The Mission of Moroni


Joseph Knight

Joseph Knight (autograph [between 1833 and 1847]):
(Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,”
BYU Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1 Autumn 1976, p.35)

(Excerpts from a longer document, of things pertaining to the translation of the Book of Mormon.)

The next Spring Came Martin Harris Down to pennsylvany to write for him and he wrote 116 pages of the first part of the Book of Mormon. And about this time Martin wanted to go home a Bout some Buisness and he wanted to take the writings with him But Joseph put him of[f]. But he urged him By fair promises that he would be Careful and he would Return it again. But he Being free with it some person go[t] hold of it and Cept [kept] it so that he never Could obtain it again. There fore Joseph Lost his privilige for a while. But after Repenting he again received the privelage of translating again, as in Book of Covenants page 163. ….

Now he Could not translate But little Being poor and nobody to write for him But his wife and she Could not do much and take Care of her house and he Being poor and no means to live But work. His wifes father and familey ware all against him and would not j[e]lp him. ….

In the morning I gave the old man a half a Dollar and Joseph a little money to Buoy paper to translate, I having But little with me. …

In the spring of 1829 Oliver Cowdry a young man from Palmry went to see old Mr. Smith about the Book that Joseph had found. And he told him about it and advised him to go Down to Pensylvany and see for him self and to write for Joseph. He went Down and Received a Revelation Concerning the work and he was Convinced of the truth of the work and he agreed to write for him till it was Done. …

But I had ingaged to go to Catskill again the next Day and I went again and I Bought a Barral of Mackrel and some lined paper for writing.

Then the Lord gave him Power to Translate himself. Then ware the Larned men Confounded, for he, By the means he found with the plates, he Could translate those Caricters Better than the Larned.

Now the way he translated was he put the Urim and Thummim into his hat and Darkned his Eyes than he would take a sentance and it would apper in Brite Roman Letters. Then he would tell the writer and he would write it. Then that would go away the next sentance would Come and so on. But if it was not Spelt rite it would not go away till it was rite, so we see it was marvelous. Thus was the hol [whole] translated.


(citing Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,”
Journal of History [January 1916]: 454)
John W. Welch and Tim Rathbone, "The translation of the Book of Mormon: Basic Historical Information”
(Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1986),
[Stephen D. Ricks, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, p.239]
LDS Collectors Library, CD ROM Folio Infobases

In 1856, Emma recalled this incident:

When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. . . . When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, "Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?" When I answered, "Yes," he replied, "Oh! I was afraid I had been deceived." He had such a limited knowledge of history at the time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls.

Emma Smith to Joseph Smith III

From The Saints Herald vol. 26, pp. 289, 290
as reported in History of the Reorganized Church, vol. 3, pp. 354-358
Herald Publishing House, 1906

Q. Who were scribes for Father when translating the Book of Mormon?
A. Myself, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and my brother , Reuben Hale.

Q. What of the truth of Mormonism?
A. I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.
Q. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read or dictated to you?
A. He had neither manuscript or book to read from.
Q. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
A. If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.
Q. Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him?
A. The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.
Q. Where did Father and Oliver Cowdery write?
A. Oliver Cowdery and your father wrote in the room where I was at work.
Q. Could not father have dictated the Book of Mormon to you, Oliver Cowdery and the others who wrote for him, after having first written it, or having first read it out of some book?
A. Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much so as to any one else.
Q. I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them?
A. I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so.
Q. Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates?
A. I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.
Q. Mother, what is your belief about the authenticity or origin of the Book of Mormon?
A. My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity - I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.

These questions, and the answers she had given to them, were read to my mother by me, the day before my leaving Nauvoo for home, and were affirmed by her. Major Bidamon stated that he had frequently conversed with her on the subject of the translation of the Book of Mormon, and her present answers were substantially what she had always stated in regard to it.

Joseph Smith

Isaac Hale
Source unknown

Isaac Hale's summary of the process suggests his incredulity: "The manner in which he [Joseph] pretended to read and interpret, was the same manner as when he looked for the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time hid in the woods!"

William Smith
From Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Book of Mormon
by Stephen D. Ricks

J. W. Peterson and W. S. Pender interviewed Joseph's brother William in 1891 and reported:

Among other things we inquired minutely about the Urim and Thummim and the breastplate. We asked him what was meant by the expression "two rims of a bow," which held the former. He said a double silver bow was twisted into the shape of the figure eight, and the two stones were placed literally between the two rims of a bow. At one end was attached a rod which was connected with the outer edge of the right shoulder of the breast-plate. By pressing the head a little forward, the rod held the Urim and Thummim before the eyes much like a pair of spectacles. A pocket was prepared in the breastplate on the left side, immediately over the heart. When not in use the Urim and Thummim was placed in this pocket, the rod being of just the right length to allow it to be so deposited. This instrument could, however, be detached from the breastplate and his brother said Joseph often wore it detached when away from home, but always used it in connection with the breastplate when receiving official communications, and usually so when translating as it permitted him to have both hands free to hold the plates.

J. W. Peterson in The Rod of Iron 1/3, February 1924, 6-7.

This book contains a true account of the
Printed at Herald Steam Book and Job Office. 1883

(Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, Vol.2, p.418)

In consequence of his vision, and his having the golden plates and refusing to show them, a great persecution arose against the whole family, and he was compelled to remove into Pennsylvania with the plates, where he translated them by means of the Urim and Thummim, (which be obtained with the plates),and the power of God. The manner in which this was done was by looking into the Urim and Thummim, which was placed in a hat to exclude the light, (the plates lying near by covered up), and reading off the translation, which appeared in the stone by the power of God. He was engaged in this business (end of page 11) as he had opportunity for about two years and a half. In the winter of 1829 and thirty, the Book of Mormon, which is the translation of part of the plates he obtained, was published. He then showed the plates to my father and my brothers Hyrum and Samuel, who were witnesses to the truth of the book which was translated from them. I was permitted to lift them as they laid in a pillow-case; but not to see them, as it was contrary to the commands he had received. They weighed about sixty pounds according to the best of my judgment. We were all very much scoffed at and persecuted during all this time, while Joseph was receiving his visions and translating the plates.

Father Whitmer

(Matthew Roper, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, p.162)

(Father Whitmer, who was present very frequently during the writing of this manuscript affirms that Joseph Smith had no book or manuscript, before him from which he could have read as is asserted by some that he did, he (Whitmer) having every opportunity to know.)

David Whitmer


[A Bible! A Bible! Have We Got a Bible?
John Gee, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, p.99-101]
LDS Collectors Library, CD ROM Folio Infobases

David Whitmer testified that “Smith was ignorant of the Bible[;] that when translating he first came to where Jerusalem was spoken of as a ‘Walled City’ he stopped until they got a Bible & showed him where the fact was recorded.”


David Whitmer (Eri B. Mullin interview, 1874):
Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, a Restoration Witness
(Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1991)

… the words appear, and if he failed to spell the word right, it would stay till it was spelled right, then pass away; another come, and so on.


[B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Vol.1, p.256]
Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Translation of the Book of Mormon:
Interpreting the Evidence
, p.202
LDS Collectors Library, CD ROM Folio Infobases

In his Address to All Believers in Christ, David Whitmer wrote:

I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph would put the seer stone into a hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.

The "Seer Stone" referred to here was a chocolate colored, somewhat egg-shaped stone which the prophet found while digging a well in company with his brother Hyrum. It possessed some of the qualities of a Urim and Thummim since by means of it as described above as well as by means of the "Interpreters" found with the Nephite record, Joseph was able to translate the characters engraven on the plates.

David Whitmer

(James H. Hart interview, 1884):

Sometimes Joseph could not pronounce the words correctly, having had but little education; and if by any means a mistake was made in the copy, the luminous writing would remain until it was corrected. It sometimes took Oliver several trials to get the right letters to spell correctly some of the more difficult words, but when he had written them correctly, the characters and the interpretation would disappear, and be replaced by other characters and their interpretation.

(Skousen, Royal. "Translating the Book of Mormon."
In: Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited. FARMS 1997, p. 65-66)
From Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, a Restoration Witness
(Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1991)
[B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Vol.1, p.257]
LDS Collectors Library, CD ROM Folio Infobases

Another account of the manner of translating the record, purporting to have been given by David Whitmer, and published in the Kansas City Journal of June 5, 1881, says:

'"He [meaning Joseph Smith] had two small stones of a chocolate color, nearly egg-shape, and perfectly smooth, but not transparent, called interpreters, which were given him with the plates. He did not see the plates in translation, but would hold the interpreters to his eyes and cover his face with' a hat, excluding all light, and before his eyes would appear what seemed to be parchment on which would appear the characters of the plates in a line at the top, and immediately below would appear the translation in English, which Smith would read to his scribe, who wrote it down exactly as it fell from his lips. The scribe would then read the sentence written, and if any mistakes had been made, the characters would remain visible to Smith until corrected, when they would fade from sight to be replaced by another line.

"It is evident that there are inaccuracies in the above statement, due doubtless, to the carelessness of the reporter of the Journal, who has confused what Mr. Whitmer said of the Seer Stone and the Urim and Thummim. If he meant to describe the Urim and Thummim or "Interpreters" given to Joseph Smith with the plates--as seems to be the case-then the reporter is wrong in saying that they were chocolate color and not transparent; for the "Interpreters" given to the prophet with the plates, as we have seen by his own description; were "two transparent stones." If the reporter meant to describe the "Seer Stone"--which is not likely--he would be right in saying it was of a chocolate color, and egg-shaped, but wrong in saying there were two such stones.”

Mother Whitmer sees the plates
The experience of Mother Whitmer is related by her son David, in his Address to All Believers.

One morning, he says, while she was on her way to the barn to do the milking, she was accosted by a strange man, as she supposed. He had on his back a kind of knapsack, with something in it. He told her that she had been complaining to herself of late about her added work, on account of the presence in her home of Joseph and Oliver; and he assured her that her sacrifice would not go for nothing, because she was helping to further the purposes and work of God. Thereupon he opened his knapsack and showed her a book of gold plates.

Mrs. Whitmer, David tells us, believed this person to be the messenger Moroni and the book to be the Nephite Record, which was in course of translation.

John Henry Evans, Joseph Smith, an American Prophet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989, 383.)

John C. Whitmer

Mary Whitmer’s grandson, John C Whitmer, whose father was Jacob, heard the story from his grandmother. It is substantially the same as what is already told. It is found in Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record, Oct 1881, p 721. Edward Stevenson also was present when John Whitmer told the story. It is printed in Anderson, op cit, p32

Martin Harris

Edward Stevenson, “One of the Three Witnesses. Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris,”
The Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star Vol 44 No 5-6
[30 January and 6 February 1882]: 78-9, 86-7
[B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Vol.1, p.258]
LDS Collectors Library, CD ROM Folio Infobases

Martin Harris' description of the manner of translating while he was the amanuensis of the prophet is as follows:

"By aid of the Seer Stone, sentences would appear and were, read by the prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say 'written' and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but: if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used."

On one occasion Harris sought to test the genuineness of the prophet's procedure in the matter of translation, as follows:

"Martin said that after continued translation they would become weary and would go down to the river and exercise in throwing stones out on the river, etc. While so doing on one occasion, Martin found a stone very much resembling the one used for translating, and on resuming their labors of translation Martin put in place [of the Seer Stone] the stone that he had found. He said that the prophet remained silent unusually and intently gazing in darkness, no trace of the usual sentence appearing. Much surprised, Joseph exclaimed: 'Martin! what is the matter? all is as dark as Egypt.' Martin's countenance betrayed him, and the prophet asked Martin why he had done so. Martin said, to stop the mouths of fools, who had told him that the prophet had learned those sentences and was merely repeating them."

Michael Morse

The first-hand account of Michael Morse, Emma Smith's brother-in-law, was published in an 1879 article in the RLDS publication Saint's Herald:
"When Joseph was translating the Book of Mormon [I] had occasion more than once to go into his immediate presence, and saw him engaged at his work of translation. The mode of procedure consisted in Joseph's placing the Seer Stone in the crown of a hat, then putting his face into the hat, so as to entirely cover his face, resting his elbows upon his knees, and then dictating word after word, while the scribes — Emma, John Whitmer, O. Cowdery, or some other wrote it down."

W.W. Blair interview with Michael Morse, Saints’ Herald, vol. 26, no. 12 (June 15, 1879), pp. 190-91 .
[B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Vol.1, p.261]
LDS Collectors Library, CD ROM Folio Infobases

"At times when Brother Joseph would attempt to translate he would look into the hat in which the stone was placed, he found he was spiritually blind and could not translate. He told us that his mind dwelt too much on earthly things, and various causes would make him incapable of proceeding with the translation. When in this condition he would go out and pray, and when he became sufficiently humble before God, he could then proceed with the translation. Now we see how very strict the Lord is, and how he requires the heart of man to be just right in his sight before he can receive revelation from him."

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith said on Oct 26, 1831: that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; and that it was not expedient for him to relate those things. (HC, 1:220; FWR, 13)

Joseph Smith said in 1832: "The Lord had prepared read the book; therefore I commenced translating the characters." (Ensign, 7[9]:81; PWJS, 8)

Joseph Smith said in 1835: "I obtained [the plates] and translated them into the English language by the gift and power of God and have been preaching it ever since." (Ensign, 7[9]:82)

Joseph Smith said in 1835: "God would give me power to translate it with the assistance of this instrument [the Urim and Thummim]." (Ensign, 6[9]:72)

Oliver Cowdery

Oliver made some comments to Samuel W. Richards while he and his family stayed at his [S. W. Richards] house during a snow storm at Winter Quarters These Richards deposited with the Church Historian's Office in 1905. Referring to Oliver's recollection of the BoM translation, Richards wrote:

"I was surprised at the bright recollection he seemed to have of his early experiences with the Prophet Joseph, especially in relation to the work of translating the Book of Mormon. He represented Joseph as sitting at a table with the plates before him, translating them by means of the Urim and Thummim, while he (Oliver) sat beside him writing every word as Joseph spoke them to him. This was done by holding the 'translators' over the hieroglyphics, the translation appearing distinctly on the instrument, which had been touched by the finger of God and dedicated and consecrated for the express purpose of translating languages. Every word was distinctly visible even to every letter; and if Oliver omitted a word or failed to spell a word correctly, the translation remained on the 'interpreter' until it was copied correctly. This was a great mystery to Oliver, how Joseph, being comparatively ignorant could thus correct him, even in spelling, without seeing the word written; and he did not rest satisfied until he himself obtained the gift to translate also. To satisfy Oliver, Joseph went with him before the Lord in prayer, and the Lord bestowed on Oliver the gift by which he was enabled to translate; and thus he learned how it was that Joseph could correct him even to the spelling of words"

Signed statement of S. W. Richards, Salt Lake City, May 25, 1907.
Original in Church Historian's Office.
Copy in BYU Library Special Collections.

Translating the Book of Abraham
contrasted with translating the Book of Mormon
[B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Vol.1, p.265]
LDS Collectors Library, CD ROM Folio Infobases

In further proof that translation was not a merely mechanical process with the Prophet Joseph, I call attention to the evident thought and study he bestowed upon the work of translating the rolls of papyrus found with the Egyptian mummies, purchased by the Saints in Kirtland, of Michael H. Chandler, about the 6th of July, 1835. "Soon after this," says the prophet, "with W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt,"etc.

Speaking in his history of the latter part of July, he says: "The remainder of this month I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language."

In his journal entry for November 26, 1835, is the following: "Spent the day in translating the Egyptian characters from the papyrus, though suffering with a severe cold."

Under date of December 16th, this: "I exhibited and explained the Egyptian characters to them [Elders M'Lellin and Young], and explained many things concerning the dealings of God with the ancients, and the formation of the planetary system."

Thus he continued from time to time to work upon this translation, which was not published until 1842, in the "Times and Seasons," beginning in number nine of volume three. It should be remembered in connection with this "preparing an alphabet" and "arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language" that the prophet still had in his possession the "Seer Stone" (or at least Oliver Cowdery had it, for on completing the translation of the Book of Mormon the prophet gave the Seer Stone into Oliver Cowdery's keeping, (David Whitmer's Address to All Believers, p. 32), which he had used sometimes in the translation of the Book of Mormon, yet it seems from the circumstances named that he had to bend all the energies of his intellectual powers to obtain a translation of the Egyptian characters.

Matthew Roper, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, p.162

The witnesses describe the extreme poverty of Joseph Smith and his family, making it unlikely that they even owned a Bible. They testify that the relatively unlearned Joseph Smith dictated hour after hour, day after day, correcting mistakes without seeing them, without the use of Bible, manuscript, or notes of any kind. Those who were there, whose firsthand testimony regarding the dictation of the Book of Mormon text the authors appear to accept, adamantly affirmed that he had none, that he could not have had books or manuscripts without their knowing. "Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon, without apparent hesitation, as fast as a scribe could write it in long hand. There is no chance for error on this point." Moreover, "The dictation from start to finish proceeded while the Prophet’s eyes were thus hidden from seeing anything by the natural light . . . he did not stop to hunt up the passages which resemble, or are identical with, passages in the King James’ Version of the Bible. Such an interruption could not have escaped detection, and would surely have been noted in the accounts of the listeners. The quotations, therefore, whether direct or indirect, must be regarded as having come precisely like the rest of the matter, and probably . . . without the conscious knowledge of the translator." That is one of the reasons these early witnesses considered the event a miracle.

An experience with Moroni, from:
by Travis Glenn Haws, Ph.D.

The following is an account of some of the missionary experiences of Willard and Rebecca Bean during their 24 year mission to Palmyra, New York, during which time they lived in the Joseph Smith house on the Joseph Smith farm. Willard Washington Bean was born May 16, 1868, at Salt Lake City, Utah. He was the 7th child of George Washington Bean and Elizabeth Baum. Willard's wife, Rebecca Rosetta Peterson was born in Richfield, Utah, the 10th child of Ole Peterson and Julia Hansen. They were immigrants from Denmark. Willard and Rebecca were married in the Manti Temple on September, 18, 1914. This is their story as told by Rebecca at a fireside held in Salt Lake City in 1964. At the time of this talk she had been a widow for over 15 years and passed away on June 15th, 1976. I have used excerpts from their inspirational story many times in my Institute classes and would like to share it with you, the reader.

First of all, I would like to mention of course that we had the roadway built up to the top of the Hill Cumorah and planted all of those trees. The Bureau of Information was built there and the Moroni monument was placed on the top of the hill on July 21, 1935. For me that was a special spiritual experience and I would like to tell you why. Brother Knaphus told me this story: (some of you probably know of him) He said that as soon as he heard that we owned the Hill Cumorah, he started making sketches of what he thought an Angel Moroni monument and statue should look like. No one asked him to do this or knew what he was doing. After he had finished seven sketches, one evening all alone he climbed Ensign Peak which looks southward over Salt Lake Valley. In the darkness of the night he laid the seven sketches out on the ground and then he knelt in prayer asking the Lord if he had done the wrong thing. He asked the Lord to show him which one would be the right one to take to the Church Authorities and if it was right and proper for him to even go to them. When he opened his eyes there was a light all around him and he could see every one of the seven sketches, even though it was dark. And then he saw an angel pointing with his finger to the one that he himself thought was the best and he heard the angel say, "This is the one." And then he asked, "How will I approach the Brethren? What will they think? Have I done the right thing to do this?" Then he the angel said, "You go to the Church offices in the morning. They will be waiting for you." When he went to the Church offices the next morning and it was just like it had been planned. They were there and greeted him as if they had sent for him. He laid the seven sketches out on a table and they looked them over and they too pointed to the one that the angel had pointed to. I say "angel", I don't know. I asked Brother Knaphus, when he told me the story, if it was the Angel Moroni that came to him. He said, "Sister Bean, that's my secret." But I really feel that it was the Angel Moroni who came. The placement of the Moroni statue and its dedication was a great celebration and conference that I will always remember. Willard laid a wreath at the foot of the monument which was an honor for him.

Carl T. Cox

Made 25 Dec 2006