Was Joseph Smith dictating from a (perhaps concealed) manuscript?

Was Joseph Smith dictating from a (perhaps concealed) manuscript? October 10, 2018


Emma Smith on the bank of the Mississippi
“Emma Smith, the Elect Lady,” by Theodore S. Gorka
Emma is shown tending the sick following the Mormon exodus from Missouri. In the background, in the upper left, the Prophet Joseph carries one of the sick toward her.
(LDS Media Library)


Yet another item from an unfinished essay of mine:


Not long after speaking with his mother, Emma Smith, Joseph Smith III wrote a letter in which he summarized some of her responses to his questions.

She wrote for Joseph Smith during the work of translation, as did also Reuben Hale, her brother, and O. Cowdery; that the larger part of this labor ws done in her presence, and where she could see and know what was being done; that during no part of it did Joseph Smith have any mss. [manuscripts] or book of any kind from which to read, or dictate, except the metallic plates, which she knew he had.[1]

A correspondent from the Chicago Times interviewed David Whitmer on 14 October 1881, and got the same story:

Mr. Whitmer emphatically asserts as did Harris and Cowdery, that while Smith was dictating the translation he had no manuscript notes or other means of knowledge save the seer stone and the characters as shown on the plates, he being present and cognizant how it was done.[2]

Similarly, the St. Louis Republican, based upon an interview in mid-July of 1884, reported that

Father Whitmer, who was present very frequently during the writing of this manuscript [i.e., of the Book of Mormon] affirms that Joseph Smith had no book or manuscript, before him from which he could have read as is asserted by some that he did, he (Whitmer) having every opportunity to know whether Smith had Solomon Spaulding’s or any other person’s romance to read from.[3]

David Whitmer repeatedly insisted that the translation process occurred in full view of Joseph Smith’s family and associates.[4]  Emma Smith’s testimony agrees.  “In writing for your father,” she told her son Joseph III, “I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he . . . dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.”[5]  (The common image of a curtain hanging between the Prophet and his scribes, sometimes seen in illustrations of the story of the Book of Mormon, is based on a misunderstanding.  At least in the latter stages of the translation process, the curtain was suspended near the front door of the Peter Whitmer home to prevent idle passersby and gawkers from interfering with the work.)


[1] Letter of Joseph Smith III to James T. Cobb, dated 14 February 1879.  Cited in Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 29.

[2] Chicago Times (17 October 1881), as given in Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 76. Compare Whitmer’s reply to J. W. Chatburn, as reported in The Saints’ Herald 29 (15 June 1882), and reproduced in Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 92.

[3] St. Louis Republican (16 July 1884), as given in Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 139-140.

[4] See his comments to the Chicago Tribune (17 December 1885), as also the summary of an interview with him given in a February 1870 letter from William E. McLellin to some unidentified “dear friends” and the report published in the Chicago Times (24 January 1888). The relevant passages are conveniently available in Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 173, 233-234, 249.

[5] Saints’ Herald 26 (1 October 1879): 289-290.  [See original.]



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