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The “lost 116 pages” is the missing portion of the manuscript of the Book of Mormon. While acting as Joseph Smith’s scribe, Martin Harris requested to take home the portion of the manuscript that had been translated in order to persuade his wife of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Joseph initially refused, but later agreed to let Mr. Harris take the manuscript home. Three weeks later Mr. Harris returned to Joseph and told him that he had lost the 116 pages. Joseph never retranslated the Book of Lehi. The lost 116 pages were never recovered.
Overview of LDS position
The LDS church teaches that the loss of the 116 pages was a plan by wicked men inspired by Satan to entrap and destroy Joseph Smith. Joseph learned from a revelation that the wicked men had altered the words of the manuscript. If Joseph translated the same material again they would say he was unable to do it the same way twice, and therefore Joseph was uninspired. Instead of retranslating the pages, Joseph translated a second set of plates that were an abridged version of the first, prepared 2,000 years before by the Lord for just that purpose.
Overview of Critics' position
LDS critics contend that if the translation really was of God, the manuscript could be reproduced word for word without a mistake. However, if Joseph created it himself, his memory would hardly be adequate to such a task and he would give himself away. Instead, he provided an abridged version of the same history, leaving out the many historical details which he could not accurately reproduce. The plot to alter the original pages is extremely implausible, as the original manuscript was written by hand with ink on foolscap paper. Any alteration would be very noticeable and unconvincing.
In 1828, Martin Harris, acting as scribe for Joseph Smith, recorded the first 116 pages of The Book of Mormon. He asked permission of Joseph Smith to let him borrow these pages to take home with him so he could show them to his wife. Martin's wife was very skeptical and feared that her wealthy husband was being conned out of his money in order to get the Book of Mormon published for Joseph. Joseph inquired of the Lord to know if he might do as Martin Harris had requested, but was refused. Joseph inquired again, but received a second refusal. Still, Martin Harris persisted as before, and Joseph applied again, but the last answer was not like the two former ones. In this the Lord permitted Martin Harris to take the manuscript home with him. Three weeks later Mr. Harris returned to Joseph and told him that he had lost the 116 pages.
Joseph was very distraught over this, exclaiming "Oh, my God! All is lost! All is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned." It is widely believed that Martin Harris' wife had taken the pages. The reasoning was that if Joseph was indeed a prophet he could retranslate those same pages exactly as before and that would prove he was actually translating instead of just making up the Book of Mormon story as he dictated to Martin. Finally, Joseph inquired of the Lord as to what he should do; in response, he received a revelation, which is recorded in section 10 of the Doctrine & Covenants. He was told that he should not retranslate those lost pages because Satan's cunning plan was to have evil men alter the words in the original translation and wait until Joseph retranslated those pages. The evil men would then produce the original lost 116 pages with the alterations to prove that Joseph was a fraud.
God, of course, knew of Satan's eventual plan and had Nephi make two sets of plates that cover essentially the same material but written a little differently. Joseph was instructed to now translate from the smaller, abridged plates of Nephi, instead of from the larger plates of Nephi that he had translated from earlier. This way the same basic information that should be included in the Book of Mormon was there, but it would not be expected to match exactly the original lost 116 pages that were first translated by Joseph.
The 1830 Book of Mormon contained the following explanation [emphasis added]:
Links recording official church version: Doctrine and Covenants Section 10
The official story taught and recorded by the church is nonsensical for the following reasons:
Sandra Tanner has an interesting theory about the lost 116 pages. We haven't fully explored this theory but basically it states that the retranslated portion of the first part of the Book of Mormon is very different from the rest of the book. Names and specific details seem to be intentionally left out from this section of the book such as the names of Ishmael's daughters and names of kings. The reasoning is that Joseph probably wasn't 100% sure of some of the specific details of the original 116 pages and he didn't want to take the chance that the lost 116 pages may contradict him on names or other details. Therefore, he purposely omitted certain details, which is why the beginning of the Book of Mormon seems to be different than the rest of the Book of Mormon. When Joseph was dictating the events that occurred after the time period, that was covered by the original 116 pages, he then started including more specific details that would not have been in the original lost pages and could not be challenged. The theory deserves further investigation, but we wouldn't consider it proof. A Black Hole in the Book of Mormon
From Chapter 35 of the book 'History of Joseph Smith' by his mother Lucy Mack Smith.
MT comment: Joseph's mother also believed that it was Mrs. Harris that took the lost 116 pages. Her comment "there is no doubt but Mrs. Harris took it from the drawer" makes this very clear.
Account of Sally McKune
From The Early Days of Mormonism by Frederic G. Mather, pg 202
Editor comment: There appears to be little evidence in support of this account from Sally McKune other than this one source.
We regret that we could not find the problems with this issue discussed in any church publication or website other than the canonized account given in D&C Section 10. But we did engage in discussions with three LDS apologists who offered the following responses:
The assertion that the evil men that were planning on altering the lost 116 pages were incapable of doing so is foolhardy. A master forger like Mark Hofmann could have done it. He would not have simply altered some of the words because that would have been detectable. Instead he would have likely rewritten an entire page or several pages as needed. That way, he could have altered most anything he wanted to and there would not be any noticeable rewritings in the pages.
Forgery is a practice of ancient origins. Even the Roman biographer Suetonius claims that the Roman emperor Titus considered himself a master forger. Master forgers, even in the 19th century, had the ability to skillfully forge documents. If the forgers had the 116 pages (and if it was all in Martin Harris's handwriting) they would have had no problems reproducing Martin Harris' handwriting. The paper wouldn't have to be exactly the same, just very similar, and it would be difficult to tell the difference.
Reference: Discussions with two LDS apologists.
First of all Mark Hofmann was caught. Even the Tanners (the biggest enemies of the Church) said his 'Salamander letter' was a forgery but it STILL fooled the Church leaders.
Although it would be possible for a master forger to forge the documents in the early 1800s, what are the odds that either one of the evil men trying to bring down Joseph was either a master forger or had access to a master forger? It's not a common skill and since money wasn't the motive, how could they pay for a skilled forger to even begin this kind of undertaking?
But even if that were possible and they found a very skilled forger in the 1820s, Martin Harris would have simply said that it was not his handwriting and he did not write those pages. Martin lived for many decades after the Book of Mormon was published and he would have refuted it. If he simply said he didn't write those pages, as presented by the evil-doers, the whole attempt would have been one of the weakest arguments against the church - hardly Satan's master plan.
Martin Harris' testimony that a forgery had occurred would have been useless. Even today, physical evidence is seen as more reliable than eye witness testimony. While any person could examine the two versions of the 116 pages and see differences, Martin Harris' denial would act as hearsay with all its attendant problems. Any person confronted with the issue would think: "Why should someone believe Mr. Harris when we have the proof right here in front of us?"
Reference: Rebuttal provided by LDS apologist writing to MormonThink.
Martin Harris proclaiming that the document was a forgery would not have been so easily dismissed. If the testimonies of faithful LDS aren't shaken by having Egyptologists demonstrate how Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian papyri facsimiles in the Book of Abraham are totally wrong, then why would such an easy explanation as Martin Harris saying the pages were forged cause concern? To your point 'why should someone believe the Church when we have the proof right here in front of us' that Joseph did not translate the Book of Abraham facsimiles correctly?
Also it would have prompted a detailed scrutiny of certain pages and if any inconsistencies such as slightly different handwriting, different paper, different ink, etc. were found only on the pages that Martin said he didn't write, then it would be enough evidence to at least say it's a stalemate - he said/she said. The faithful LDS would of course believe the LDS person and the critics would believe the non-LDS people. The Church would go on.
ALSO, if it would be so easy to forge the 116 pages to discredit Smith then why wouldn't the forgers have tried to alter the 116 pages even if Joseph was to tell the same basic story but from another source? As stated above, the forgers could still very easily have changed things that would be common to both the first 116 pages and to the rest of the BOM and just as effectively proved Smith a fraud. For example they could have changed the names of people like Nephi to Napham or change the names of cities like Jerusalem to Galilee or change any number of things that would cause problems for the published part of the Book of Mormon.
Continuing on with the Book of Mormon translation does not prevent conspirators from presenting the Book of Lehi with contradictions in it. This was master forger Mark Hofmann's ultimate goal, to forge the book of Lehi with contradictions to the rest of the Book of Mormon in it. Because the Book of Lehi presumably contained the key details on how the Israelites arrive at the New World, more or less the same story had to be told in different words - the Book of Nephi.
If the evil men were smart enough to be able to have the documents forged to such a degree as to escape detection, then surely they would realized that they could still foil Smith by changing some of the 116 pages to cause inconstancies with the BOM story.
FAIR's Response to the MormonThinkThe Lord taught Joseph an important lesson with the loss of the manuscript, and He provided an alternate text to compensate. It wasn't necessary to obtain the original pages, therefore there was no reason for Joseph to attempt to locate it using a seer stone. The Lord did not command him to do so. In fact, the Lord commanded Joseph not to retranslate the pages, therefore this is really an issue of whether or not one believes that Joseph was actually a prophet. Had the pages not been lost, we would not have the following:
Conclusion: Only Joseph Smith himself knew the exact details of the translation process, despite the opinions of various second hand witnesses. All we know for certain is that the translation was performed by “the gift and power of God.” If one believes that the translation was accomplished through divine means, then one can easily believe that if the Lord wished for Joseph to dictate the exact same text that he did previously, then it would have been so. The Lord, however, knew of the problem to come with the 116 pages, and used the opportunity to teach the Prophet the importance of humility and of the need to heed the Lord's counsel. As a result, we not only have the opportunity to gain wisdom from the lesson learned by the Prophet, but we also have access to the “plain and precious” teachings that constitute the record of Nephi.
MormonThink response to Fair
FAIR believes that the whole lost 116 pages episode was all meant to be a lesson in humility for Joseph. But FAIR didn't even attempt to explain about the 'evil men', their foolhardy plan, what happened to the manuscript and why didn't the evil men attempt to discredit Smith or do something (anything) with the manuscript. FAIR's explanation simply falls short in trying to explain why Joseph apparently made up the story about the evil men when the evidence is heavily weighted against these evil men even existing.
MT reply: FAIR keeps saying that the wicked men should have published the pages and had people swear via affidavit that their altered transcription was correct but never actually produce the pages to anyone. That sounds familiar - just like the BofM witnesses - don't show the world the actual plates, just have some relatives and friends see them and have them tell people that they really saw them. That's not very convincing and the BofM witnesses were reported to be upstanding citizens. So how convincing would it be to have a bunch of friends of thieves vouch for seeing the stolen pages? Any least bit skeptical person would ask to see the pages if they really had them? Joseph and the BofM witnesses claimed they couldn't show the plates to anyone for fear of going against God's will but that rationale wouldn't apply to the possessors of the lost 116 pages. Certainly Joseph and the Church would demand to see the pages and no one would blame them for wanting to see the evidence otherwise the claims of the 'wicked men' would be very weak. If the wicked men had nothing to hide, then they would show the pages. But the point is they could not alter the pages without it being obvious so it's for more likely Joseph made up this story.
FAIR also said about MT "It is easy, as this demonstrates, to spin theories about what 'should have' or 'would have' happened in the complete absence of any evidence." Well, what evidence is there that any 'wicked men' existed other than Joseph's claims? FAIR can't bash MT yet give Joseph Smith a free pass for doing the same thing.
The lost pages could not have been altered without detection. The lost pages never resurfaced and were very likely burned by Martin Harris's wife. In reality, the lost 116 pages were never produced and what Smith and God had feared never happened. If Harris's wife had really thrown them in the fire, then what would have been the problem with Smith just re-translating them from the beginning again? If the pages were not destroyed, they would have resurfaced at some point because they could still be altered to discredit Smith. But they never resurfaced either because they were destroyed early on by Mrs. Harris or because there were no evil men standing by to alter the pages. Either way, the story about Satan's plan to discredit the prophet was apparently made up by Smith to cover himself. What ultimately happened is exactly what you would expect if Joseph was making up the Book of Mormon. The pages were lost and needed to be redone - it would be a similar story told a little differently.
Also, Joseph asked God if he could share the pages and he got a "no" answer twice. Then he got a "yes" answer because he was wearying the Lord with his requests. To believe this, you must accept that God is so impatient he's bothered by someone asking the same question repeatedly. You must also believe that a perfect God can be wrong or change his mind (especially when annoyed by irritating supplicants like Joseph Smith). This conflicted, changeable being doesn't sound like a God anyone should be worshiping, or in fact resemble the God the Mormon's profess to believe in. But if God will change his mind by repeated requests for the same desire, perhaps I should continue to ask God to help me win the lottery.
A further thought - combining the lost 116 pages with the translation process.
1) God foresaw the loss of the 116 pages and in his infinite wisdom 1500 years prior had a 2nd set of plates made, covering the same time period.
2) JS "translated" the BOM by putting his face in a hat and seeing the English words which he then dictated to the scribe.The actual golden plates were not "read" and were often not even in the same room.
God going to extraordinary lengths to have SECOND set of plates made so that they could NOT be used, in place of the first set of plates that were not used.
A Rebuttal to the critic's summary.
In response to the critic's first comment above about God being a changeable God that would change his mind by merely being asked the same question repeatedly, a reader suggested the following possible explanation:
Both the critics and defenders of the faith have compelling points to make. The editors of this section give their own opinion:
We find it hard to believe that Satan and some wicked men were really behind the plot to steal the 116 pages. The stolen pages would have eventually come forth, in probably a failed attempt to discredit Joseph. If nothing else they would have been worth a lot of money to the Church so we can't imagine why the evil men, if they existed, would not have used the pages to either try to discredit Joseph, ransom them to Martin and Joseph or hold on to them to eventually sell them. The stolen pages wouldn't have simply been destroyed by men who went to such trouble to obtain them.
Instead, it seems much more plausible that Martin Harris' wife had immediately destroyed the pages just to defy her husband or maybe kept them to see if the pages would be translated again in the same way. In either case, there were no 'wicked men' involved and the Devil was not a part of this "cunning plan" as stated in the D&C. If that's the case we wonder if there could be any other reason why Joseph would make up the story about Satan's plan to discredit him? We have not yet been able to think of any other reasonable explanation to answer Joseph's actions other than he was not really translating an ancient document as he claimed.
A further problem is that if indeed the Lost 116 Pages incident involving the wicked men and the Devil was fabricated by Joseph Smith, then Joseph appears to have falsified canonized scripture (D&C Section 10 and the introduction to the 1830 version of the BOM) by making up a story about evil men stealing the lost 116 pages when it seems obvious that there were no evil men and that Mrs. Harris likely had simply taken the manuscript. If Joseph did make up this story, and had it canonized as scripture in the Doctrine & Covenants, as well as in the introduction to early versions of the Book of Mormon, then how can his other scriptures that he brought forth be trusted 100%?
There's an episode of the cartoon South Park called "All About the Mormons". In the episode, a faithful LDS family tells the story of the Lost 116 pages to a neighbor boy they are trying to convert. They tell this story as proof that Joseph Smith was telling the truth and Mormonism is true. Perhaps the most telling comment we've ever heard about the Lost 116 pages debacle comes from the neighborhood boy, who, after hearing the story of the Lost 116 pages, exclaims ""Wait, Mormons actually know this story and they still believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet?"
Supporting the critics
Supporting the church