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The Gold Plates and the Translation of the Book of Mormon

According to Joseph Smith’s later accounts, three years after he experienced his first vision of Deity, an angel appeared to him in 1823 and told him of an ancient record written on gold plates. He explained that he retrieved the plates from a hillside in upstate New York in 1827 and thereafter translated them with help from several scribes.

Over the course of his life, Joseph Smith wrote, dictated, or assigned others to prepare texts that included information about how the Book of Mormon came to be. Some of his contemporaries who heard him recount these events also wrote them down. The following list identifies accounts found on the Joseph Smith Papers website. The list is divided into three categories: detailed accounts from Joseph Smith, other Joseph Smith documents that give partial accounts of or mention these events, and accounts written by his contemporaries.

For further discussion on the Book of Mormon and the translation process, see the introduction to Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, xxviii–xxxiii. For a compilation of accounts by Joseph Smith’s contemporaries, see John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2005), 76–213.

Detailed Joseph Smith Accounts

History, ca. Summer 1832, 4–6

Journal, 9–11 Nov. 1835 (later copied into JS History, 1834–1836, 121–122)

History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, pp. 4–26, 34–35

An earlier, incomplete draft of this account is found in History, ca. June–October 1839, [1]–[7], [9]

Two later, lightly edited drafts of this account are found in History, ca. 1841, draft, 5–48, 61–62; and History, ca. 1841, fair copy, 5–48, 60–61

Church History,” Times and Seasons, 1 Mar. 1842 (also found in the 1844 essay “Latter Day Saints,” in Israel Daniel Rupp (ed.), He Pasa Ekklesia [The whole church])

Other Accounts in Joseph Smith’s Papers

Revelation, July 1828 [D&C 3], regarding the lost manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon

Revelation, Spring 1829 [D&C 10], regarding the lost manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon

Revelation, March 1829 [D&C 5], regarding witnesses of the gold plates

Revelation, April 1829–D [D&C 9], regarding Oliver Cowdery’s attempt to translate

Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 110, 548 [2 Nephi 27:12; Ether 5:2–4], prophecies of three witnesses to the gold plates

Preface to the Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., regarding the lost manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon (also found in the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon)

Articles and Covenants, ca. April 1830 [D&C 20:5–12], includes a brief summary of the angel’s visit and the origin of the Book of Mormon

Minutes, 25–26 Oct. 1831, reports a meeting at which Joseph Smith was invited (but declined) to give details about the events

Revelation, 1 November 1831–B [D&C 1:29], mentions that Joseph Smith received power to translate the Book of Mormon “by the mercy of God”

Letter to Noah C. Saxton, 4 January 1833, mentions the divine origin of the Book of Mormon

Minutes, 12 February 1834, reports a meeting at which Joseph Smith related his obtaining and translating the plates

Minutes, 21 April 1834, reports a meeting at which Joseph Smith related his obtaining and translating the plates

Oliver Cowdery letters published in the LDS Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1834–July 1835, copied in Joseph Smith’s 1834–1836 history, pp. 46–50 (recounting Cowdery’s experience assisting with the translation), 62–65 (recounting the angel’s visit) , 81–99 (detailing the discovery of the plates)

Journal, 14 Nov. 1835 (later copied into JS History, 1834–1836, 129), reports that Joseph Smith told Erastus Holmes about angelic visitations and the origin of the Book of Mormon

Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 42–43, summarizes the angel’s visit and Joseph Smith’s discovery and translation of the plates

John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, 11–14, written as part of a history initiated at Joseph Smith’s assignment but ultimately published independently, provides an overview of the Book of Mormon’s origins

Letter to James Arlington Bennet, 13 Nov. 1843, mentions that Joseph Smith “communed with angels” and translated the Book of Mormon “by the power of God . . . from hierogliphics”

Descriptions by Contemporaries of Joseph Smith

Testimony of Three Witnesses, late June 1829

Testimony of Eight Witnesses, late June 1829

Orson Pratt, A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, 6–14, 22–23, providing an overview of the Book of Mormon’s origins

Orson Hyde, Ein Ruf aus der Wüste [A cry out of the wilderness], 18–21, 26–30 (modern English translation here), providing an overview of the Book of Mormon’s origins

Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, providing many details about these events: bk. 3, [10]–bk. 4, [3]; bk. 5, [5]–[11]; bk. 6, [1]–bk .8, [1]; bk. 8, [4]; bk. 8, [6]–[12]; bk. 9, [1]–[4]; bk. 9, [6]–[12]

A later draft of this material is found in Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, pp. 79–89, 103–168