|Joseph Smith received the Gold plates from the angel Moroni and began translation of the Book of Mormon. Joseph and Emma moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to be near her family. In February of 1828, Martin Harris, a wealthy land owner from Palmyra, arrived to be a scribe for Joseph. By June of 1828, 116 pages had been translated. These pages contained information from the Book of Lehi. This book is mentioned by Nephi, “But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgement of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life.”1By this time, Martin Harris’ family was becoming skeptical of the translation of the plates and was upset that he was spending so much time and money in the project. Martin asked Joseph numerous times if he could take the 116 manuscript pages to his family to show them what he had been doing and hopefully rid them of their skepticism. Joseph Smith prayed and asked the Lord twice if this was something he should allow. Both times, Joseph was told not to let Martin take the manuscript. Joseph asked a third time and was given permission to allow Martin to take the pages. Martin promised that he would show the manuscript only to his brother, parents, wife and sister-in-law. Martin then left for Palmyra. While Martin was away, Emma gave birth to their first child. The baby was stillborn, Emma was extremely ill, and Joseph was distracted for some time.Joseph did not inquire about the plates until after the time promised by Martin to return to Harmony. Joseph traveled to Manchester, where Martin reluctantly told him that someone had taken the manuscript after he had shown it to people outside of his family. Joseph was horrified and shared the responsibility for the loss of the pages. At the time, it was most widely believed that Martin Harris’ wife had been annoyed with not being allowed to see the gold plates, and had taken the manuscript and burned it. Only a short time later, Martin and his wife separated.
Because of their mistake, and repeatedly making the same request of the Lord, even though they had already received an answer, the angel Moroni took the plates and Urim and Thummim from Joseph Smith for a short time. Lucy Mack Smith also recorded that some of Martin’s crops were mysteriously destroyed by an odd, dense fog that left the crops of nearby farms untouched. After repentance and renewed humility, Joseph was again given the plates and the Urim and Thumim on September 22, 1828.Although Joseph again received the plates, the Lord told him not to retranslate the lost pages, because those who had stolen it had altered the manuscript and planned to publish this altered manuscript as a way to discredit Joseph’s claims of divine translation. Joseph was instead instructed to translate the Small Plates of Nephi, which can now be read in 1 Nephi through Omni in the Book of Mormon. According to revelation that Joseph recorded, these small plates covered approximately the same time period as the lost manuscript. These small plates had impressed Mormon, the prophet who had abridged the work after the book was completed anciently, and he included them completely in the abridgement. He was told by the Lord that including these small plates was “for a wise purpose.”2Today the story of the lost manuscript is widely known among members of the Mormon Church and is used to teach many principles. Some of these principles are that when you receive an answer from the Lord you should be satisfied with it; sometimes getting permission does not always mean the Lord sanctions it; it is important to keep the promises you make; God will forgive; and the plan of God cannot be thwarted.See the next article in the timeline series.