]

The manuscript disappears[edit]

Martin Harris at age 87, more than forty years after he lost the manuscript.

When Harris returned home, he showed the manuscript to his wife, who allowed him to lock them in her bureau. Harris then showed the pages not only to the named relatives but "to any friend who came along."[17] On one occasion Harris picked the lock of the bureau and damaged it, irritating his wife.[18] The manuscript then disappeared.[19]

Shortly after Harris left Harmony, Smith's wife gave birth to Smith's firstborn son, who was "very much deformed" and died less than a day after delivery.[20] Emma Smith nearly died herself, and Smith tended her for two weeks. As she slowly gained strength, Smith left her in the care of her mother and went back to Palmyra in search of Harris and the manuscript.[21]

The following day Harris was dragged into the Smith family home in distress and without the pages. Smith urged Harris to search his house again, but Harris told him he had already ripped open beds and pillows. Smith moaned, "Oh, my God! ... All is lost! all is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned—it is I who tempted the wrath of God".[22]

After returning to Harmony without Harris, Smith dictated to Emma his first written revelation,[23] which both rebuked Smith and denounced Harris as "a wicked man."[24] The revelation assured Smith that if he was penitent he would regain his ability to translate.[25]

It is unclear if or when the angel returned the interpreters to Smith.[26] In 1838, Smith said, "Immediately after my return home [to Harmony, Pennsylvania, in about July,] I was walking out a little distance, when Behold the former heavenly messenger appeared and handed to me the Urim and Thummin."[27][28] Smith said he used the interpreters to receive a revelation (today known as Section 3 of the Doctrine and Covenants); then the angel again took away the plates and interpreters before returning them a few days later.[29][30] Nevertheless, Lucy Smith's recollection was that an angel had promised that the plates and interpreters would be returned to Smith on September 22, 1828, if he were sufficiently worthy,[31] and David Whitmer and Emma Smith said that the interpreters were not returned at all but that Smith thereafter used one of his seer stones to interpret the plates.[32]

Resumed transcription and the witnesses[edit]

Between the loss of the pages during the summer of 1828 and the rapid completion of the Book of Mormon in the spring of 1829, there was a period of quiescence as if Smith were waiting "for help or direction."[33] In April 1829, Smith was joined by Oliver Cowdery, a fellow Vermonter and a distant relation who replaced Harris as scribe.[34] The pace of the transcription then increased so dramatically that, within two months, nearly the entire remainder of the manuscript of the Book of Mormon was completed.[35]

According to Smith, he did not retranslate the material that Harris had lost because he said that if he did, evil men would alter the manuscript in an effort to discredit him. Smith said that instead, he had been divinely ordered to replace the lost material with Nephi's account of the same events.[36] When Smith reached the end of the book, he said he was told that God had foreseen the loss of the early manuscript and had prepared the same history in an abridged format that emphasized religious history, the Small Plates of Nephi.[37] Smith transcribed this portion, and it appears as the first part of the book. When published in 1830, the Book of Mormon contained a statement about the lost 116 pages, as well as the Testimony of Three Witnesses and the Testimony of Eight Witnesses, who claimed to have seen and handled the golden plates. According to Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), "it was not tit for tat, this for that — you give me 116 pages of manuscript and I'll give you 142 pages of printed text. Not so: We got back more than we lost. And it was known from the beginning that it would be so."[38]

Nevertheless, the loss of the manuscript provided opponents of Mormonism, such as the 19th century clergyman M.T. Lamb, with additional reasons to dismiss the religion as a fraud.[39] Fawn Brodie has written that Smith "realized that it was impossible for him to reproduce the story exactly, and that to redictate it would be to invite devastating comparisons. Harris's wife taunted him: 'If this be a divine communication, the same being who revealed it to you can easily replace it.'"[40] Ex-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner argued that the lost manuscript suggested that Smith was not a misguided individual who believed in his own creative imagination but was at least minimally aware of his own deception.[41]

Martin Harris was permitted by Smith to be one of the Three Witnesses. He mortgaged his farm for $3,000 (equivalent to $85,800 in 2023) as security in the event that the Book of Mormon did not sell, and when in fact, it did not, he lost both his farm and his wife.[42] He later disavowed Joseph Smith, left the church, joined several different varieties of early Mormon-related congregations, then at 87 joined the LDS Church and recanted what he'd earlier said about Smith. He never disavowed the gold plates, however.[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Along with the Book of Lehi, Royal Skousen, editor of The Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, says that in the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mosiah, the first chapter is listed as Chapter 3. Skousen proposes that all or part of the first two chapters were lost with the 116 pages. Skousen notes that every other book in the Book of Mormon is named for its primary author; but the Book of Mosiah begins with King Benjamin and is not named for him. Also, Mosiah does not begin with an introduction of the author or an explanatory introduction as is typical with other Book of Mormon books but "begins in the middle of things." Skousen speculates that the original first chapter related Mosiah's flight from the land of Nephi to Zarahemla and that the second chapter discussed King Benjamin's early reign and wars.De Groote 2010.
  2. ^ 1 Nephi 1:17
  3. ^ A biographer of Harris wrote that his "imagination was excitable and fecund." Harris once imagined that a sputtering candle was the work of the devil. He told a friend that he had met Jesus in the shape of a deer and walked and talked with him for two or three miles. (John A. Clark letter, August 31, 1840 in Early Mormon Documents, 2: 271.) The local Presbyterian minister called him "a visionary fanatic." (Ronald W. Walker, "Martin Harris: Mormonism's Early Convert," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Winter 1986):34–35.) A friend, who praised Harris as "universally esteemed as an honest man," also declared that Harris's mind "was overbalanced by 'marvellousness'" and that his belief in earthly visitations of angels and ghosts gave him the local reputation of being crazy. (Pomeroy Tucker reminiscence, 1858 in Early Mormon Documents 3: 71.) Another friend said, "Martin was a man that would do just as he agreed with you. But, he was a great man for seeing spooks." (Lorenzo Saunders Interview, November 12, 1884, Early Mormon Documents 2: 149); Turner 1851, p. 215.
  4. ^ Tiffany 1859, pp. 168–169; Howe 1834, p. 26 0; Smith 1853, p. 113; Roberts 1902, p. 19.
  5. ^ Smith 1853, pp. 110–12.
  6. ^ Tiffany 1859, p. 170.
  7. ^ Smith 1853, p. 114.
  8. ^ Smith 1853, p. 114;Smith 1853, p. 115
  9. ^ Smith 1853, p. 115.
  10. ^ Stevenson 1882; Jessee 1976, p. 4.
  11. ^ Smith 1853, pp. 115–116; Howe 1834, pp. 264–65.
  12. ^ During this early period of translation, Harris said that Smith used a seer stone Smith had located in a well years earlier, or to a lesser extent, a pair of "spectacles" made of two seer stones that Smith called the Urim and Thummim, although Smith preferred the former out of convenience. (Stevenson 1882, p. 86).
  13. ^ Smith later called this book the "Book of Lehi", and he was the first to say that the number of missing pages was 116. (Roberts 1902, p. 20);(Smith 1853, sec. 36, v. 41).
  14. ^ Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 66: "Yet uncertainty still beset Harris."
  15. ^ Bushman, 66.
  16. ^ Bushman, 66; (Smith 1853, p. 117); (Roberts 1902, p. 20); (Smith 1853, pp. 117–118).
  17. ^ Bushman, 67.
  18. ^ Bushman, 67. Lucy Harris was described by Lucy Mack Smith as a woman of "irascible temper," but Harris may also have abused her. Lucy Harris also suggested that her husband may have committed adultery with a neighboring "Mrs. Haggart." (Smith 1853, 1:367) "Lucy Harris statement," in EMD, 2: 34-36: "In one of his fits of rage he struck me with the butt end of a whip, which I think had been used for driving oxen, and was about the size of my thumb, and three or four feet long. He beat me on the head four or five times, and the next day turned me out of doors twice, and beat me in a shameful manner....Whether the Mormon religion be true or false, I leave the world to judge, for its effects upon Martin Harris have been to make him more cross, turbulent and abusive to me." In March 1830, a revelation from Smith warned Harris not to "covet thy neighbor's wife." D&C 19: 25.
  19. ^ According to Pomeroy Tucker (1802-1870), who was an acquaintance of the Harris family, Lucy Harris took the manuscript while Harris was asleep and burned it, keeping that fact a secret until after publication of the Book of Mormon. "A feud was thus produced between husband and wife, which was never reconciled." (Tucker 1867, pp. 46); also at EMD, 3: 11. A neighbor in Harmony said that prior to burning it, Lucy Harris hid the manuscript and told Smith to find it with his seer stone, but that Smith was unsuccessful (Mather 1880, p. 202). For other theories of what happened to the missing pages see Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City: Signature, 2000), 3: 480-81. Master forger Mark Hofmann may have been working on a forgery of the 116 pages before he was convicted of murder. See Allen D. Roberts, "'The Truth Is the Most Important Thing': The New Mormon History According to Mark Hofmann," Dialogue 20 (1987), 89-90.
  20. ^ Sophia Lewis, 1834, quoted in EMD 4: 298. Lewis, who was present at the birth, said that the baby was stillborn.
  21. ^ Bushman, 66-67; (Smith 1853, p. 118); (Howe 1834, p. 269).
  22. ^ Bushman, 67; (Smith 1853, p. 121)
  23. ^ The revelation is today Doctrine and Covenants, section 3 (LDS Church ed.).
  24. ^ Phelps 1833, sec. 2:5.
  25. ^ Bushman, 68; (Phelps 1833, 2:7); Doctrine and Covenants 3:10–11
  26. ^ Bushman, 578, n. 46.
  27. ^ Vogel, D. (2004). Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet. Signature Books, p. 147.
  28. ^ "History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834]," p. 10, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed January 7, 2020, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834/12
  29. ^ Vogel, 147.
  30. ^ "History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834]," p. 11, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed January 7, 2020, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834/13
  31. ^ Vogel, D. (2004). Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet. Signature Books, p. 148.
  32. ^ Bushman, 578, n. 46
  33. ^ Bushman, pp.70-71.
  34. ^ Early Mormon Documents, 1: 599-600, 604, n. 11.
  35. ^ Bushman, p.73.
  36. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 10:17–18, 31 for Smith's description of the plans to alter the manuscript.
  37. ^ Bushman, p.74. The translated version of these "small plates" includes the books of 1 & 2 Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom and Omni. The unabridged version, not retranslated, Smith called "The Book of Lehi."
  38. ^ "At least six times in the Book of Mormon the phrase 'for a wise purpose' is used in reference to the making, writing, and preserving of the small plates of Nephi (see 1 Nephi 9:5; Words of Mormon 1:7; Alma 37:2,12,14,18). We know one such wise purpose — the most obvious one — was to compensate for the lost 116 pages of manuscript. But it strikes me that there is a 'wiser purpose' than that. ... The key to such a suggestion is in verse 45 of Section 10. ... He says, 'Behold, there are many things engraven upon the [small] plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel.' So clearly ... it was not tit for tat, this for that — you give me 116 pages of manuscript and I'll give you 142 pages of printed text. Not so: We got back more than we lost. And it was known from the beginning that it would be so. We do not know exactly what we missed in the 116 pages, but we do know that what we received on the small plates was the personal declarations of three great witnesses, [Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah], ... testifying that Jesus is the Christ. ... I think you could make a pretty obvious case that the sole purpose of the small plates was to give a platform for these three witnesses." (CES Symposium, BYU, Aug. 9, 1994, quoted in Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 198)
  39. ^ Lamb, M.T. (1887). "The Golden Bible". – an early critical view of the lost manuscript problem. Lamb noted that the plates from which the 116 pages were translated had been preserved for 1,400 years by the special providence of God, but that a "wrathful woman" had undone His plans; neither God nor the angel stopped Smith from translating the wrong plates until Harris lost the manuscript; God scolded Smith for his loss of the manuscript, even though its loss was "the best thing that could have happened for the cause of truth." Although Smith said that "evil men" would produce an altered manuscript if he were to translate the same part of the golden plates again, no such attempt has been uncovered. Nor did Smith ever announce what had become of the lost pages despite his followers' belief in his prophetic gift.
  40. ^ Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet 2nd ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), p.54.
  41. ^ "UTLM Newsletter".
  42. ^ Bushman, 80. Lucy Harris swore (and had corroboration) that her husband intended to make money through his relationship to Smith and the Book of Mormon. EMD 2: p.35
  43. ^ On his death bed, Harris said,"The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen, and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true."Martin Harris Cited by George Godfrey as "Testimony of Martin Harris", from an unpublished manuscript copy in the possession of his descendants, quoted in Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1971), 65–66.


  1. Howe, Eber Dudley (1834), Mormonism Unvailed, Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press. See also: Mormonism Unvailed
  2. Jessee, Dean (1976), "Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History" (PDF), BYU Studies, 17 (1): 35, archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-09-21.
  3. Lapham, [La]Fayette (May 1870), "Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, Forty Years Ago. His Account of the Finding of the Sacred Plates", Historical Magazine, Second series, 7: 305–309{{citation}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link); republished in Vogel, Dan, ed. (1996), Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, Signature Books, ISBN 1-56085-072-8, archived from the original on 2005-12-29.
  4. Mather, Frederic G. (1880), "Early Days of Mormonism", Lippincott's Magazine, 26 (152): 198–211.
  5. Phelps, W.W., ed. (1833), A Book of Commandments, for the Government of the Church of Christ, Zion: William Wines Phelps & Co., archived from the original on 2012-05-20, retrieved 2006-12-16.
  6. Roberts, B. H., ed. (1902), History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume 1, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. See also: History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  7. Smith, Lucy Mack (1853), Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations, Liverpool: S.W. Richards, archived from the original on 2004-04-30. See also: Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations
  8. Stevenson, Edward (1882), "One of the Three Witnesses: Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris", The Latter Day Saints' Millennial Star, 44 (5): 78–79, 86–87.
  9. Tiffany, Joel (August 1859), "Mormonism, No. II", Tiffany's Monthly, 5: 163–170, archived from the original on 2007-01-01, retrieved 2006-12-16.
  10. Tucker, Pomeroy (1867), Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism, New York: D. Appleton.
  11. Turner, Orasmus (1851), History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, and Morris' Reserve, Rochester, New York: William Alling.
  12. De Groote, Michael (26 June 2010), Chapters of Mosiah among stolen pages?, Mormon Times, archived from the original on 10 July 2010, retrieved 29 June 2010

Further reading[edit]

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