The Nephi/Moroni Problem
PART I: The Problem
by Elden Watson (with comments by D. Charles Pyle)
Manuscript History of the Church - 1838 (Joseph Smith). In Joseph Smiths Manuscript History, which he dictated to scribes (the particular scribe to whom was dictated the story of this vision was James Mulholland), we are told that the messenger, who appeared in his bedroom just prior to his seeing the Plates of the Book of Mormon for the first time, was Nephi.
Times and Seasons - April 1842 (Joseph Smith). The second published account of the angelic visitation was printed in Times and Seasons 3:753. This account, which was published while Joseph Smith was the editor, also says that the angelic messenger was Nephi.
Millennial Star - August 1842 (Parley P. Pratt). This, which was the third published account of the visitation, is found in Millennial Star 3:53 and again in 3:71, agrees that the messenger was Nephi.
Life of Joseph Smith by Lucy Mack Smith - 1844 (printed in 1853). In this account, by Joseph Smith's own mother, we are again informed that the messenger was Nephi.
The Pearl of Great Price - 1851 (Franklin D. Richards). In the first edition of The Pearl of Great Price p 41, the messenger is again named as Nephi.
Thomas Bullock Journal - In a journal entry Thomas Bullock claims that the name of the messenger was Nephi.
John Whitmer Statement - This statement as recorded in Reorganized Church History acknowledges the messenger to have been Nephi.
The Problem is, with all of these witnesses in early Church History that the messenger was Nephi (even the diary of the Prophet himself), why do we now claim that it was Moroni?
PART II: The Solution
Multiplication of Witnesses
First we wish to demonstrate that there were not seven witnesses in agreement, but only one error which was then perpetuated.
1. Messenger and Advocate - There is no problem in this source since the messenger is not named.
2. Manuscript History of the Church - Here is the error! It actually states in Joseph Smith's Manuscript History that the messenger was Nephi.
- Times and Seasons - This was copied verbatim from Joseph Smith's Manuscript History.
- [Mormon Fortress note: It must also be kept in mind that all during the latter two years of Joseph Smiths life, Joseph Smith became very busy and involved in politics. He was violently taken back to Missouri to face trial in 1843 and constantly faced open criticism and opposition from various persons under his jurisdiction. Due to heavy involvement in other activities, he could no longer function as Editor for the Times and Seasons. He turned responsibility over to John Taylor in 1842 and suspended further translation activity on the Book of Abraham, hoping to return to it. He had no time to reread what had been published in the Times and Seasons and the error unfortunately slipped through the editorial crack. (D. Charles Pyle, personal correspondence, Sept. 16, 2000.)]
4. Millennial Star - This was published under the caption (from the Times and Seasons) and was therefore a verbatim copy.
5. Life of Joseph Smith by Lucy Mack Smith - Lucy quotes Joseph Smith verbatim, and gives as her reference, Millennial Star 3:53.
6. The Pearl of Great Price - This was published in England, and this portion of The Pearl of Great Price was taken from the Millennial Star.
7. Journal of Thomas Bullock - Thomas Bullock relates that he got his information from the Times and Seasons.
The main point here is that there was only one error made, and all of the other sources commonly quoted were perpetuations of the same error. We have therefore only one witness to deal with instead of seven.
Arguments in favor of Moroni
- August 1830. In August of 1830 the Prophet received the revelation which we know as Section 27 in which we have the following:
- Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fullness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephriam. (D&C 27:5.)
Here, then, is a direct revelation given nearly eight years before the account in Joseph Smith's diary, telling us that the messenger was Moroni. In HC 1:106 Joseph informs us that the latter part of the revelation (containing the portion quoted above) was not written until September 1830, and was not included in the first published versions. The portion quoted above was first published in section L (i.e. 50) of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835.
2. 1835 - In 1835 Oliver Cowdery was publishing the Messenger and Advocate in which he wrote eight letters pertaining to the early history of the Church. At this time Oliver Cowdery was assistant president of the Church, and the Messenger and Advocate was the official church publication. After naming many ancient prophets whom he (Oliver Cowdery) believes were shown in vision scenes that would transpire in the latter days, adds:
And I believe that the angel Moroni, whose words I have been rehearsing (Note: he had been rehearsing the words of the messenger who showed the plates to Joseph Smith), who 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 marvellous things which were to transpire when the same should come forth. (Messenger and Advocate, 1:112.)
3. July 1838 - In the Elders Journal (the third official Church publication) which was published at Far West and edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith, we have in an article by David W. Patten, the following statement:
They who sin against the authority given to him -(the before mentioned man of God)- sins not against him only, but against Moroni, who holds the keys of the Stick of Ephraim. [EJ 1:42, also quoted in MS 1:126]
4. July 1838 - In the same issue of the Elders Journal (Vol 1 #3) Joseph Smith answers various questions which were put to him. We quote the 4th question and the answer:
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, being dead, andraised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them; I obtained them, and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates and thus came the Book of Mormon. [EJ 1:42-43]
[Mormon Fortress note: What makes this source so valuable is that it was written and published at about the same time period that Joseph Smith was dictating the portion of the 1838 manuscript (begun in May 1838) that contains the error AND this source was also directly edited by Joseph Smith himself as editor of the Elders Journal! Even more significant is that, in the case of Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith could not oversee publication when his history went to print but the paper that he actually oversaw contained the correct information identifying the angel as Moroni. (D. Charles Pyle.)]
5. In 1840, History of Mormonism was published (which was a reprint of the 1834, first anti-Mormon book, Mormonism Unveiled). It came out under the name of Eber D. Howe, but Philastus Hulburt wrote most of it. At any rate the anti-Mormon community knew who it was who gave the plates to Joseph Smith as can be seen by the following paragraph from the book:
After he had finished translating the Book of Mormon, he again buried up the
plates in the side of a mountain, by command of the Lord; some time after
this, he was going through a piece of woods, on a by-path, when he
discovered an old man dressed in ordinary grey apparel, sitting on a log,
having in his hand or near by, a small box. On approaching him, he asked him
what he had in his box. To which the old man replied, that he had a MONKEY,
and for five coppers he might see it. Joseph answered, that he would not
give a cent to see a monkey, for he had seen a hundred of them. He then
asked the old man where he was going, who said he was going to Chargel.
Joseph then passed on, and not recollecting any such place in that part of
the country, began to ponder over the strange interview, and finally asked
the Lord the meaning of it. The Lord told him that the man he saw was
MORONI, with the plates, and if he had given him the five coppers, he might
have got his plates again. [History of Mormonism p 277]
Although the author obviously likes tall tales, he quite obviously knew just which messenger had to do with the plates - and this in 1840.
6. In the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants the revelation we know as Section 128 (then Section 106) was first published:
And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets - the book to be revealed.... (D&C 128:20.)
We have thus shown that in the early days of the Church, essentially everyone, even the apostates, knew that it was Moroni and not Nephi who gave Joseph Smith the plates.
[Mormon Fortress note:
How then could such a confusing slip have occurred in the dictation of the one manuscript that contains the error? John Taylor gives us a clue. He said: Who was it that administered to Joseph Smith? Moroni and Nephi, men who had lived upon this continent (Journal of Discourses 19:82). Taylor later reaffirmed the same:
Afterwards the Angel Moroni came to him and revealed to him the Book of Mormon, with the history of which you are generally familiar, and also with the statements that I am now making pertaining to these things. And then came Nephi, one of the ancient prophets, that had lived upon this continent, who had an interest in the welfare of the people that he had lived amongst in those days. (Journal of Discourses 21:161). (D. Charles Pyle.)]
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