Don Bradley discusses the historical background to the loss of the Book of Lehi.

Don Bradley

Don Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Missing Stories (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2019), 57-64

Greg Kofford Books
Martin Harris, Joseph Smith, Jr., Don Bradley, Lucy Harris
Reading Public

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The story of the manuscript’s loss begins where we left off in the story of its translation. Joseph Smith and Martin Harris carried out their respective roles in the translation process for several weeks, but practical considerations entailed that sooner or later they must pause. Emma was about to deliver the couple’s first child, and Martin was feeling pressure to return home after having parted with his children and wife and forsaken his farm for most of the spring. It also appears that Joseph and Martin were running out of paper.

In anticipation of a break in the work, Martin requested that he be permitted to take the translation manuscript home with him to show others. He likely also requested to again take the plate facsimile that he had shown to Anthon. Such permission would enable him to display both the characters, which “the learned” could not read, and the translation, which Joseph had read from the plates. That Martin took the Anthon transcript and lost is with the translation manuscript is suggested by two considerations: no one describes seeing that transcript after 1828, and none of the still-existing transcripts match the one described by Anthon.

In response to Martin’s request to take the documents, Joseph petitioned God for permission but was denied through the interpreters. At Martin’s urging, Joseph asked again, resulting again with the same answer. After further teasing from Martin, and as the translation neared a pause, Joseph agreed to make a third inquiry, upon which permission was finally granted for Martin to show others the manuscript, along with a commandment that it be limited to only five designated family members: “his brother Preserved Harris, his own wife, his father, and also his mother, and a Mrs Cobb a sister to his wife.” Before taking the manuscript, Martin had to covenant to obey “the word of the Lord” that restricted the manuscript audience to those five.

Martin repeated requests were, in part, responsible for the manuscript loss. Had he settled for the first or second answer, the curious reader would not be holding the present book in his or her hands but would instead be reading a version of the Book of Mormon that contains many of the missing stories this volume intends to reconstruct. Given the risks and severity of the consequences of Martin’s actions, a question crucial to understanding the loss of that book is: Why was Martin Harris so insistent on taking the manuscript home with him after already having been told no by God twice?

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