. . . on the evening of the . . . twenty-first 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; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had done. While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor. He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked and his arms also, a little above the wrist, so, also were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open, so that I could see into his bosom. Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person.During the night and the following day, the angel again visited Joseph Smith, repeating to him the same instruction together with additional training each time. Joseph Smith went to recover the plates from the hill as instructed. He related the following about this incident:
When first I looked upon him, I was afraid; but the fear soon left me. He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the sources from whence they sprang. He also said that the fullness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants; also that there were two stones in silver bows--and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim--deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted "Seers" in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.
After telling me these things, he commenced quoting the prophecies of the Old Testament. He first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy, though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles. Instead of quoting the first verse as it reads in our books, he quoted it thus:For behold the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.And again, he quoted the fifth verse thus:Behold I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.He also quoted the next verse differently:And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers; if it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.In addition to these, he quoted the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, saying that it was about to be fulfilled. He quoted also the third chapter of Acts, twenty-second and twenty-third verses, precisely as they stand in our New Testament. He said that that Prophet was Christ; but the day had not yet come when "they who would not hear his voice should be cut off from among the people," but soon would come. He also quoted the second chapter of Joel, from the twenty eighth verse to the last. He also said that this was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be. And he further stated that the fullness of the Gentiles was soon to come in. He quoted many other passages of Scripture, and offered many explanations which cannot be mentioned here.
Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken--for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled--I should not show them to any person; neither the breast plate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed. While he was conversing with me about the plates, the vision was opened to my mind that I could see the place where the plates were deposited, and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again when I visited it.
On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. This stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all around was covered with earth.
Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate, as stated by the messenger. The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. In the bottom of the box were laid two stones crosswise of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them.
I made an attempt to take them out, but was forbidden by the messenger, and was again informed that the time for bringing them forth had not yet arrived, neither would it, until four years from that time; but he told me that I should come to that place precisely in one year from that time and that he would there meet with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time should come for obtaining the plates. Accordingly, as I had been commanded, I went at the end of each year, and at each time I found the same messenger there, and received instruction and intelligence from him at each of our interviews, respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner His kingdom was to be conducted in the last days.
Joseph Smith finally proved himself worthy of obtaining the plates on September 22, 1827. After considerable difficulty and persecution, in April 1829 he was able to begin work on a translation in earnest with the help of Oliver Cowdery, a school teacher in Palmyra, New York.
In January 1827, Joseph married Emma Hale of Harmony, Pennsylvania. After securing the plates, Joseph and his bride moved to Harmony, to escape harassment from local residents regarding his claims of visions and the existence of the golden plates.
Joseph Smith tells of this period:
At length the time arrived for obtaining the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the Breastplate. On the twenty-second day of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, having gone as usual at the end of another year to the place where they were deposited, the same heavenly messenger delivered them up to me with this charge: that I should be responsible for them; that if I should let them go carelessly, or through any neglect of mine, I should be cut off; but that if I would use all my endeavors to preserve them, until he, the messenger should call for them, they should be protected.It was while Joseph was living in Harmony, that Oliver Cowdery heard of the plates, and decided to visit Joseph. Oliver became convinced of the truth of Joseph Smith's story and agreed to act as scribe for recording the translation as Joseph Smith dictated it. Most of the translation was completed in Harmony during April and May and finally concluded in Fayette, New York in June 1829. Arrangements were made with Grandin to publish the book, which appeared in the spring of 1830.1
I soon found out the reason why I had received such strict charges to keep them safe, and why it was that the messenger had said that when I had done what was required at my hand, he would call for them. For no sooner was it known that I had them, than the most strenuous exertions were used to get them from me. Every stratagem that could be invented was resorted to for that purpose. The persecution became more bitter and severe than before, and multitudes were on the alert continually to get them from me if possible. But by the wisdom of God, they remained safe in my hands, until I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand. When, according to arrangements, the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him; and he has them in his charge until this day, being the second day of May, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight.
The excitement, however, still continued, and rumor with her thousand tongues was all the time employed in circulating falsehoods about my father's family, and about myself. If I were to relate a thousandth part of them, it would fill up volumes. The persecution, however, became so intolerable that I was under the necessity of leaving Manchester, and going with my wife to Susquehanna county, in the state of Pennsylvania.
The Book of Mormon as published in 1830 contained no verse numbering. The paragraphing was determined by the compositor, John H. Gilbert, an employee of Grandin who worked with Oliver Cowdery to print the book. Hyrum Smith and Martin Harris also assisted in the process. Chapters in the first edition were determined by the translation.2 As sheets for the first edition were printed, Oliver would look them over as they came off the press. He frequently found misspellings and other errors and therefore the process would be halted and the type changed to reflect the correction. The previous uncorrected sheets were not discarded but were kept to form the contracted 5000 copies. Hence no two surviving copies of the first edition are likely to contain exactly the same text. Probably near 1000 copies survive today.
The next edition was published in 1837 in Kirtland, Ohio by Parley P. Pratt and John Goodson. It contained a large number of minor grammatical, spelling and capitalization changes. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery edited this edition by comparing the original manuscript with a copy of the 1830 edition. They also made a number of changes in the text, such as in 1 Nephi 11:18, making the obvious change from "whom thou seest is the mother of God" to "whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God." Here the subject was certainly Mary as the mother of Jesus (whatever ones Trinitarian leanings may be). A number of other changes were made to the text that were of comparable significance.
In 1840 another edition was published by Ebenezer Robinson and Don Carlos Smith. Two thousand copies were printed from stereotype plates prepared by Shepard and Stearns co. This edition was edited by Joseph Smith and Ebenezer Robinson who compared the 1837 edition with the original manuscript and again made many minor changes in wording. A few of these changes were more significant, for example in 2 Nephi 30:6, the phrase "white and delightsome" was changed to "pure and delightsome." Robinson took the copy of the 1837 edition marked by Joseph Smith to Cincinnati, Ohio where it was printed. It went on sale in November 1840.
In 1841, the LDS apostles doing mission work in England published another edition of 4050 copies (the printer had shorted some of the signatures so that the order of 5000 was not filled). This edition did not sell out for some years. It was based on the 1837 edition since word of the 1840 edition reached England too late to serve as a basis for this British edition. In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith reprinted the 1840 edition in August 1842. In 1849 Orson Pratt published a new edition in England, making various changes to the text, but for some reason he did not use the 1840 edition as the basis of the text. The LDS 1852 edition published by Franklin D. Richards, used the 1849 edition making some further changes in the text and adding numbers to the paragraphs creating a primitive verse structure. British spellings were used in the editions published in England.
Orson Pratt edited new LDS editions in 1874 and 1879 using the 1852 edition as the basic text. Chapters were shortened (for example the first edition contained 30 chapters in the book of Alma, while the 1879 edition had 63). Paragraphs were divided further to give a verse structure preserved in all subsequent editions. Footnotes were added giving some scriptural references.
After Oliver Cowdery broke with the Church, he kept the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon and while he eventually returned to the LDS Church, upon his deathbed he turned the manuscript over to another Book of Mormon witness, his brother-in-law, David Whitmer. Whitmer died in 1888 and the manuscript became the property of the RLDS Church. The RLDS Church published its first edition in 1874 (follow the Pearl of Great Price link for a very brief account of the origins of the RLDS Church). Its verse divisions were different from the Pratt LDS editions. The text was based on the 1840 edition. In 1908, the RLDS Church published a new edition based on the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon with new verse divisions which have been used in subsequent RLDS printings. This text did not use the 1840 edition but went back to the 1837 text as the basis.
In 1920, Elder James E. Talmage edited a new LDS edition with double column pages, chapter headnotes and additional footnotes. Elder Talmage added new material as an introduction, including excerpts from Joseph Smith's history and explanations on the structure of the book. The basic textual format has remained from the 1920 edition until now (1999). He also made grammatical and spelling changes.
In 1966 the RLDS Church published a new edition in modern English. However this edition is not used in formal Church settings.
In 1981 the LDS Church issued another major edition. Text format remained the same as the 1920 edition, but numerous helps to the reader were added including a new introduction, new chapter headnotes and numerous footnotes. This changed the size of the standard English text from 568 pages including an index to 779 pages including a much more comprehensive index. Some textual changes were made in this edition as a result of a comparison of the 1920 text with the remaining fragments 3 of the original manuscript, the printer's manuscript and the 1840 edition among others.
Over the years, the Book of Mormon has appeared in many languages. The text here is English.
The electronic text here follows the 1981 LDS text, but includes no chapter headnotes. Introductory material includes only that from the 1830 edition (in the Preface link below). We have not included Joseph Smith's introductory note in the 1830 edition which explains the matter of losing the 116 page manuscript, familiar to most Latter-day Saints. 1 Book headnotes and intrabook narrative change notes (e.g., "The Record of Zeniff") have remained the same since the first edition, aside from minor changes in capitalization and punctuation.
1. For further details about the Book of Mormon discovery and translation, see chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, of the Annotated History of the Church.
2. That is, during the translation, chapter breaks were indicated by Joseph Smith as a part of the text as it was delivered.
3. On October 2, 1841, the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon was placed in a cornerstone of the "Nauvoo House," a hotel under construction at the time in Nauvoo, Ill. It was not removed from the cornerstone until 1882 (see Deseret News October 4, 1882, page 1). The manuscript suffered considerable moisture damage. Portions of the manuscript were distributed to Nauvoo visitors by the owner of the building. Fragments in the possession of the LDS Church include large portions of First Nephi, Alma and smaller portions of Second Nephi, Helaman and Third Nephi. After the translation of the Book of Mormon was completed (by July 1829) Oliver made a copy for the use of the printer (the printer's manuscript). This copy contains some differences from the original manuscript. [Dean C. Jessee, "The Original Book of Mormon Manuscript," BYU Studies, 10/3, 259-278; Royal Skousen, "The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon," BYU Studies 30/1 (Winter 1990): 41 - 69.]