About three and a half years after his “first vision,” Joseph Smith experienced his “second vision.” It occurred on the evening of the 21st of September 1823 in Palmyra, New York, when Joseph was only seventeen years old. In this vision he met a stunning angelic messenger named Moroni who delivered an even more stunning message: that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was soon to commence, and that the fulness of the Gospel was soon to be preached in power to all nations to prepare a people for his Millennial reign and to fulfill an ancient covenant between God and the house of Israel. Joseph was informed by this messenger that there was a sacred record in the form of ancient plates buried in a hill near his home that was somehow connected to fulfilling this joyful news. In this episode we discuss Joseph’s second vision and explore the ups, the downs, and the insights of those preparatory years between his first meeting with Moroni at age 17 and when he was finally trusted with the sacred record at age 21.
Scott Woodward: About three and a half years after his “first vision,” Joseph Smith experienced his “second vision.” It occurred on the evening of the 21st of September 1823 in Palmyra, New York, when Joseph was only seventeen years old. In this vision he met a stunning angelic messenger named Moroni who delivered an even more stunning message: that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was soon to commence, and that the fulness of the Gospel was soon to be preached in power to all nations to prepare a people for his Millennial reign and to fulfill an ancient covenant between God and the house of Israel. Joseph was informed by this messenger that there was a sacred record in the form of ancient plates buried in a hill near his home that was somehow connected to fulfilling this joyful news. In today’s episode of Church History Matters we discuss Joseph’s second vision and explore the ups, the downs, and the insights of those preparatory years between his first meeting with Moroni at age 17 and when he was finally entrusted with the sacred record at age 21. I’m Scott Woodward, a managing director at Scripture Central, and my co-host is Casey Griffiths, also a managing director at Scripture Central. And today Casey and I dive into our first episode in this series dealing with the Book of Mormon Translation. So let’s get into it!
Casey Paul Griffiths: All right. Hello, Scott, how are you doing?
Scott Woodward: Good. How you doing, Casey?
Casey Paul Griffiths: Well, well, I’m excited to talk about our subject today. We’re starting a new series—
Scott Woodward: New series.
Casey Paul Griffiths: —on the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. So tell us a little bit about why this is such a big deal.
Scott Woodward: Wow, the Book of Mormon. Is there anything more fundamental, foundational to the project of the restoration than the Book of Mormon? I submit that there is not.
Casey Paul Griffiths: I agree.
Scott Woodward: This is as central as it gets. Just to raise the stakes a little bit, there have been some prophets and apostles who have said some pretty do-or-die, black-or-white, all-or-nothing statements that I think some of our listeners might be familiar with, but some might not be. And I think maybe we should just review one or two of those. For instance, Joseph Smith—we’ll start with him—he said about the Book of Mormon, he said, “Take away the Book of Mormon and the Revelations and where is our religion?” And then he answered, “We have none.” We have none. It’s all built on the Book of Mormon, the revelations surrounding that, and those that came after. But chief there at the beginning is the Book of Mormon. Take that away, and this whole thing comes crashing down. In fact, most listeners will be familiar with Joseph’s other statement about the keystone, right? He said the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion, that top piece of the arch, that if you take that out, then the whole arch crumbles, right?
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah, and not just them. You’ve included another quote here from Elder McConkie: “The keystone is the central stone in the top of the arch. If that stone is removed, then the arch crumbles, which in effect means the Mormonism, so-called, which is actually the gospel of Christ, restored anew in this day, stands or falls with the truth or falsity of the Book of Mormon.”
Scott Woodward: *whistles*
Casey Paul Griffiths: Now that’s about as black and white as you can make it. And these aren’t the only people to make claims like this. Elder Ballard, President Hinckley, President Monson, just about every leader of the church at some point has said, hey, we’re staking our claims on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
Scott Woodward: Yeah.
Casey Paul Griffiths: So this is a big deal.
Scott Woodward: Maybe an appropriate analogy is that all chips are on the table here, yeah? All chips are on the table when it comes to the Book of Mormon.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah.
Scott Woodward: All or nothing.
Casey Paul Griffiths: All or nothing. And not only that: The process of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is really vital to understand how our faith develops. This is where Joseph receives his first tutoring in the gospel. Even the process of translation. Joseph Smith isn’t just translating the book: He’s studying the book, and a lot of his ecclesiology, a lot of his understanding about authority and priesthood come from the tutoring he receives just from translating the text, having the text go through him to a scribe. For instance, the idea of authority to baptize, priesthood authority, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery both say came from their study of the book. They’re reading the book. They’re probably reading 3 Nephi 11 about authority. They go out seeking that authority and receive a visitation from John the Baptist and from other angelic messengers who help restore the priesthood authority.
Scott Woodward: Yeah, that’s key to understanding the whole restoration, right? That before the Lord does anything else in his restoration project, which is, you know, ultimately intended to revolutionize the entire world on both sides of the veil, before anything else he begins with a boy and a book. And then everything else from there is going to be revelatory domino after revelatory domino. Priesthood authority, right? When John the Baptist comes, he’s then going to mention Peter, James, and John. And then that’s going to then lead to Kirtland: We’re going to get additional angelic messengers restoring keys that are central and fundamental to the restoration, and so the way the Lord starts, before we have a church, before we have priesthood authority, before any of that, we have a boy and a book. And that’s going to lead to everything else.
Casey Paul Griffiths: So let’s dive into this marvelous, shocking and utterly unique story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. We start with what we would typically classify as the second vision. We did a whole series on the first vision. This is the second vision. It occurs three years after the first vision when Joseph Smith is 17 years old. And tell us where Joseph Smith kind of is spiritually when this second vision occurs, Scott.
Scott Woodward: Yeah, this story starts with a 17-year-old sinner, right? Since the first vision, like you said, it’s about three and a half years since then, it’s difficult to maintain the spiritual strength that came from that. Most listeners could probably relate with Joseph after having a powerful spiritual experience, maybe for you, I’m thinking to myself, like, some powerful youth conferences, some powerful testimony meetings, some remarkable general conferences that I leave feeling spiritually strengthened. I feel like temptation is, like, not really there anymore. You know, I feel like sin is stupid. Like, why would I ever sin again? You know, I just feel charged up. You know, how long does that last? How long does that last for you? For Joseph, he said he felt the love of God after the first vision for several days, several days afterwards. Well, now it’s three and a half years later, and he’s fallen into temptation. In fact, he’s given four accounts, and the same four accounts that he gave the First Vision, he also tells about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. And so we have an 1832 account, a ‘35 account, a ‘38 account, and a ‘42 account. All the same accounts as we get those First Vision accounts.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah, and we should emphasize here, too, that in Joseph Smith’s histories, Moroni’s visit goes hand-in-hand with the First Vision. They’re the two consistent elements in all of them. This is a big deal to Joseph, as big a deal as the First Vision. In fact, probably more commonly shared than the First Vision was, at least in the early years of the church.
Scott Woodward: Yes.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Centers around the 21st night of September, and then we go from there.
Scott Woodward: Yes. Do you remember, Casey, the 21st night of September?
Casey Paul Griffiths: I am familiar with the Earth, Wind and Fire song. Yes, Scott, thank you very much.
Scott Woodward: Love was changing the mind of pretenders while chasing the clouds away.
Casey Paul Griffiths: That’s right. The Brethren in Earth, Wind and Fire were in tune with the Spirit when they wrote that song. Maybe more than they even knew at the time or do currently now.
Scott Woodward: More than they knew.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah.
Scott Woodward: Yeah. Maybe we should just queue that up right now. Here we go.
Casey Paul Griffiths: *laughs*
*excerpt from Earth, Wind, and Fire’s song “September” plays.*
Casey Paul Griffiths: *laughs*
Scott Woodward: Sorry. Sorry. Couldn’t resist. All right. Where were we?
Casey Paul Griffiths: So let’s walk through each one of these accounts. We start with 1832, ‘35, ‘38, 1842. Tell us the similarities, differences in each one.
Scott Woodward: Yeah, so in each case Joseph is seeking forgiveness. He wants to know his state and standing before God. So in the 1832 account, he mentions, he says, “When I was 17 years of age, I called again upon the Lord and he showed unto me a heavenly vision.” So I think with the 1832 account, we are very in a safe zone calling this the “second vision,” right? This is his second vision. “The Lord showed me a heavenly vision. I beheld an angel of the Lord who came and stood before me, called me by name and said the Lord had forgiven me my sins.” There it is, that’s the first thing. Now, we don’t know from the 1832 account how much he had been racking his own soul about his sins, but other accounts tell us, like 1835 says, “I was very conscious that I had not kept the commandments.” “I was very conscious.” “And I repented heartily for all my sins, humbled myself before him. And all at once the room was illuminated above the brightness of the sun. An angel appeared before me.” That’s a good one. He’s talking about his inner world. 1838, the most familiar to us all, he says, “I was left to all kinds of temptations,” speaking about after the first vision. “I was left to all kinds of temptations. In mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors and displayed the weakness of youth and the foibles of human nature, which I am sorry to say led me into diverse temptations offensive in the sight of God.” And then he’s quick to say, “Now, no one needs to oppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature, but I was guilty,” he says, “of levity and associating with jovial company.” What do you think he means by levity and associating with jovial company, Casey?
Casey Paul Griffiths: I mean, he’s a kid. He’s 17, you know, and it feels to me sometimes when I read through this that he’s being a little too hard on himself. I used to teach 17-year-olds, and I had to continually tell myself the judgment center in their brain hasn’t fully developed yet. So he’s a normal kid, and this lines up with the other historical sources. For instance, Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph’s mother, says that Joseph was less inclined towards spiritual things but he could deeply reflect. Those kinds of things, that Joseph was fairly normal at this point in his life, and he’s maybe feeling the guilt that a lot of us do, where you should be living up to more privileges than you are, and that’s why he goes in prayer. I’ve always loved this, actually, because it just shows that all of us have times where we question our worthiness. But worthiness isn’t flawlessness. It’s us striving to do our best, not always succeeding.
Scott Woodward: Yeah, I love that. And I’m seeing a pattern with Joseph Smith. His first vision, we discussed how he was actually seeking a forgiveness of sin, right? He wanted forgiveness of sin, and to that end he wanted to know which church he should join. Now, here we are three and a half years later, and he is seeking forgiveness of sin. In fact, he continues in that 1838 account. He says, “In consequence of these things,” of these sins, he said, “I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections. When on the evening of the above-mentioned 21st of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me that I might know of my state and standing before him.” So the centerpiece of this is seeking forgiveness. He wants to know where he stands with God. That’s just going to be a consistent theme with Joseph Smith throughout his life: seeking forgiveness.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Mm-hm. I love one phrase in here, too, in the ‘38 history. It shows that his faith isn’t really struggling; it’s just his self-perception. He said, “I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation as I had previously had one.” So he still trusts God. He just isn’t sure about himself, and he believes that if he goes to God, God will give him a manifestation to help him know where his standing is and what the next step is in his journey.
Scott Woodward: Yeah. His past experience is informing his future experience, right, in this cycle of faith: Assurance of things hoped for, based on evidence of the past. He’s had this in the past, and now he thinks this could happen again.
Scott Woodward: So then he says, while calling upon God, his room begins to illuminate brighter than at noonday. And only the 1832 account says that the angel mentioned that the Lord had forgiven him of his sins. I think that’s interesting. That’s Moroni’s first message. And then the other accounts don’t mention that per se, but then get right to business. They get right down to business, which in the 1838 account, before he even mentions the message, he starts to describe the angel. This is—this is amazing, right? The most—if you want to know what an angel looks like, at least this angel, you don’t get any better description than the 1838 account. Joseph Smith—History, verses, like, 30 through 32, he just talks about this robe, what color was his face? He says it was—he had a countenance like lightning. What does that even mean? Sometimes the gospel artwork of Moroni is kind of this tan-looking guy. I don’t think that captures it. I don’t think that’s a countenance like lightning. Picture lightning in your mind flashes, and freeze it, like that’s what he looked like was that color of this brilliant light. And then it emanated from him, filled the whole room. He’s hovering, he’s got a robe on, only a robe, he says, I could see right into his bosom. I just find this detail so fun and interesting. Before he gets to the message, we gotta talk about the messenger, because this guy was impressive.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah, and not only that, similarities to the first vision here, too. “He called me by name.” Again, that’s one thing emphasized in accounts of the first vision is that God knows who Joseph is. Moroni shows up and he knows who Joseph is as well. And then said, he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me. His name was Moroni and that God had a work for me to do that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, tongues, or that it should be had for good and evil spoken of among all people. Now, whether or not you believe Joseph Smith’s a prophet, that comes true for sure. That Joseph is being basically drafted into the war, essentially. There’s going to be people that love you and people that hate you. There’s going to be good things written about you and bad things written about you, but this is going to change your life, essentially. Moroni’s trying to let him know here.
Scott Woodward: By the way, that’s just such an audacious prophecy, right? Here’s this, backwoods, 17-year-old kid, right? The probability of that kid in upstate New York, this out-of-the-way little town—the probability of that kid having his name spoken of both good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues is just—even in 1838, when this account was written, to say that that’s going to be true is wild. No matter where you come down on Joseph Smith, you have to admit that that is actually true today. Among all nations, kindreds, tongues and people. People are talking either good or evil of this man. He’s pretty divisive.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah. That’s something that you can Google and see the fulfillment of prophecy, right? Good stuff and bad stuff, good and evil spoken of among all nations. I mean, whether or not you think Joseph’s a prophet, that one comes true.
Scott Woodward: Yeah. Then he gets right down to business. Next thing he says is, “He said there was a book.” “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. And he said that the fullness of the everlasting gospel was contained in it as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants.” So right to the book, right? I’m Moroni, your sins are forgiven, God has a work for you to do, and it’s directly related to a book in a hill nearby. And that book’s got the fullness of the gospel in it. So it’s getting just right down to business here. Boom, boom, boom, the book, right? He then says that there’s two stones—we’ll talk more about the stones in a future episode—that are fastened to a breastplate, and they constitute what’s called a Urim and Thummim, deposited with the plates and those who possessed these stones constituted seers, he said, and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book. After telling about the book and those special stones that are prepared to translate, he then starts launching into Old Testament prophecies about the restoration of Israel, about the future season of peace, and the millennial era, and that somehow Joseph Smith and the book in the hill are connected with helping to fulfill those prophecies about ultimately bringing in the kingdom of the Messiah universally throughout the whole world.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah, and we should mention, Joseph Smith in his 1838 history mentions several key verses of scripture, Malachi 4, 5, and 6, for example, that are going to play a big role. There’s also an extended list of the scriptures. Oliver Cowdery writes an account of this, and he goes through, and, ooh, boy, it’s a catalog of Old Testament Scriptures, primarily from the major prophets, that just describe restoration. Like, I was surprised when I looked at that list that Jeremiah is featured rather prominently. Those latter prophecies in the book of Jeremiah where it talks about restoration. So the Old Testament plays a big role in this fulfillment of prophecy in the coming forth the Book of Mormon.
Scott Woodward: Yeah, the 1842 account is probably the most succinct. If you don’t want to really slog through all the Old Testament verses, I think the 1842 account, Joseph does a great job just concisely stating the essence of what those are all about. Let me quote it. He said, “This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God sent to bring the joyful tidings.” Good news, Joseph. The covenant which God made with ancient Israel about, you know, if you’re scattered, one day you’ll eventually be gathered under the Messiah who will rule and reign with you. Those prophecies, those promises. “The covenant which God made to ancient Israel was soon to be fulfilled. That the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence. And that the time was at hand for the gospel in its fullness to be preached in power unto all nations, that a people might be prepared for the millennial reign.” That’s essentially what all of those verses are about is the fulfillment of the promises God made anciently to Israel that are all preparatory for the millennial reign of Messiah. And so in one way or another, right, it’s about connecting the human family, gathering the human family, the children to the fathers, fathers to the children, Israel scattered, both sides of the veil, bringing them together in one, in Christ, under Messiah. That’s the end game. And then I love his next line. He says, “I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of His purposes in this glorious dispensation.’ That’s an understatement. Yeah, that boy in connection with that book in that hill are going to be absolutely central to helping bring about these promises, these prophecies about a people who are prepared to rule and reign with Messiah, under Messiah’s leadership in the Millennial Day. So that’s the end game picture that Moroni comes to. He’s painting the big picture here. He’s not connecting all the dots for Joseph, those dots are going to be connected over time, but he’s painting the picture that Joseph and that book are going to be central to fulfilling these promises and these prophecies.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah. And in talking about this event, we sometimes want to fixate on the 21st night of September. And yet we’ve had discussions about, like, what day do we commemorate this on? Because this is not the only visit that happens. There’s four visits that happen spanning the night of the 21st day of September to the 22nd, which is when he actually goes to the hill, and each one of these visitations, according to Joseph Smith’s reminiscences, are slightly different. For instance, the first time that he comes, tells Joseph his sins are forgiven, God has a work for him to do, tells him about the plates, goes into the Old Testament and New Testament prophecies, and then warns him not to show the plates to other people. That’s the first visitation. How did the other visitations vary from that first one, and what are the takeaways from each one?
Scott Woodward: Yeah, well then Moroni starts pulling the light. I love, again, the attention to detail. He says he pulled the light in the room until it was all just around his person, and the rest of the room was dark. And then he says a conduit opened up above his head, and then he ascended, right up into the conduit. And Joseph is kind of sitting there in his bed, blinking, right? What just happened? And as he’s pondering on these things, he says, the light began to illuminate in his room again, and then boom, there’s Moroni again. And he said the exact same things as the time he had just come, except at the end he adds another piece. So your sins are forgiven. God has a work for you. There’s plates in the hill nearby, Old Testament prophecies, the preparation for the coming of Messiah, all this. And then he adds, great judgments are coming upon the world. Then he pulls the light around him again, opens the conduit, sends up into it. And Joseph says, at this point, sleep had completely fled from my mind. I was absolutely just awake and aware and thinking what in the—and then all of a sudden boom it happens again right? There’s Moroni: Joseph, your sins are forgiven. God has a work. There’s a book in a hill nearby. Old Testament prophecies. Coming of Messiah. Great judgments are coming. And then he adds one piece: He cautions him that Satan’s gonna tempt him to use the plates for money and to not give in to that temptation. Light pulls around him. Conduit. Then he ascends again, and he heard the cock crow outside. At that point he realized that their interviews had spanned the entirety of the evening. It was morning. It was time to get up and go to work. So as usual he gets up, goes out to work with his dad, and he’s not feeling super good. He’s feeling a little fatigued here. His dad looks at him and says, you don’t look so good. He said, I don’t feel so good. Why don’t you go back and get some rest. And so he tries to hop a little fence on their property there. Not a very high fence, maybe up to his waist. And he can’t quite do it. He gets over, and he just passes out. Next thing he remembers, there’s the angel, lightning face, right? Looking at him. And Joseph’s on the ground. And exact same message as the previous night: Joseph. Your sins are forgiven. God has a work. Your name is going to be known for good and evil. There’s plates in the hill nearby. Old Testament prophecies. Preparation for Messiah. Judgments are coming upon the earth. Satan’s going to tempt you to use these plates for money. And then he adds one thing, which is go tell your father everything, and he will believe you. So four times, four times in less than 24 hours. Same message with a little bit added each time. And then he goes and tells his dad.
Casey Paul Griffiths: So if we were to identify a Moroni day, it would probably be the 21st day of September, and yet it spans the whole night. And I wanna point out a couple other things, too: When you go to the Smith Farm in Palmyra, they have a recreation of the log cabin that the Smiths would have been living in at this time. They still haven’t built their frame house, which is still there. The frame house is original. It’s down the road. And we don’t know if this log cabin is completely accurate, but based on what we do know, it was small and cramped. And it’s likely that there were other people in the room with Joseph when this particular visitation happens. I don’t know exactly how this works because in the scriptures the Lord has power to put people to sleep. Maybe he just put the other people in the room to sleep. Or if this is a vision projected directly into Joseph’s mind because what’s unique about the last one is he’s actually outdoors. It implies that his dad is nearby working, but nobody sees this. So is Moroni there? Is it a vision? Is it a—Joseph doesn’t classify it as a dream because he talks about being awake and being unable to go to sleep, but there’s some external things going on. I also love that his dad doesn’t doubt him. Like his dad immediately says, “Okay, go and do what the messenger told you to do,” and Joseph does. His dad is gonna be a stalwart supporter throughout his entire life, later patriarch to the church. And I just like that his dad right off the bat doesn’t say, “Hey, maybe you ate something weird last night.” His dad says, “All right. It’s of God. Go and do what the angel instructed you to do.”
Scott Woodward: Yeah, his brother William will later say that mom and dad believed him. He said if Joseph had told crooked stories in the past, we might not have believed him as a family, but because we knew that Joseph was a truthful boy, he had had a whole, a lifetime of being truthful to his parents and to his family, he said, so the fact that mother and father believed Joseph was a big deal for the rest of the family. And they will all follow suit. They will all believe.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah, they’re all incredibly supportive. Yeah, they are.
Yeah. So then Joseph actually goes to the hill. Instead of going back home to rest, he goes to the hill, right? So he was so fatigued that he couldn’t hardly hop the fence, and now his dad says you better obey the angel, so Joseph gets up without going home, and he actually goes to the hill, which is located, what, about two to three miles away from the Palmyra home?
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah. I was surprised the first time I went there, the geography of the whole area, because Hill Cumorah is not that far away.
Scott Woodward: Not far.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Like, it’s within walking distance, and Joseph goes straight there. The Hill Cumorah is a drumlin. It’s a hill that has steep sides but a sloping end. It came from glacial movement during the ice age. Among locals in Palmyra, it was known as the Mormon Hill. I actually have an old map of Palmyra I bought when I was there, and it’s labeled right there as “Mormon Hill” on the south side
Scott Woodward: Mormon Hill.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Now, what do we know about this hill, Scott? Should we call it the Hill Cumorah? That’s the name that is traditionally associated with it.
Scott Woodward: It is. It is traditional, but—
Casey Paul Griffiths: Are we gonna take a stand on that?
Scott Woodward: I don’t know. I think—here: we will just throw out this interesting fact. Joseph Smith never refers to it as the Hill Cumorah, with the possible exception of once in D&C 128 verse 20, where he says, “What do we hear in the gospel we’ve received? Glad tidings from Cumorah.” I mean, he doesn’t say, “That hill by my house,” he just says, “Glad tidings from Cumorah,” speaking of the Book of Mormon. So maybe with that exception, he just calls it “a hill of considerable size, the most elevated of any in the neighborhood.” That’s how he describes the hill. It was a hill of considerable size by my house. And so the first record of that hill being called the Hill Cumorah is 1833 by W.W. Phelps. Then in 1835 Oliver Cowdery picks that language up, and he’s using it in actually a letter back and forth to W. W. Phelps, and so gradually church members just start using that phrase, and it sticks and it’s just—they just call it the Hill Cumorah. Now the reason this even matters at all is because of an important Book of Mormon geography question, right? Is that hill by Joseph Smith’s house the one referred to in the Book of Mormon where Mormon had a stockpile of plates? Is this where the Nephites’ last stand occurred, where hundreds of thousands of Nephites were slain in the final battle, or not? And so if we really dig our heels in and say, “That is the Hill Cumorah,” then we really have to start building out our Book of Mormon geography from there. But the church is actually neutral on Book of Mormon geography. One Cumorah or are there two Cumorahs? This debate continues to our day. Is that hill by Joseph Smith’s house the Cumorah or was there another place called Cumorah? And that Moroni had just transported the plates to a hill, buried them in a place where the future prophet of the restoration would live nearby. And that’s not Cumorah, right? So anyway, the debates go on and on today, but I just find it interesting that Joseph doesn’t really take a stand on that hill being the hill from the Book of Mormon.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah. I should point out here, we’re not taking a stand on it either.
Scott Woodward: No.
Casey Paul Griffiths: I know there’s some people that feel real, real strongly about this.
Scott Woodward: There are, yeah.
Casey Paul Griffiths: We’re not criticizing anybody that believes in the Book of Mormon. We’re just telling the story of the coming forth of the plates, not lecturing on Book of Mormon geography at this point. But the hill is significant, and like you said, the name Hill Cumorah has stuck. If you go there today, the visitor center is labeled the Hill Cumorah visitor center. That’s okay. That’s about as far as we wanna go into that debate right now, I think.
Scott Woodward: Yeah. Let me read a little bit of Oliver Cowdery. So he wrote a letter in 1835 to W. W. Phelps, explaining a lot of the history of what happened—actually a few letters. And these letters are gold, they’re priceless, because Oliver Cowdery was very involved with the translation of the Book of Mormon. He spent a lot of time with Joseph Smith in that 1829 year, and 1830, before his mission to the Lamanites in the end of 1830. So in that time period, he was very privy to a lot of Joseph Smith’s story and his history. And he tells us stuff that we don’t learn from anywhere else. For example, here’s a gem: Oliver says that as Joseph approached Cumorah, his thoughts turned to the poverty of his family. So this is that 1823, this is just right after that evening with Moroni, and now he’s on his way to Cumorah. As he goes to the hill, he starts thinking about how his family is poor. Oliver says he was thinking about, “the possibility that the plates, or popularity of the translation, would produce enough wealth to raise him above a level with the common earthly fortunes of his fellow men and relieve his family from want.” And so Oliver says, that he began to have a fixed determination to obtain and aggrandize himself, get money from this. So by the time he arrives to the place where the record was in the hill, he had already determined in his mind, like, I’m gonna make some money from this and try to improve my family’s financial situation. So then Oliver says, he reaches down after he’d gotten the stick and popped up the rock that was covering the little stone box that had the plates in it. He reaches down to grab the plates, and Oliver says he received a shock and was thus prevented from taking them out of the box. Twice more he tried and was thrown back. In frustration, he cried out, “Why can I not obtain this book?” And then Moroni appeared right then and told him, “It’s because you have not kept the commandments, but have yielded to the temptations of Satan to obtain the plates for riches instead of having your eyes single to the glory of God as I had commanded you.” How many times last night did Moroni say, “Do not try to get this book for riches, right? Satan’s gonna tempt you.” Well, it happened the next day, and he gave into the temptation and Moroni says, therefore you cannot have the book yet.
Casey Paul Griffiths: So, Oliver then relates another interesting detail. He says, “Humbled, Joseph was then shown two visions: The glory of the Lord shone round about him and rest upon him. He beheld the Prince of Darkness.” Moroni said, “All this is shown, the good and evil, the holy and impure, the glory of God and the power of darkness, that you may know hereafter the two powers and never be influenced or overcome by that wicked one.” So Joseph Smith has another vision where he’s seen kind of the light and the dark, and Moroni tells Joseph you’re not going to be able to obtain the plates. This is the way Oliver phrases it, “Until he had learned to keep the commandments of God, not only ‘till he was willing, but able to do it.” So this sets us up for the next part of the story. It takes four years, from 1823 to 1827, for Joseph Smith to obtain the plates. It takes him time to basically grow and mature and be taught. So this is not the final visit. He doesn’t get the plates when he goes to the hill that night. This is the first of several visits that lead him along the way until he’s ready and able, like Oliver phrases it, to receive the plates and do what he has to do.
Scott Woodward: We know that it took four years, but Joseph didn’t know in 1823 it was going to be four years. All Moroni says is come back next year, same day, 22nd of September, and we’ll see if you’re ready.
Casey Paul Griffiths: So is it the 22nd of September for all the other visits?
Scott Woodward: Yep, it’s always going to be the 22nd. That’s going to be their day.
Casey Paul Griffiths: OK.
Scott Woodward: Yep, that’s the Joseph and Moroni day, always the 22nd of September. So it seems like although the vision began the night of the 21st of September, the repeated visions two more times that night and then with his dad, like, I think it’s fair to say that the majority of the interview with Moroni actually happens on the 22nd of September, right?
Casey Paul Griffiths: That’s what we should make Moroni Day, if we turn it into a holiday in the church.
Scott Woodward: Let’s call it Book of Mormon Birthday or Moroni Day or something. The 22nd of September ought to be a holiday celebrated in our faith, absolutely.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah. I’m just looking to get another day off, personally, but. So 1823 is the first visit, but Joseph Smith’s history talks about a visit each year on the 22nd day of September at the hill where he meets with Moroni, where he receives intelligence and instruction. So let’s talk about those interim years and what we know about the time from 1823, when he first goes to the hill, to 1827 when he finally receives the plates.
Scott Woodward: Yeah, we could maybe characterize these visits as maybe, like, annual worthiness interviews or kind of checkups on his developmental progress. It wasn’t just that he was willing, you need to also be able to keep the commandments. And I think we do the same with our—with the youth who have their annual interviews with bishops. It’s not that they’re not willing to keep the commandments. Sometimes we just need to continue to grow in our capacity to keep the commandments and to be patient. And I think parents and priesthood leaders, that’s exactly how we ought to kind of characterize these teenage years. As it was with Joseph, it’s gonna be with all of us. We need time to develop. You might be willing to go to the temple and make additional covenants, but you’re not ready yet. And so let’s make sure you’re actually able to keep those commandments, right? My children might be willing to drive my car, but they’re not able yet. They’re too young, they’re not developed enough, right? So I gotta watch them. Then I’ll be able to trust them with the keys when they’re not just willing but able. And so I think these annual interviews with Moroni are just these checkups. Again, Joseph didn’t know when it was gonna be time to get the plates, and it continues until four years later, we know.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah.
Scott Woodward: Something happens in that November. On the 19th of November is when his older brother Alvin dies. Joseph had told his family about the visit of Moroni. They’ve sat down and had conversations, and Joseph had told them and explained to them, Lucy Mack Smith says, what Moroni had showed them about the ancient civilization from which the Book of Mormon came. And the whole family, Lucy says, were just seated in a circle, giving profound attention to this boy who had never read the Bible through in his life. Alvin was a big supporter of this, his oldest brother, a hero to Joseph Smith, and then suddenly Alvin had died. Do you want to tell what Joseph Knight said about what Moroni had told him about Alvin actually?
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah, we’ve got kind of an interesting source. Joseph Knight has this history that was published just a couple years ago in BYU Studies. And Joseph Knight, just to provide some background, is an early convert to the church. He’s from Colesville, New York, which is down by the border near Harmony, Pennsylvania. Joseph becomes familiar with him when he goes down there, recruited to locate a Spanish silver mine. This is also where he meets Emma. So the Knights are a family from Emma’s neck of the woods, and Joseph Knight tells a story about Moroni asking Joseph Smith to bring his brother. Let me just share this really quick: According to Joseph Knight, when Joseph went to the hill, this is in 1823, he asked, “Why can I not stir the book?” is the wording he uses.
The angel answers, you have not done right. “You should have took the book,” and this is Joseph Knight’s language, “and gone right away. You can’t have it now.” Joseph says, “When can I have it?” The answer was the 22nd day of September next, which would be 1824, if you bring the right person with you, Joseph says, who is the right person? The answer was your oldest brother. And so Joseph Knight, who may have discombobulated the dates a little bit here, seems to imply that Joseph could have gotten it in 1824 if he had brought Alvin with him, but in 1823, in November 1823, Alvin passes away. So Joseph Knight goes on to say, “Before September came, his oldest brother died. Then he was disappointed, did not know what to do, but the 22nd day of September came. He went to the place, and the personage appeared to him and told him he could not have it now, but the 22nd day of September next, he might have the book if he brought with him the right person. Joseph said, “Who is the right person?” The answer was, “You will know.” Then he looked into his glass and found it was Emma Hale, daughter of old Mr. Hale of Pennsylvania, a girl he had seen before, for he had been down there before with me. So what’s off here is the way Joseph Knight tells it is if he had brought Alvin in 1824, he would have gotten the plates. He doesn’t actually get the plates till 1827. And when he does, he does bring Emma with him. Emma’s at the bottom of the hill. She’s like the getaway driver, I guess you’d say. But there’s clearly something off with the dates here because we’re missing two years in his sequence. But it does underline maybe the importance of Alvin in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. And also, I like it because it highlights the importance of Emma in the coming forth of The Book of Mormon. I also like the story because if Joseph Smith is just dating Emma this time, you know, to say you look into your glass, which we assume means the seer stone, and you’d see the person that you’re supposed to bring with you is kind of a neat little thing. They’re newlyweds when he comes to the hill and gets the plates, and he does bring her with him, but the dates don’t quite line up, so I approach that source with a little bit of caution.
Scott Woodward: Interesting. Well, let’s talk about what happens that next year then on the—let’s see, 1824. So Alvin dies November 1823. September 22, 1824, we know that Joseph goes to the hill, fully expecting to take the plates home that day. When he took the plates out, his mother reported that the thought flashed across his mind that there might be something more in the box that might be a benefit to him financially. Oh boy. In the excitement of the moment, he lays the record down in order to cover up the box lest someone should come along and take away whatever else might be deposited there. When he turned again to take up the record, the record was gone. Where he knew not, nor did he know by what means it was taken away. He was much alarmed at this, and he knelt down and he asked the Lord why it was that the record was taken from him. At that moment, the angel appears to him and tells him that he had not done as he was commanded and that he had laid down the record in order to secure some imaginary treasure that remained. Joseph, have you not learned your lesson? We talked about this is not for finances and Joseph could argue back, well I wasn’t thinking about the record to get financial gain, I just wondered if there might be something else in the box besides the record that would help me get some financial gain. And that also failed the test. That failed the test. And so after some further conversation, Lucy Mack Smith continues, Joseph was then permitted to open the stone box again, and there he beheld the plates, the same as before. He reached forth his hand to take them, but was hurled back to the ground. That shock again. When he recovered, the angel was gone. And he arose and returned to the house, weeping with grief and disappointment, Lucy says. So that’s 1824. Now, we don’t know much about what happens in 1825 or 26. We just know that Joseph goes as per their schedule on the 22nd of September, meets, and doesn’t get the plates. Doesn’t get them in 25, doesn’t get them in 26. In the interim time, we know that he does get hired October 1825 to work with Josiah Stowell down in Harmony, Pennsylvania, to try to help find that silver mine.
Casey Paul Griffiths: And while he’s in Harmony, this is where he meets Emma, this is where this syncs up in the timeline. There’s also financial records from the time that indicate Joseph’s—the stories about Joseph’s family being in financial distress are very much accurate. The Smith family loses their farm in December of 1825, they default, and they have to become tenants on their own land, so they’re going back and forth from the frame home that Alvin was building for them, which is a nicer house, and this log cabin that they’re living in when Joseph has his first visitations. It’s a challenging time for them, and this part of the story is corroborated by financial records and what we know about what was going on with the Smiths at the time.
Scott Woodward: Yeah, so it’s not like Joseph is some greedy kid. It’s just that his family’s going through some financial hard times, and gee, it might be nice if something that comes out of this book and record and what’s in the box could somehow, you know, help us out in our temporal situation. But Moroni just cuts him off at every thought when he has that, he’s like, “No. That’s not what this book is about. Not what this is for. And so you’ve got to learn to control that thought.” Moroni is a tough taskmaster, right? He’s going to hold Joseph to it. You need to be not just willing, but actually ready to carry around, what? Fifty or so pounds of gold, at least gold alloy, without having a single thought about how this could help bring financial benefit to your family. Like, you need to be able to handle that. So that will happen in 1827. Actually, an interesting story before September 1827 is in January of 1827. So he had married Emma in January at South Bainbridge, New York, and then they actually move in with the Smiths in the Manchester farm in the frame house. And Lucy said that while they were living there as newlyweds, this is now January, “We were aware that God intended Joseph for a good and important work. Consequently we expected that the powers of darkness would strive against him more than any other to overthrow him. Upon returning home very late one night,” when Joseph enters the house, “He threw himself into a chair, seemingly much exhausted. He was pale as ashes,” she said. “His father exclaimed, Joseph, why have you stayed so late? Has anything happened to you? We’ve been in distress about you these three hours. As Joseph made no answer, Joseph Smith Sr. keeps asking him until finally, Lucy says, “Now, father, let him rest a moment. Don’t trouble him now, you see, he’s home safe and he’s very tired, so just wait a little.” And after Joseph recovers himself a little, he said, “Father, I have had the severest chastisement that I ever had in my life. Father Smith, supposing this was from one of the neighbors, he was quite angry and upset. He’s like, “Chastisement? Well, upon my word, I’d like to know who’s been taking you to task and what their pretext was.” Joseph Jr. smiles to see his father so hasty and indignant, and he says, according to Lucy, “Father, it was the angel of the Lord that was getting after me here. He says I have been negligent, and that the time has now come when the record should be brought forth, and that I must be up and doing, that I must set myself about the things which God has commanded me to do. But Father, give yourself no uneasiness as to this reprimand, for I know what course I am to pursue, and all will be well.” So I love that. So this is January before that September when the Book of Mormon actually is given to Joseph and entrusted to him. And Moroni had given him a little surprise visit and said, “You need to be more serious,” right? “Stop being negligent of your duties. It’s time, Joseph. You need to be ready.” And he was on the 22nd of September. Do you wanna tell that story briefly?
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah, and we should add in one thing. These two years, 25 and 26, are kind of blank slates. Some people have speculated. John Taylor, for instance, says that Joseph knew all the New Testament apostles and all of the Book of Mormon disciples too, that there may have been guest speakers at these annual interviews. But again, that’s John Taylor saying, and we assume Joseph Smith told him that. We don’t know where we can fix those appearances, but it may have happened during this time, too. It’s an important time of preparation for Joseph Smith.
Scott Woodward: Yeah, there’s actually a statement from Joseph. Joseph says, as recorded in the History of the Church, Volume 4, “After having received many visits from the angels of God, unfolding the majesty and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of the 22nd of September 1827, the angel of the Lord delivered the records into my hand.” So this mentions now many visits from angels, plural, which I think would corroborate what John Taylor is saying there.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah. So the 22nd September 1827 Joseph and his new wife, Emma, Joseph and Emma are married on the 18th of January 1827, so they’re newlyweds here. They elope. That’s another story for another day. Emma’s family isn’t isn’t totally thrilled. Emma says “Preferring him to any man I knew, I married him.” But he and his bride go to the hill. Apparently they use Joseph Knight’s wagon when they get there, and Emma waits at the bottom of the hill for Joseph to ascend the hill and get the plates, and Joseph gets them, but I think that’s where we want to conclude our discussion today. I want to leave everybody kind of hanging on a cliff here, because there’s a big lead-up to him getting the plates, and then when he gets the plates things start to happen in quick order, boom, boom, boom, boom, we really start rolling down the way.
Yeah, it seems like that four-year period, that is a slow burn of anticipation, right? There’s this amazing, the second vision, Moroni’s appearance. It seems like exciting things are gonna happen. The preparations for the millennial reign of Jesus are about to get underway, and then we’re just kinda waiting on you, Joseph. And one year goes by, and he’s not ready. And another year. And another year. And so it’s kind of like this big buildup, and then nothing for a few years, but yeah, by the time he is 21 years old, he’s now able, not just willing, but he’s now able to do the work that the Lord has him to do, starting with that book. And Joseph, as far as we know, knows nothing about a church. He knows nothing about future priesthoods to be revealed. He knows nothing about the Doctrine and Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price, a bible translation project—anything like that. All he knows is that now as of the 22nd of September 1827, he now has the record, and he’s got the Urim and Thummim, these stones, these curious stones that are connected together that in ancient days constituted seers. He’s now got them. That’s interesting. He’s got the stones that in the ancient days, those who had them were called seers. So what does that make Joseph now? The man entrusted with the seer stones is about to learn how to use those to translate the book. So that’s where we’ll pick up next time.
Casey Paul Griffiths: Yeah, so we’re going to leave you on a cliffhanger here. Next time we’ll pick it right up where he gets the plates and what happens to him and Emma, and we’ll hit the ground running.
Scott Woodward: Thank you for listening to this episode of “Church History Matters.” Next week we continue this series by exploring Joseph Smith’s initial creative efforts to get the plates translated, which, surprisingly, included seeking to outsource part of the translation process to professional translators, if possible. We’ll look at several intriguing details of the backstory and aftermath of the famed trip Martin Harris took to New York to visit scholars of linguistics to show them a document Joseph gave him containing characters copied from the gold plates. Today’s episode was produced by Zander Sturgill and Nick Galieti, edited by Scott Woodward and Nick Galieti, with show notes and transcript by Gabe Davis. Church History Matters is a podcast of Scripture Central, a nonprofit which exists to help build enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making Latter-day Saint scripture and church history accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to people everywhere. For more resources to enhance your gospel study, go to scripturecentral.org, where everything is available for free because of the generous donations of people like you. Thank you so much for being a part of this with us.
Show produced by Zander Sturgill and Scott Woodward, edited by Nick Galieti and Scott Woodward, with show notes by Gabe Davis.
Church History Matters is a Podcast of Scripture Central. For more resources to enhance your gospel study go to ScriptureCentral.org where everything is available for free because of the generous donations of people like you.