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Preface to Book of Mormon, circa August 1829

PREFACE.
To the Reader
As many false reports have been circulated respecting the following work, and also many unlawful measures taken by evil designing persons to destroy me, and also the work, I would inform you that I translated

To produce a text from one written in another language; in JS’s usage, most often through divine means. JS considered the ability to translate to be a gift of the spirit, like the gift of interpreting tongues. He recounted that he translated “reformed Egyptian...

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, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon;1

The Book of Mormon opens with the account of two prophets, Lehi and his son Nephi. Their records and the records of around one thousand years of history were abridged by Mormon, one of the last prophets of the Book of Mormon, from whom the volume of scripture gets its name. (See Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 151–152, 529 [Words of Mormon 1:3–6; Mormon 6:6]; Title Page of Book of Mormon, ca. Early June 1829.)  


which said account, some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again2

Several sources, including Lucy Mack Smith’s history, claim that Martin Harris’s wife, Lucy, took the manuscript and did not return it. Eber D. Howe, who provided an early account of the events, was ambiguous about whether the manuscript was destroyed or preserved. He wrote that early church members “sometimes charged the wife of Harris with having burnt it; but this is denied by her.” (Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, 134; Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 22; see also Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 45–46.)  


—and being commanded of the Lord that I should not translate the same over again,3

From this point to the penultimate sentence of the preface, much of the text quotes or paraphrases a revelation received a few months earlier concerning the translation. (Compare Revelation, Spring 1829 [D&C 10:10–43].)  


for Satan had put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God, by altering the words, that they did read contrary from that which I translated and caused to be written; and if I should bring forth the same words again, or, in other words, if I should translate the same over again, they would publish that which they had stolen, and Satan would stir up the hearts of this generation, that they might not receive this work: but behold, the Lord said unto me, I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing: therefore thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi, until ye come to that which ye have translated, which ye have retained; and [p. [iii]]
PREFACE.
To the Reader
As many false reports have been circulated respec ting the following work, and also many unlawful mea sures taken by evil designing persons to destroy me,  and also the work, I would inform you that I translated

To produce a text from one written in another language; in JS’s usage, most often through divine means. JS considered the ability to translate to be a gift of the spirit, like the gift of interpreting tongues. He recounted that he translated “reformed Egyptian...

View Glossary
,  by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written,  one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from  the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from  the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon;1

The Book of Mormon opens with the account of two prophets, Lehi and his son Nephi. Their records and the records of around one thousand years of history were abridged by Mormon, one of the last prophets of the Book of Mormon, from whom the volume of scripture gets its name. (See Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 151–152, 529 [Words of Mormon 1:3–6; Mormon 6:6]; Title Page of Book of Mormon, ca. Early June 1829.)  


which said  account, some person or persons have stolen and kept  from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to reco ver it again2

Several sources, including Lucy Mack Smith’s history, claim that Martin Harris’s wife, Lucy, took the manuscript and did not return it. Eber D. Howe, who provided an early account of the events, was ambiguous about whether the manuscript was destroyed or preserved. He wrote that early church members “sometimes charged the wife of Harris with having burnt it; but this is denied by her.” (Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, 134; Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 22; see also Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 45–46.)  


—and being commanded of the Lord that  I should not translate the same over again,3

From this point to the penultimate sentence of the preface, much of the text quotes or paraphrases a revelation received a few months earlier concerning the translation. (Compare Revelation, Spring 1829 [D&C 10:10–43].)  


for Satan  had put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God,  by altering the words, that they did read contrary from  that which I translated and caused to be written; and  if I should bring forth the same words again, or, in other  words, if I should translate the same over again, they  would publish that which they had stolen, and Satan  would stir up the hearts of this generation, that they  might not receive this work: but behold, the Lord  said unto me, I will not suffer that Satan shall accom plish his evil design in this thing: therefore thou shalt  translate from the plates of Nephi, until ye come to that  which ye have translated, which ye have retained; and [p. [iii]]
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From mid-April to mid-June 1828, JS and his principal scribe, Martin Harris

18 May 1783–10 July 1875. Farmer. Born at Easton, Albany Co., New York. Son of Nathan Harris and Rhoda Lapham. Moved with parents to area of Swift’s landing (later in Palmyra), Ontario Co., New York, 1793. Married first his first cousin Lucy Harris, 27 Mar...

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, finished translating

To produce a text from one written in another language; in JS’s usage, most often through divine means. JS considered the ability to translate to be a gift of the spirit, like the gift of interpreting tongues. He recounted that he translated “reformed Egyptian...

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a portion of the plates

A record engraved on gold plates, which JS translated and published as the Book of Mormon. The text explained that the plates were an abridgement of other ancient records and were written by an American prophet named Mormon and his son Moroni. The plates ...

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, producing a substantial manuscript. JS then set aside the translation work to care for his wife Emma

10 July 1804–30 Apr. 1879. Scribe, editor, boardinghouse operator, clothier. Born at Willingborough Township (later in Harmony), Susquehanna Co., Pennsylvania. Daughter of Isaac Hale and Elizabeth Lewis. Member of Methodist church at Harmony (later in Oakland...

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after she gave birth, providing Harris opportunity to return to his home in Palmyra

Known as Swift’s Landing and Tolland before being renamed Palmyra, 1796. Incorporated, Mar. 1827, two years after completion of adjacent Erie Canal. Population in 1820 about 3,700. Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith family lived in village briefly, beginning ...

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, New York. Before departing, he successfully pleaded with JS to allow him to take the manuscript to show certain members of his family. Not long after Harris’s return to Palmyra, however, the manuscript was lost.1

JS History, vol. A-1, 9–10; Knight, Reminiscences, 5; JS History, ca. Summer 1832, 5–[6]; Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 7, [1]–[8]; see also Historical Introduction to Revelation, July 1828 [D&C 3].  


This caused JS great distress and contributed to the translation being largely discontinued until April 1829, when Oliver Cowdery

3 Oct. 1806–3 Mar. 1850. Clerk, teacher, justice of the peace, lawyer, newspaper editor. Born at Wells, Rutland Co., Vermont. Son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller. Raised Congregationalist. Moved to western New York and clerked at a store, ca. 1825–1828...

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began serving as JS’s scribe.
JS and Cowdery

3 Oct. 1806–3 Mar. 1850. Clerk, teacher, justice of the peace, lawyer, newspaper editor. Born at Wells, Rutland Co., Vermont. Son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller. Raised Congregationalist. Moved to western New York and clerked at a store, ca. 1825–1828...

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began where JS and Harris

18 May 1783–10 July 1875. Farmer. Born at Easton, Albany Co., New York. Son of Nathan Harris and Rhoda Lapham. Moved with parents to area of Swift’s landing (later in Palmyra), Ontario Co., New York, 1793. Married first his first cousin Lucy Harris, 27 Mar...

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had left off. They worked intently day after day, and the translation progressed steadily. As JS contemplated the work’s completion, he became concerned about whether he should retranslate the lost portion. A spring 1829 revelation addressed this concern, warning him against doing so.2

Revelation, Spring 1829 [D&C 10:6–19].  


Though it is unclear what happened to the missing pages, the revelation implied that the manuscript had been stolen by those seeking to discredit JS and further prophesied that if he were to retranslate the section he had already dictated, his enemies would publish an account deriding the translation as a fraud.3

See Historical Introduction to Revelation, Spring 1829 [D&C 10].  


Instead, the revelation directed JS to translate another portion of the plates called the plates of Nephi, which covered the same period as the lost manuscript.4

See Revelation, Spring 1829 [D&C 10:38–43].  


While revelations that JS dictated in 1828 and 1829 referred to the lost manuscript in generic terms, JS’s mention of 116 pages in the preface to the Book of Mormon was the first time he specified the number of pages lost. This page count may be an approximation based on the page numbering found on the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. The top of page 117 in that copy marks the beginning of the book of Mosiah, which corresponds to the end of the period covered in the pages lost by Harris

18 May 1783–10 July 1875. Farmer. Born at Easton, Albany Co., New York. Son of Nathan Harris and Rhoda Lapham. Moved with parents to area of Swift’s landing (later in Palmyra), Ontario Co., New York, 1793. Married first his first cousin Lucy Harris, 27 Mar...

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. However, the process of preparing the printer’s manuscript and providing portions to the typesetter suggests that the printer’s manuscript may not have comprised 116 pages by the time JS wrote the preface.5

Revelation, July 1828 [D&C 3:12–13]; Revelation, Spring 1829 [D&C 10:1, 8–30]; Skousen, “Critical Methodology and the Book of Mormon,” 137.  


In the preface, JS addressed false rumors about the Book of Mormon, briefly described how the pages were lost, and quoted the revelation concerning the missing manuscript. Included as part of the first sixteen-page gathering of the Book of Mormon, the preface is thus JS’s first autobiographical account to appear in print, as well as the first publication of any portion of his revelations.6

The first gathering of the Book of Mormon, including this preface, was likely printed by mid-September 1829. The title page was first published on 26 June 1829 in the Wayne Sentinel, representing the first portion of the Book of Mormon to be published. The title page, however, is typically categorized as part of JS’s translation, rather than as a revelation. (News item, Wayne Sentinel [Palmyra, NY], 26 June 1829, [3].)  


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