Subject: The 116 lost pages fiasco. What's your take?
Date: Nov 26 23:22 2002
Author: Deconstructor

JeffH said:

I think Joseph was distraught after the loss of the 116 pages because he truly thought he had blown the whole scheme. The long pause prior to continuing with the work was possibly because Rigdon took back the "plates" (i.e. manuscript materials) and was busy preparing replacement text for the lost pages.

JeffH, you bring some insightful analysis and interesting information to the Joseph Smith history. I can tell you've done a lot of studying.

Your analysis is very interesting. I haven't made any conclusions as to Rigdon's involvement in the creation of the Book of Mormon because there's so many historical pieces missing and contradictory information. I think it is possible that Rigdon was involved but I haven't put all the pieces together. I can tell you have, and would love to hear your theory on how it fits together. Maybe you could give us an outline in a new thread on how you believe Rigdon was involved.

And I really like how you tie Rigdon into the loss of the 116 pages. I hadn't thought that maybe the pause in Smith's work was time when Rigdon was re-working the manuscript.

The history makes it clear that this was a critical time for Smith. His wife had just given birth to a stillborn baby boy that was horribly deformed. Smith was nursing Emma back to health himself, as she was still bed-ridden. He had already given Harris the 116 pages but hadn't heard from him in two weeks. Smith was getting anxious.

Finally, Smith traveled to see Harris. He started out traveling by stagecoach, but walked the last twenty miles in the middle of the night!

As Smith's mother recalled, Harris broke down and told Smith the 116 pages were lost. Martin cried, "Oh I have lost my soul!" and Joseph Smith replied, "Oh my God! All is lost! Must I return to my wife with such a tale as this I dare not do it lest I should kill her at once." (Lucy Smith History, 365-365)

Soon thereafter Smith received the first revelation written down - Section 3 of the D&C. Until that point, he had only claimed to be the translator of an ancient record. But at that moment he took the step from translator to prophet - a man who speaks the words of God. From that point on, he started writing revelations, not just translations.

The funny thing is, Smith as prophet was terrified that the 116 pages were still in existence. And apparently God couldn't tell him where they were.

But why was this such a big deal?

In D&C Section 10 (his second "revelation") Smith has the Lord saying "if you should bring forth the same words they will say that you have lied and that you have pretended to translate, but that you have contradicted yourself. And, behold, they will publish this, and Satan will harden the hearts of the people to stir them up to anger against you, that they will not believe my words."

Are you suggesting that this was really Rigdon speaking? That would make sense if Rigdon was really the one behind the scenes writing the manuscript. Rigdon would have been afraid that if he re-wrote the 116 pages and the first set showed up, they would be different and expose Smith as a false translator.

At any rate, Smith didn't go back and start work on the Book of Mormon again for seven months.

Even my TBM father had a hard time with the 116 "lost pages" fiasco. He said of everything in Mormonism, that was the hardest story to swallow. For the story to be true, it requires that God couldn't tell Smith where the 116 pages were but that God had known all along it was going to happen and had instead made Moroni waste precious plates to include two separate accounts of the same 1st Nephi story.

In reality, the 116 pages were never produced and what Smith and God had feared never happened. If Harris's wife had really thrown them in the fire, then what was the problem with Smith just re-translating them from the beginning again?

Behind the story I see a paranoid hoaxster afraid he is going to get caught. Maybe that was Smith, or maybe it was Rigdon. But it sure wasn't an omnipotent and omnipresent God.

What's your take on this?


Subject: short version...
Date: Nov 27 00:32
Author: JeffH

I'm in the eastern time zone and plan on getting up early, so I'll keep this brief.

I think Rigdon has a Spalding manuscript, one containing a story about Lehi, Nephi, etc., which probably did have a great deal of correspondence with the historical outline of the Book of Mormon.

I think that Rigdon probably met Smith near the end of 1826 or beginning of 1827 in a way much similar to the description given in J.G. Bennett's newspaper article. That is, someone joined in with the money diggers who had previously met or heard of Rigdon and suggested going off to Ohio to get him. I'm guessing this was Oliver, and that he may have known that Rigdon possessed an "ancient record" telling of this continent's first inhabitants.

I think that Rigdon made the trip to NY, met Smith, and that the they formed a plan by which Rigdon could provide scriptural authority for his desired restoration movement. Joseph found the scam tempting as well, and it actually gave him an opportunity to "find" an actual buried treasure that he had only for years been making up stories about. But since this treasure was now to be a golden bible rather than just gold, he would have to play a much more pious role than simply that of a seer. Rigdon resigned himself at this point to play his part in the background.

I think Rigdon dressed up Spalding's story with a fair amount of religious material and delivered it to Smith in September of 1827.

Smith soon had to depart for Harmony since some the Palmyra area money diggers believed he truly had obtained some sort of treasure and wanted what they probably thought was their fair share.

I think that once the "translation" began, Joseph may have been either adding some of his own material, or perhaps destroying the manuscript pages provided by Rigdon as they were used.

After Harris (who I think was truly duped) acted as scribe and managed to lose the 116 pages in Palmyra, I think Rigdon went to NY to meet with Smith and Cowdery and figure out a plan. Without a written word-for-word account of the material in the 116 pages, they knew that trying to produce the same exact material would only lead to problems if the 116 pages resurfaced. I think that either Rigdon took back all the materials to Ohio or perhaps he left some material with Oliver in Palmyra. In any event, I think Joseph went back to Harmony empty-handed. I think that the July 1828 revelation from the Lord was a veiled chastisement of Smith by Rigdon.

Between the summer of 1828 and spring 1829, I think Rigdon was coming up with the replacement text and making whatever other late modifications he wanted to make. I think Oliver spent his time staying at the Smith home that school year possibly doing some editing of material as well. I think that if Rigdon made any NY trips during this time, he was more likely to have gone to see Oliver than Joseph.

I think it was decided that Oliver would be directly involved to help things run quickly and smoothly. Oliver showed up in Harmony in April of 1829 with at least some of the material and they began the translation about where it had left off previously. I think Rigdon made a trip to NY and by mid-May arrived with the replacement materials and a revelation was written that would explain the whole reason why Joseph would be translating something other than what he first produced. I think they imposed upon the Whitmers for their hospitality because they new they had a fresh set of very gullible people on their hands.

Ironically, neither as brief or thorough as I hoped, but good enough for now.


Subject: The Cowdery connection...
Date: Nov 27 10:31
Author: Deconstructor

Fascinating theory. It would certainly explain a lot, including why Smith ignored the Book of Mormon after he organized the church. It also fits in well with the 116 lost pages fiasco and how Smith was able to produce the final manuscript so fast.

I am equally fascinated by your idea that Cowdery was deeply involved in the fraud and that he would have been working on the manuscript before Joseph started pretending to dictate it.

Do you think Emma was involved too?

I wonder how many people could have been involved in this scam without the lid blowing off.

Anyway, I enjoyed your synopsis.


Subject: Re: The Cowdery connection...
Date: Nov 27 11:21
Author: JeffH

> I am equally fascinated by your idea that Cowdery was deeply involved in the fraud and that he would have been working on the manuscript before Joseph started pretending to dictate it.

I'm curious as to how the "translation" actually proceeded once Oliver showed up. When others were around who needed to be convinced of the divinity of the work, I think they put on some sort of show where Joseph pretended to use the stone and the hat to do it. It's what Oliver and Joseph did when they were alone that would be interesting to know. People have argued that the manuscript portions we have show evidence of dictation. Perhaps Smith read to Oliver from a prepared manuscript while Oliver wrote it down to create the dictated manuscript. But why? Maybe because the prepared manuscript was full of Rigdon's handwriting and/or edits, and it wouldn't be prudent to try to pass that off as a dictated manuscript. Maybe they wanted the new manuscript to have every appearance of being dictated (rather than copied) since they had already introduced that as the method of producing the work during the earlier translation period with Martin. I don't know. In any event, I don't think Oliver needed to be fooled by anything because I think he was as involved in the fraud as Joseph.

The question of when Oliver would have met Rigdon remains. There are possibilities, though no definite connections. Oliver's brother Erastus lived around Warren, OH, where Rigdon was from about 1818-1822, I believe (I may have my dates wrong there - going by memory). Oliver was said to be a pedestrian pamphlet peddlar around 1823-24, and it's possible he hooked up with Rigdon or Pratt (said to have been a tin peddlar) during that time. Other possibilities could be imagined, I suppose, because Cowdery's life between 1822 and 1828 is a quite a mystery, but it would be nice to find more specific information. There isn't much to go on.

> Do you think Emma was involved too?

I think she was probably aware, but even if so, not too deeply involved, and probably at times not necessarily too thrilled with the whole thing. But she loved Joseph, and I think that love clouded her thinking and her actions for a long time.

> I wonder how many people could have been involved in this scam without the lid blowing off.

I wonder that as well. I think there may have been layers. For example, it could be that one set of people formed the inner-most circle who knew everything (or almost everything) about the details of the fraud, but that another layer of folks went along with things for their own purposes, but didn't know enough to blow the lid off. Meanwhile, a large layer of people were simply caught up in believing the new faith and had little or no knowledge of any behind-the-scenes activities. I think the money digging operation probably followed a similar model, and that Joseph became very good at telling specific people just how much they needed to know. I also think that these were also people who took their secret oaths and the penalties for their violation very seriously.

Subject: The Detroit Connection
Date: Nov 27 10:41
Author: Soho Preacher

If you haven't read this connection of Cowdery and Rigdon, I'd suggest that its worth your while:


Subject: I think Martin Harris really was a dupe.
Date: Nov 27 10:47
Author: brefots

When Harris had lost the 116 pages, (probably full of absurdities and bad grammar), Joseph Smith got a convinient excuse to replace him with someone more suited for the job. He also got several extra months to think through the story he was going to publish. It's obvious that it was to defend the scam those silly "revelations" where given. But I also think that had the pages not been lost BoM would have been a much less convincing book.


Subject: Re: The 116 lost pages fiasco. What's your take?
Date: Nov 27 10:54
Author: Robert

I love Martin Harris' wife! What a wonderful woman she must have been to stand up to Smith's lies!

What ever happened to her? Was Harris a polygamist?


Subject: Harris's wife
Date: Nov 27 13:45
Author: closetgentile

From what I understand, Harris and his wife were divorced not long after he became deeply involved with the church.

Subject: Here's a link to Lucy Harris' own writings about the fact.
Date: Nov 27 15:25
Author: Dydimus

I wish I could give a synopsis but it's quite lengthy and has a bunch of other facts.

Subject: Isaac Hale (Emma Smith's father)  was Never Convinced.
Date: Nov 27 15:05
Author: Deconstructor

Hale's affadivit does note increased hostility between Smith and himself after the lost 116 pages, but there is no second admission of fraud by Smith after the original one in August 1827.

This is how Isaac Hale describes what happened after the 116 pages were lost:

"After this, Martin Harris went away, and Oliver Cowdery came and wrote for Smith, while he interpreted as above described. This is the same Oliver Cowdery, whose name may be found in the Book of Mormon. Cowdery continued a scribe for Smith until the Book of Mormon was completed as I supposed and understood."

"Joseph Smith Jr. resided near me for some time after this, and I had a good opportunity of becoming acquainted with him, and somewhat acquainted with his associates, and I conscientiously believe from the facts I have detailed, and from many other circumstances, which I do not deem it necessary to relate, that the whole "Book of Mormon" (so called) is a silly fabrication of falsehood and wickedness, got up for speculation, and with a design to dupe the credulous and unwary—and in order that its fabricators may live upon the spoils of those who swallow the deception."

Affirmed to and subscribed before me, March 20th, 1834.
State of Pennsylvania, Susquehana County, ss."

So Smith never did convince Mr. Hale that his use of the seer stone for the dictation of the Book of Mormon was any more real than using it for money digging.

Subject: More on Isaac Hale
Date: Nov 27 15:34
Author: Randy J.

... to clarify the situation a little more: Isaac Hale's beef with Joseph in August of 1827 was over his peep-stoning for Josiah Stowell and others in 1825-6, which led to Joseph's "glass-looking" trial in March 1826. Hale didn't want his daughter to marry a man whom he considered to be a ne'er-do-well/transient con artist. The reason Joseph confessed to Isaac that his "peep-stoning" was all a fraud (as documented by the Hale and Ingersoll affidavits and the 1826 trial accounts) was to avoid jail time and to get in Isaac's good graces. It worked, because the judge let Joseph off easy ("allowed to escape"), and Hale let him and Emma live on his property for a time. But after Joseph and Emma moved away, and he produced the BOM in 1829, and began pitching himself as a "prophet", Hale then rightly perceived that Smith had returned to his con-artist ways, which disgusted Hale.

So by the time E. D. Howe wrote Hale in 1834 from Ohio to get his take on Smith, Emma's disgusted father was more than happy to relate his experiences with, and opinions of Smith. And the most telling part of Hale's affidavit is the part where Smith admitted that his peep-stoning was all a fraud. And as Smith was pretending in 1828-9 to "translate the gold plates" via the same peep-stone-in-the-hat business he had admitted to Hale was a hoax in 1827, that tells us all we need to know about Joseph's character and motivations for producing the BOM: It was a con-artist's hoax.

Randy J.

Subject: Jospeh, plates, and the "solution" to 116 missing pages.
Date: Nov 27 16:09
Author: Rocannon

Here's a link to a Dialogue article that outlined in great detail the evidence for how the structure of the Book of Mormon was "reworked" to get around the loss of the 116 pages.

Based on this article, it seems that some of the "rethinking" was done on the fly, while the manuscript was being written, which suggests Joseph and Oliver were doing it while writing, rather than a pre-arranged solution that was all laid out.

Besides, the whole "solution" smacks of Joseph's thinking, not Sidney Rigdon's. Joseph loved plates: small plates, large plates, Lehi's plates, plates of Joseph, brass plates, Kinderhook plates, etc. If there was a problem with the narrative, his solution would be to think up another batch of plates to explain it . . . and voila, we get the small plates of Nephi to get around the problem of his inability to "retranslate" the earlier material from the "plates of Nephi" which he then later called the "large plates of Nephi."

Recovery from Mormonism -   

Listing of additional short Topics  |  Main Page