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Joseph Begins Translating
(revised January 23, 2018)
In the years that Joseph was waiting and being taught once a year by the angel Moroni, Joseph was living a normal life. He was working on his family’s farm and being hired for odd jobs by other people. Some of these jobs involved looking for treasures. Some people mention this in order to make it seem that that was one of Joseph’s main interests and that it shows that he was dishonest. People are always looking for treasures. When I was young my mother and we children went to a local train trestle looking for keys to a new car. Don’t worry, we were nowhere near the tracks. It was a radio contest in which clues were given and whoever found the keys got a new car. We could have used a new car. My father was always repairing ours to keep them going. We didn’t find the keys. Treasures like that are elusive and Joseph’s employers didn’t find their treasures either.
One of Joseph’s brothers, Alvin died. This was very sad for his family and affected them greatly.
While Joseph was employed by someone in Pennsylvania, he was staying at the home of Mr. Isaac Hale. There Joseph met Emma Hale and they were married on January 18, 1827. Mr. Hale, Emma’s father was not very happy about his daughter marrying Joseph. People knew about Joseph’s story of seeing a vision and gave him a hard time. Because of this Joseph had to move often. Whatever problems Joseph would have, Emma would now be having too.
Finally, it was time for Joseph to go and get the things that were in the stone box. It was September 22, 1827. The angel Moroni was there to deliver the things to Joseph. In some stories we are told that the angel’s name was Nephi. We are pretty sure that that was a mistake. Moroni was the last person to be in charge of the gold plates. The plates that were given to Joseph to translate were just a tiny part of many records. Moroni’s father, Mormon, had gone through all the records and written down the things that he thought were the most important things for us to know. (The whole book is called the Book of Mormon. It is written by several people. One of the people who wrote in it was called Mormon. He wrote the third from the last book in the Book of Mormon. So, there is the big Book of Mormon and the little book of Mormon.)
In about 400 A.D. Moroni buried these plates for safe keeping. He had fled from terrible war where his people had been destroyed. The plates are the story of these people and their beliefs about Jesus Christ. They wanted the descendants of those who were not destroyed and the people who would come here from all around the world to know about them.
In the title page, which was a part of the plates, it says, “ . . . and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”
The people who wrote these records were Jewish people. Non-Jewish people are called Gentiles. The Book of Mormon teaches us that Jesus Christ is God and that He made all of us and loves all of us.
Here is what was in the box. There were three things. The gold plates, the Urim and Thummin, and the Breastplate.
In Joseph’s writings he tells us. “Also that there were two stones in silver bows, and these stones fastened to a breastplate constituted what is called the Urim and Thummin, deposited with the plates, and the possession and use of these stones was what constituted seers in ancient or former times, and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.”
If you are confused about what a seer is, just pronounce it differently, “see-er”. Someone who sees.
Someone who see what? In the Bible we are told that prophets were once called seers. A prophet is someone who speaks with God and then tells the people what God has said.
It is still a mystery to me exactly what the breastplate and Urim and Thummin look like and how they work. We do know from the Bible in Exodus that the breastplate was worn by the high priest in God’s house a long time ago. The priest wore it on his chest and it had twelve precious stones, each different. Each stone was for one of the tribes of Israel.
The Urim and Thummin, which is kind of a mystery, was worn inside the breastplate. I don’t think there are any instructions in the Bible for how to make the Urim and Thummin. This is because God made them, not men. In the Doctrine and Covenants it says that the men who wanted to see the plates were told that one of the things they would see would be “. . . the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the Brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, . . .” This tells us that men did not make the Urim and Thummin.
The high priest used the breastplate and the Urim and Thummin to ask and receive answers to important questions that would affect all the people. Translating records which God wants us to have would be an important use of the breastplate and Urim and Thummin.
Joseph was warned that he must take good care of these items and not show them to others. He was also told that he would be giving them back to Moroni at the proper time. When Joseph was done translating the plates, eleven other men were allowed to see them and then Moroni took them back.
While Joseph had the plates, people were trying hard to get them. After all, they were said to be gold. Perhaps people wanted to prove to themselves that they were a hoax. Perhaps gold plates should be put into a museum. Perhaps if they were real professors and scholars, as you will read about soon, would want to have the credit for translating them. People could always say, “If you won’t show them to us we won’t believe that they are real.” That would be normal and actually smart. But God knew that the risk was too great for Joseph to be trusting other people.
During all these troubles Joseph met a man named Martin Harris. Martin Harris was a respectable farmer with some money. He became interested in Joseph’s cause and loaned him $50. Now, in 2018 that would be about $1,250. This helped pay Joseph and Emma’s traveling expenses to get to Emma’s father’s house, in Pennsylvania, and begin translating.
Joseph copied and translated some pages in December, January and February.
In February Martin Harris came to visit Joseph. Joseph let him take a copy of some of the characters which were on the plates, and some of the translation, to New York City. Martin Harris told the story of what happened. He took some of the translation and a copy of some of the characters to a 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. This last part seems kind of strange. Professor Anthon must have still believed that the translation was correct and that the characters were real.
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.
By June of 1828, Joseph and Martin Harris had managed to get 116 pages of paper translation. 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 as all right. God did not give Joseph permission to let Mr. Harris take the pages. But finally after have 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.
Section 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 pages of translation.
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.
In moving this story from one place on the internet to another place, I actually lost part of this story. So I am having to rewrite part of it. And in the process I have thought of more things to say. If you by any chance have a copy of this story from before, you will find that the two do not match. These things happen. But God did not want this to happen with the writings that Joseph was translating.
Do you remember that in the first story I told you that we are confused as to whether Joseph saw one or two personages in his vision? Joseph Has A Vision
This is because many people have written this history and may or may not have changed the story on purpose. Sometimes people make mistakes because they are telling the story second or third hand. "I heard from my father's sister, who heard it from her husband, who heard it from some man he met one day on the road." Another way that stories get changed is on purpose, because someone doesn't want to believe the real story and so changes it just a little bit to suit themselves. This is the reason why religious people are always disagreeing with each other. Some people who are determined to get their own way actually kill those who disagree with them. Many people have been killed in the most horrible ways because someone in power demanded that they believe a certain way, and they would not. This is the reason that Jesus Christ told Joseph not to join any of the other churches. But to the great sorrow of those who love the truth, the same thing keeps happening over and over again.
Many years later in the history of the church we will see this very same thing actually being done, but this time by people within the church. Many people claim to speak for Jesus Christ, but they ignore what Jesus actually taught. They simply use the name of Jesus to get power over other people. One of the ten commandments tells us to not use the Lord's name in vain. You may think that just means using God's name as a swear word. It also means telling people that you are speaking for God, when really you are only speaking for yourself.
The pages that Joseph lost were the writings 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 14,16-27
to be continued . . .
Copyright 2001 Lois M. Anderson: All Rights Reserved
Last revised: January 23, 2018