Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode. If you haven’t noticed yet, we have done a ton of episodes about the Book of Mormon. Why? Because it is the keystone of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most all other Latter-day Saint truth claims stand or fall with the Book of Mormon. And it is up to each individual to decide whether they believe it is ancient scripture or a modern hoax. There’s a lot riding on that question, so I’ve just been flooding you with all sorts of information about the Book of Mormon that may or may not help inform your decision. Today we’re going to be taking a closer look at what the historic record tells us about the chronology of the translation of the Book of Mormon. Let’s do it.
Alright, so the translation of the Book of Mormon began on about April 12th, 1828. Joseph Smith dictated the words and Martin Harris wrote them down as Joseph’s main scribe at the time. There were other scribes who helped out early on, but we’re not exactly sure when, how much, or which parts they wrote. We do know, though, that on June 14th, 1828, Martin Harris was allowed to take the existing manuscript home to show some family members, and he ended up losing everything they’d written thus far. So as of mid-June, 1828, they’ve got diddly squat.
Between June 1828 when the manuscript was lost and April 1829, very little translation occurred — probably just a handful of pages at the beginning of 1829. After the loss of the pages, due to Joseph’s carelessness, his gift of translation was revoked for a time. Eventually, that gift was restored but the translation didn’t really pick up again until April of 1829 when Oliver Cowdery showed up to help. Oliver met Joseph Smith in person for the first time on April 5th, 1829, and began working as Joseph’s scribe two days later on April 7th.
The scholarly consensus is that the translation continued in April 1829 where it had left off — after the Book of Lehi at the beginning of the Book of Mosiah. Once Mosiah through Moroni and the Title Page were translated, Joseph translated the small plates of Nephi portion of the Book of Mormon record (1st Nephi through Word of Mormon) which covered events from the same time period as the lost Book of Lehi. And if that’s news to you, we talk more about that in this episode.
Because we don’t know exactly how many pages were translated before Oliver’s arrival, we don’t know exactly where in Mosiah that Joseph and Oliver began on April 7th. One Latter-day Saint source estimated they began in Mosiah 2, while author Don Bradley points out that one critical non-Latter-day Saint source estimated Mosiah 7. Thus, in any case, both sides of the aisle seem to agree that it was towards the beginning of Mosiah.
Joseph and Oliver reported that by the next month, on May 15th, the translation had progressed through about the middle of 3rd Nephi. From copyright records, we know that the Title Page of the Book of Mormon was translated at the latest by June 11th — though it was probably done closer to the end of May. At the beginning of June 1829, Joseph moved the translation effort from Harmony Pennsylvania to the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York. There, the translation project would conclude, with the translation of 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon. Some of the Whitmers reportedly helped with the scribal work there. And sure enough, John Whitmer’s handwriting shows up in the original manuscript of 1st Nephi. The translation was complete by June 30th, 1829.
So, the entire Book of Mormon (with the exception of potentially the first few chapters of Mosiah) was written between April 7th and June 30th, 1829. That’s a total of 85 days. But we know that Joseph wasn’t able to translate all day every day. He spent multiple days moving to Fayette. He took a trip to Colesville and Manchester. He was recording other revelations, meeting with visitors, and contacting publishers. There were times when translation couldn’t happen. Accounting for these kinds of activities, John Welch concluded that within that total 85-day time span, the translation was probably completed within 57 to 63 full-time working days.
I’m not a published author or mathematician, but that seems like not a ton of time to write a pretty long book. Now, of course, while the speed of this dictation does fit well within Joseph Smith’s claim that the Book of Mormon was translated by “the gift and power of God,” it does not prove that the Book of Mormon is true. That said, it is information that should be taken into account as you decide what to make of this book.
How did Joseph Smith, a 23-year-old kid with no previous novel-writing experience look at a rock in a hat and dictate this rather lengthy book filled with literary and spiritual richness and complexity in only 63 working days, with no notes or reference materials available to him, and without making any significant rewrites or revisions? There’s no evidence suggesting that Joseph had a secret, pre-written manuscript. But even if we entertain the idea, it leads to several problematic questions, including but not limited to: How did he dictate it to Oliver Cowdery with his face in a hat? The evidence does not suggest that Joseph had a photographic or eidetic memory. It does not suggest that Joseph was a skilled magician. The evidence does not indicate that Oliver Cowdery or anyone in Joseph’s family was a co-conspirator. The intricate weaving of multiple cohesive plotlines, timelines, allusions, and literary techniques in the Book of Mormon suggests that this was not something Joseph just came up with on the spot.
Now, you can believe whatever you want. And again, as we talked about in this video, I can’t prove to you that the Book of Mormon is true. That’s between you and God. And surely, believing that the Book of Mormon is ancient scripture is not a popular thing to believe. And if it’s true, it may mean that you need to make a few life changes, which can be hard. But I hope that from all of these videos we’ve done on the Book of Mormon, you get the sense that it deserves to be taken seriously. Either it is one of the most elaborate and impactful hoaxes of all time, or it is the real deal. I wish you all the best on your journey to figure out where you stand on this question, no matter where it takes you. Check out the resources in the YouTube description for more info on this topic, and have a great day!
- “Timing the Translation of the Book of Mormon,” by John Welch (BYU Studies): https://bit.ly/3yiY9dM
- “The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon,” by John Welch: https://bit.ly/3zeBAYY
- “The Original Book of Mormon Manuscript,” by Dean Jessee (BYU Studies): https://bit.ly/3gwRuH0
- John Whitmer’s handwriting in the original manuscript of 1 Nephi (Joseph Smith Papers Project): https://bit.ly/2Wm80SI
- “What do we know about the chronology of the Book of Mormon translation and publication?” by FAIR: https://bit.ly/3ykdRFv