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Joseph Begins Translating

Joseph went to the hill exactly one year after he first saw the plates. Moroni met him there and taught him about the things that God would do from that time until the second coming of Christ. Each year Joseph went to the hill to learn from Moroni.

In those years before Joseph could take the plates many things happened to him and his family. Joseph's family did not have very much money. So any member of the family who could get work for a little while did, in order to get money to help the family. They could not live by just farming. One of the jobs that Joseph was hired to do was to dig for Spanish treasure for a man named Josiah Stoal. With other hired hands Joseph dug for the treasure, but they could never find it, as treasures are most often not found. Joseph finally talked Josiah into giving up the search.

Joseph's oldest brother, Alvin, died in these years also. This was very hard for Joseph's family.

Also, Joseph met his future wife, Emma, and they were married.

On September 22, 1827 the angel, Moroni, gave the plates to Joseph. From the time that Joseph had first seen Moroni and the gold plates until the time that he was allowed to take them was four years. Moroni warned Joseph that he must take good care of the plates. If Joseph was careless or neglected them and they were lost or stolen Joseph would be cut off. What does it mean to be "cut off"? Joseph had been chosen to do a very important job. If he took it seriously and did his best God would help him and be with him. But if Joseph became greedy for money or decided to become famous by showing the plates to people who were not to see them, or any other thing like that, God would turn away from him and the plates and the job would be taken from him. Moroni promised Joseph that if he did his best the plates would be protected.

Joseph soon learned that what Moroni said was no joke. Soon many people knew that Joseph had found a treasure made of gold. How did they find out? All the enemies of God wanted the plates to be destroyed and not translated. Satan has always tried to stop God's plans. He tempted Eve in the garden of Eden, he tried to kill baby Moses, he tried to kill baby Jesus. Joseph found that many people were trying to get the plates because they were gold or simply because they hated Joseph because of the vision he had had when he was only fourteen. Joseph's whole family suffered with Joseph. The only way Joseph managed to keep the plates and do the job that he had to do was that his family helped him and God helped him.

Things were so bad that Joseph and Emma got ready to go to Pennsylvania. They were poor and Joseph was unlikely to get a job with the way things were. A man named Martin Harris came to their rescue and gave them fifty dollars. Fifty dollars is almost nothing now, but then it helped Joseph a great deal. In Pennsylvania Joseph and Emma stayed with her parents and Joseph began to translate the gold plates by using the Urim and Thummim.

Soon Martin Harris came to visit them. He took a little piece of paper with a sample of the writing that was on the plates and took it to a well known professor named Professor Anthon. Professor Anthon looked at the paper and said that the writing was Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic. Then he wrote that on a piece of paper and also said that Joseph Smith had translated them correctly. Then he signed his name to it and gave the paper to Martin Harris.

As Martin Harris was leaving Professor Anthon asked him where Joseph had gotten the gold plates. Martin Harris told him that an angel had showed Joseph. Then Professor Anthon asked to see the paper that he had just signed and given to Mr. Harris. Martin Harris took it out of his pocket and handed it to Professor Anthon. Professor Anthon tore it up and said that there was no ministering of angels. He also told Mr. Harris that if he would bring him the plates he would translate them. Mr. Harris said that part of the plates were sealed and he could not bring them. Then professor Anthon said, "I cannot read a sealed book."

Mr. Harris then went to Dr. Mitchill who looked at the samples of writing and Joseph's translations. He said the same thing about them that Professor Anthon had said.

Martin Harris went back to Joseph and helped him by writing as Joseph translated. It took Joseph a long time to translate the gold plates. He could translate all that was not sealed. Martin Harris was only one of the people who wrote for him. Emma wrote for him sometimes and a few other men. As they worked Joseph was the only one who saw the plates and the Urim and Thummim. A curtain would be hung to separate him from the person who was writing. This was not to be mean. But Moroni had said that Joseph must never show the plates to anyone. When Moroni finally took the plates back to heaven he allowed eleven other men to see them. Moroni showed himself and the plates to three men, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. Joseph was allowed to show the plates to eight other men, Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hyrum Page, his father, Joseph Smith, Sr., and two of his brothers, Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith. These eleven men told the world until their dying days that the plates were real and that the Book of Mormon, which is the translation of the plates, was true. We will learn more about this story later.

By June of 1828, Joseph and Martin Harris had managed to get 116 pages of paper translated. Martin Harris began to ask Joseph if he could take the pages to let some of his family and friends see them. He must have begged and begged, and Joseph asked God several times if it was all right. God did not give Joseph permission to let Mr. Harris take the pages. But finally after having asked and asked Joseph let Martin Harris take the pages of translation. Martin Harris promised that he would only show them to a very few people. But he showed them to more people than he had promised and they were stolen.

Joseph was very angry and Martin was very sorry. And God was very angry with Joseph. The plates and Urim and Thummim were taken away from Joseph. God told Joseph that he must repent and that he must trust in God and not in other people. Finally the plates were given back to Joseph and then they were taken away again. God was teaching Joseph a very important lesson and God also had to tell Joseph what to do so that serious damage would not be done.

Sections 2, 3 and 5 in the Doctrine and Covenants are the things that God said to Joseph during this time. In section 3 God told Joseph what to do about the stolen translations.

God knew that the people who stole the translations from Martin Harris had plans for them. The people who had them knew that the normal thing for Joseph to do would be to translate those pages over again. God told Joseph not to translate them again, because the people who had the first, stolen copy would change it and then when Joseph showed the second copy to the world the two copies would be different. Then the people would say that Joseph couldn't really translate or that he was making it up or something since the two copies were different.

The pages that Joseph lost were the writing of Lehi. Lehi's son, Nephi, had written the same things except that he had written much more. So we do not have Lehi's story, but we do have Nephi's story which had more in it. So the people who thought they could mess up God,s plans for the Book of Mormon had an unpleasant surprise. God has told us time and again that man cannot frustrate the works of God. That means that whatever God has planned will happen no matter what some evil people try to do.

Joseph was very sorry for what he had done and God helped him learn a very important lesson. The lesson was to listen to God and not to other people.

Adapted by Lois Anderson
from The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Volume 1, pages 16-27

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Copyright 2001 Lois M. Anderson: All Rights Reserved
Last revised: August 7, 2001