Sunday, January 17, 2021

Jan. 11-17: D&C 2; Joseph Smith—History 1:27–65


This lesson focuses on Moroni's visit as recounted in JS-H 1:27-65. JS-H has generated some confusion that we can resolve by considering earlier published accounts of Church history. The confusion involves (i) the identity of Moroni, (ii) the identity of the Lamanites, and (iii) the identity of Cumorah. I'll discuss these in the next section below.

JS-H is an edited version of the history that was originally published in the Times and Seasons as a series of articles titled "History of Joseph Smith." Moroni's visit was published on April 15, 1842 (Vol. III, No. 12, page 753). 

You can see this here:

and here:

To avoid confusion (discussed in the next section below), it is important to consider two aspects of JS-H.

(i) it is an edited version of the original History of Joseph Smith.

(ii) it discusses some things in more detail than previous accounts and other things in less detail than previous accounts.

Joseph's contemporaries were familiar with Moroni's visit because Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had written an earlier, more detailed account that was originally published in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1834-5 and republished many times. I call this the "Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery History." Joseph Smith's brother, Don Carlos, published it as "Rise of the Church."

You can read the account of Moroni's visit from the Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery History in Joseph Smith's own history, here:

Joseph's brother Don Carlos republished it in the Times and Seasons on December 15, 1840 (Vol II, No. 4, p. 241), which you can see here:

It's useful to read both accounts together because that's how Joseph's contemporaries read them. 

Everyone who read "History of Joseph Smith" in the 1842 Times and Seasons was familiar with the Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery history that was published the year before.

For example, JS-H 1:41 says this:

He also quoted the second chapter of Joel, from the twenty-eighth verse to the last. He also said that this was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be. And he further stated that the fulness of the Gentiles was soon to come in. He quoted many other passages of scripture, and offered many explanations which cannot be mentioned here.

Why couldn't Joseph relate those passages here?

There was no need for him to do so because he and Oliver had related the other passages of scripture, with explanations, in detail in the Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery History. I included a table that compiles the passages of scriptures quoted by Moroni as related in these two histories in my book Letter VII: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery Explain the Hill Cumorah

On my LetterVII blog, I discussed some of the gaps in JS-H that were filled by the Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery History.

In that post, I pointed out that "Once we recognize that Moroni taught Joseph about all the scriptures Oliver included, other aspects of Church history become clearer. Church writers including Phelps, Parley P. Pratt, and Benjamin Winchester were well known for elaborating on the Old Testament passages, but the foundation of their interpretations came from Moroni, who taught these things to Joseph Smith before Joseph even obtained the plates."


JS-H has caused some confusion about 3 key points: the identity of Moroni, the identity of the Lamanites, and the identity of Cumorah.

(1) Identity of Moroni. As originally published in the Times and Seasons, the account claimed it was Nephi who first visited Joseph Smith:

Times and Seasons (April 1842)

Joseph Smith-History 1:33

He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi.

He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni.

Critics claim this discrepancy is evidence that Joseph Smith changed his story. They rely on the teachings of some LDS historians who insist that Joseph was the acting, hands-on editor of the Times and Seasons in 1842 who carefully reviewed and edited the newspaper. If that were the case, then the critics make a good point. Why would Joseph Smith intentionally claim it was Nephi who appeared to him?

In my view, Joseph was merely the nominal editor of the Times and Seasons (meaning he was editor in name only, just as he was listed as the printer). I don't think he had the time, interest, or even ability to edit (let alone write articles for) the newspaper. Instead, I think Joseph's brother William, who was editing the weekly newspaper called the Wasp from the same printing shop, was the main editor, probably with assistance from others (such as John Taylor and W.W. Phelps).

Although it is written in the first person, the History of Joseph Smith was compiled by Joseph's scribes from a variety of sources. I think there's a good reason why they wrote Nephi here, even though they were mistaken. I blogged about that here:

The critics overlook Oliver Cowdery's Letter VI, originally published in April 1835 in the Messenger and Advocate. This is understandable because modern LDS scholars and historians also "forget" these essays because some details they contain contradict modern theories about M2C and SITH. 

Nevertheless, Oliver quoted at length what the messenger told Joseph and then wrote, "I believe that the angel Moroni, whose words I have been rehearsing, w[h]o communicated the knowledge of the record of the Nephites, in this age, saw also, before he hid up the same unto the Lord, great and marvelous things, which were to transpire when the same should come forth."

You can read this in Joseph's history here:

Thanks to Oliver's 8 essays about Church history, we see that the original version of JS-H, as published in the 1842 Times and Seasons, was a clerical error.

(1) Identity of Lamanites. JS-H says "there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent." Oliver's Letter IV says Moroni "gave a history of the aborigines of this country.

In the Wentworth letter, Joseph wrote that "the remnant are the Indians that live in this country," a reprise of Letter IV.

People debate about the relative meanings of "continent" and "country," but as the Nephi/Moroni example above shows, we should use caution in focusing on word choice in JS-H. 

It's also interesting that Letter IV doesn't mention gold plates. There is another account in Joseph Smith, History, 1834-1836 that does mention "plates of gold." The table below compares the three versions. Notice that all three focus on the Urim and Thummim as the means of translation.

Joseph Smith-History 1:34-5

JS-History 1834-5, p. 121

(9 November 1835, visit with Joshua)

JS-History 1834-5, p. 64-5

(Letter IV, February 1835)

He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang.

He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;

Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.


He told me also of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold. I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited. He said to me the Indians were the literal decendants of Abraham.


He also informed me that the Urim & Thummim was hid up with the record, and that God would give me power to translate it with the assistance of this instrument;

He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightned and intelligent people, possessing a correct knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption.


He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.

Notice that in Letter IV, Moroni told Joseph that the record was "written and deposited" not far from Joseph's home. That leads to the next source of confusion: Cumorah.

3. Identity of Cumorah. Those who advocate M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) point out that JS-H does not refer to the hill by name. 

51 Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. 
(Joseph Smith—History 1:51)

Naturally, it would make no sense for Joseph's scribes to refer to the hill as "Cumorah" because non-members wouldn't know what that meant and members would already know the hill was Cumorah. 

In Letter IV, Moroni told Joseph that the record was "written and deposited not far from that place," meaning Joseph's home near Palmyra, New York. Usually we only hear that the record was deposited not far from Palmyra, but Moroni also said it was written not far from Palmyra. That means both he and his father, Mormon, resided in the area when they abridged the record.

This is an important detail that is corroborated in Letters VII and VIII. Those who read my blogs and books know all about this, but those not familiar with it can read a key excerpt from Letter VII here:

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