Richard Lyman Bushman discusses the loss of the Book of Lehi (the 116 pages).

Richard Lyman Bushman

Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism's Founder (New York: Knopf, 2005), 66-67

Alfred A. Knopf
Martin Harris, Richard Lyman Bushman, Emma Hale Smith, Joseph Smith, Jr.
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Martin Harris was back in Harmony by mid-April 1828, and the translation began in earnest. For two months, from about April 12 to June 14, 1828, Joseph and Harris were hard at work. Joseph translated using the interpreters (also called the Urim and Thummim, crystals mounted on a breast plate), and Harris wrote down the text as it was dictated. A curtain divided the men to prevent Harris from seeing the plates. By mid-June 1828, they had covered 116 pages of foolscap with text. Yet uncertainty still beset Harris. The ever-lengthening manuscript and the tests to which he put Joseph did not quite his doubts. He could not forget his wife’s skepticism or the hostile queries of Palmyra’s tavern crowd. Was Joseph making a fool of him? Was he the classic dupe, to be cheated of his money and farm when the fraud was complete? Lucy Smith said that Harris asked Joseph for a look at the plates, for “a further witness of their actual existence and that he might be better able to give a reason for the hope that was within him.” When the request was denied, he asked about the manuscript. Could he at least take it home to reassure his wife? Joseph asked through the interpreter and was told no. Harris pressed again and received the same answer. Still he was not satisfied. Finally, Joseph later reported, “After much solicitation, I again enquired of the Lord and permission was granted him to have the writings” on the condition that Harris show the pages only to give people: his wife, his brother Preserved, and his father, mother, and wife’s sister. Uneasy about the whole proceeding, Joseph required Harris before he set off to bind himself in solemn covenant to comply.

That decision began a sorrowful season. Soon after Harris left, Emma gave birth to a son after an exhausting labor. Whatever happiness the child brought was short-lived. The baby, named Alvin after Joseph’s older brother, died that very day, June 15, and was buried near Emma’s grandparents in sight of the house. Emma came close to death herself, and Joseph attended her night and day. After two weeks, as she began to mend, Joseph’s mind turned back to the manuscript. Sensing his anxiety, Emma suggested that he go to Manchester to check up on Martin Harris. Mrs. Hale agreed to care for Emma, and Joseph caught the first stagecoach north.

As soon as he got home, the Smith family sent for Harris, expecting him at eight for breakfast. The morning hours dragged by, and he did not come. At half past twelve, Lucy reported, “we saw him walking with a slow and measured tread towards the house, his eyes fixed thoughtfully upon the ground. On coming to the gate, he stopped instead of passing through and got upon the fence, and sat there some time with his hat drawn over his eyes.” When he finally came in and sat down for the long-delayed breakfast, Harris “took up his knife and fork as if he were going to use them, but immediately dropped them.” He “pressed his hands upon hi stemples, and cried out, in a tone of deep anguish, ‘Oh, I have lost my soul! I have lost my soul!’” Joseph sprang up and demanded to know about the manuscript. “Have you broken your oath and brought down condemnation upon my head, as well as your own?” “Yes, it is gone,” replied Martin, “and I know not where.”

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