The Missing Portions of the Book of Mormon: What We Know
In 1828, Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spent most of his days with his head stuck in a hat, peering at two peep stones which he claimed allowed him to translate ancient golden plates. Those plates, he claimed, were given to him by the angel Moroni. No one else was allowed to view the plates, or they would suffer instant death.
Needless to say, this story seemed suspicious to some, including Lucy Harris, wife of Joseph’s scribe, Martin Harris. Since Martin wanted to help finance the eventual publication of the book, Joseph finally gave in to the man’s exhortations to let him take the first 116 pages to show his wife and family, to try and convince them of the validity of Joseph’s claims.
It was a mistake.
Nearly three weeks later, when Harris returned to the Smith homestead, it was with the horrible news that the pages were missing. Lucy Harris claimed she had burned the pages, hoping to force Smith to retranslate them and reveal himself a liar and a fraud when the pages did not match the first ones. This was highly problematic, especially because there was no tangible proof that the pages were destroyed.
Smith was in a bind. He had to either retranslate them—and risk being exposed as a fraud should the old pages show up and be significantly different—or simply abandon the whole thing.
Instead, according to the History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 23, both the plates and the urim and thummim (a sacred device used to translate the plates) were taken from him, because God was angry. It is unclear whether the peep stones and the urim and thummim were one and the same. As is usually the case, God calmed down and when he restored the plates, Joseph said that per God’s instructions, he would not be retranslating the same plates, but rather a new set of plates, featuring a much less detailed, more vague history of the same people.
Whether God or Smith made the decision, it is patently obvious that translating a different, very vague version of the “same story,” made sure that if the original pages ever reappeared, any differences or inconsistencies could be explained away.
There is one problem, however, that this did not fix. In the first published edition of the book, the name Jesus Christ is used hundreds of years before he was born.
This problem was corrected in the second edition, and the name Jesus Christ was replaced by The Messiah. (1:Nephi, Chapter 12:18)
It is entirely possible that Lucy Harris did Joseph Smith a great favor by stealing and possibly destroying the pages, because many historians believe that the first part of the Book of Mormon was actually written last, indicating Joseph Smith merely continued on with his work, and then went back and wrote or translated the first part over. This allowed him to catch his mistake of mentioning Jesus Christ before he was even born.
Given the discrepancies and questions about the validity of the Book of Mormon already known, were the original 116 pages of the Book of Mormon to come to light, what would they show? Would Jesus Christ’s name be mentioned repeatedly? Would the history of the people Nephi wrote of, the Israelites, be essentially the same? Or would there be something there, something major, that could shake the fundamental core of the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Martin Harris did not follow Brigham Young and his splintered group of Saints to Salt Lake City, and in fact spent years bouncing from Mormon faction to Mormon faction. He made his way to Utah only as a destitute old man, and he settled and died in Cache County, Utah.
The 116 missing pages were never recovered.