The Mormons - Joseph Smith Jr


Joseph Smith, Jr. (December 23, 1805 – June 27, 1844) was an American religious leader and the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, the predominant branch of which is Mormonism.

At age twenty-four, Smith published the 'Book of Mormon', and in the next fourteen years he attracted thousands of followers, established cities and temples, and created a lasting religious culture.
Smith was born in Sharon, Vermont, and by 1817 had moved with his family to the 'burned-over' district of western New York, an area repeatedly swept by religious revivals during the 'Second Great Awakening'. The Smiths believed in visions and prophecies, and participated in folk religious practices typical of the era. According to Smith, beginning in the early 1820s he had visions, in one of which an angel directed him to a buried book of golden plates inscribed with a Judeo-Christian history of ancient American civilizations.
In 1830, he published what he said was an English translation of these plates as the Book of Mormon and organized the Church of Christ as a restoration of the early Christian church.
Church members were later called Latter Day Saints, Saints, or Mormons.
In 1831, Smith and his followers moved west with plans to build an American Zion.
They gathered in Kirtland, Ohio, and established an outpost in Independence, Missouri, intended to be Zion's "center place".
During the 1830s, Smith sent out missionaries, published revelations, and supervised construction of an expensive temple, however, due to the collapse of a church-sponsored bank and violent skirmishes with angry non-Mormon Missourians, Smith's dreams of building Zion in Missouri and Ohio failed by the end of the decade.
In the early 1840s, Smith established a new city called Nauvoo, Illinois, where he served as mayor and militia commander.
In 1844, Smith and the Nauvoo City Council angered non-Mormons by destroying a printing press after it was used to publish an exposé critical of Smith's power and practice of polygamy.
During the ensuing turmoil, Smith was imprisoned in Carthage, Illinois, and killed when a mob stormed the jailhouse.
During his lifetime Smith published many revelations and other texts that are regarded as scripture by his followers.
His teachings include unique views about the nature of God, cosmology, family structures, political organization, and religious collectivism.
His followers regard him as a prophet of at least the stature of Moses and Elijah.

Early Years

Joseph Smith was born in Sharon, Vermont, the fifth of eleven children born to Joseph Smith, Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith.

The Smiths were a middling farm family that suffered a fateful loss when Smith, Sr., after speculating in ginseng and being cheated by a business associate, was financially ruined.
After he sold the family farm to pay his debts, the Smiths "crossed the boundary dividing independent ownership from tenancy and day labor."
In the next fourteen years, the Smiths moved seven times.
Despite the moves and the financial woes, Lucy Smith remembered the period of Joseph Smith's early childhood as "perfectly comfortable both for food and raiment as well as that which is necessary to a respectable appearance in society."
Then during the winter of 1812–1813, typhoid fever struck along the Connecticut Valley, including the area around Lebanon, New Hampshire, where the Smiths had recently moved.
A number of family members fell ill, and Joseph experienced a common complication whereby typhoid bacteria infected bone, in Smith's case, the shin bone.
Lucy later claimed that she had refused to permit her son's leg to be amputated; in fact, the Smiths had chanced on one of New England's most respected physicians, Nathan Smith, who "probably alone in American medicine at this time" advocated removal of the dead portion of the bone rather than amputation of the leg.
After the typically horrific early nineteenth-century surgery without either aesthetic or antiseptic, Smith eventually recovered, though he used crutches for several years and had a slight limp for the remainder of his life.
In 1814 the Smiths moved back across the Connecticut River to Norwich, Vermont, where they suffered three seasons of crop failures, the last the result of the 'Year Without a Summer'.
The extended Smith clan had already moved west to New York, and in 1817, Joseph Smith, Sr. travelled alone to Palmyra, New York, followed shortly by the rest of his family - although not before Lucy Smith was forced to settle with some last-minute creditors.
In Palmyra village, Smith, Sr. and his oldest sons hired themselves out as common labourers  ran a "cake and beer shop," and peddled refreshments from a cart; Lucy painted cloth coverings for tables and stands.
In 1820, the family contracted to pay for a 100-acre (0.4 km2) farm just outside Palmyra in Manchester Township.

The Smith family first built a log home, then in 1822, under the supervision of Joseph Smith's oldest brother Alvin, they began building a larger frame house.
Alvin died in November 1823, possibly as a result of being given calomel for "bilious fever", and the house remained uncompleted for a year.
By this time Joseph Smith, Sr. may have partially abdicated family leadership to Alvin, and in 1825, the Smiths were unable to make their mortgage payments.
When their creditor foreclosed, the family persuaded a local Quaker, Lemuel Durfee, to buy the farm and rent it to them.
Nevertheless, in 1829, the Smiths and five of their children moved back into the log house, with Hyrum Smith and his wife.
Joseph Smith had little formal schooling, but may have attended school briefly in Palmyra and received instruction in his home.
Smith Family Farm
Young Joseph worked on his family farm and perhaps took an occasional odd job or worked for nearby farmers.
His mother described him as "much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of the children, but far more given to meditation and deep study."
Lucy Smith also noted that though he never read through the Bible until he was at least eighteen, he was imaginative and could regale the family with "the most amusing recitals" of the life and religion of ancient Native Americans "with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them."
Smith was variously described as "remarkably quiet," "taciturn," "proverbially good-natured," and "never known to laugh."
One acquaintance said Smith had "a jovial, easy, don't-care way about him," and he had an aptitude for debating moral and political issues in a local junior debating club, biographer Fawn Brodie wrote, "He was a gregarious, cheerful, imaginative youth, born to leadership, but hampered by meagre education and grinding poverty."

Religious Background

Smith grew to maturity during the 'Second Great Awakening', a period of religious excitement in the United States.
New York west of the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains became known as the "Burned-over district" because it was "repeatedly singed by the fires of revival that swept through the region in the early years of the nineteenth century."
Major multi-denominational religious revivals occurred in the Palmyra area in both 1816-17 (when the Smiths were in the process of migrating from Vermont) and in 1824-25.
Small denominational revivals and camp meetings occurred during the intervals.
Joseph Smith's ancestors had an eclectic variety of religious views and affiliations.
For instance, Joseph Smith's paternal grandfather, Asael, was a 'Universalist' who opposed evangelical religion.
According to Lucy Smith, Asael once came to Joseph Smith, Sr.'s door after he had attended a Methodist meeting with Lucy and "threw Tom Paine's Age of Reason into the the house and angrily bade him read that until he believed it."
Conversely, in 1811 Smith's maternal grandfather, Solomon Mack, self-published a book describing a series of heavenly visions and voices he said had led to his conversion to Christianity at the age of seventy-six.
Smith's parents also experienced visions.
Before Joseph was born, his mother Lucy, prayed in a grove about her husband's refusal to attend church and later said she had had a dream-vision, which she interpreted as a prophecy that Joseph, Sr. would later accept the "pure and undefiled Gospel of the Son of God."
Joseph Smith Snr.
According to Lucy, Joseph Smith, Sr. also had seven visions between 1811 and 1819, coming at a time when he was "much excited upon the subject of religion."
These visions confirmed in his mind the correctness of his refusal to join any organized church and led him to believe that he would be directed in the proper path toward salvation.
Lucy's account, recorded thirty years after the period in which the visions are said to have occurred, suggests "a tendency to make her husband the predecessor of her son" by echoing passages in the 'Book of Mormon'.
Like perhaps thousands of contemporary Americans, the Smith family practised various forms of folk magic such as using divining rods and seer stones to search for buried treasure.
Four witnesses reported that the Smiths used divining rods in the Palmyra area, and sometime between Joseph Smith, Jr.'s eleventh and thirteenth years, he began "following his father's example in using a divining rod."

Hyrum Smith
Magical parchments handed down in the Hyrum Smith family may have belonged to Joseph, Sr.
Lucy Mack Smith noted in her memoirs that while family members were "trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles or sooth saying," they did not neglect manual labor, "but whilst we worked with our hands we endeavored to remember the service of & the welfare of our souls."
Smith's reputation among his Palmyra neighbours was that of a "nondescript farm boy" who was "lazy and superstitious," and townspeople viewed his family as "treasure-seekers, not eager Christians."
Thus, Smith was reared in a family that believed in prophecy and visions, was sceptical of organized religion, and was interested in both folk magic and new religious ideas.

Young Joseph Smith
Smith said he had become concerned about religion "at about the age of twelve years," although later he seems to have wondered whether "a Supreme being did exist."
Smith apparently attended the Presbyterian Sunday school as a child, and later as an adolescent, he displayed interest in Methodism.
One of Smith's acquaintances said that Smith had caught "a spark of Methodism" at camp meetings "away down in the woods, on the Vienna road."
He even reportedly spoke during some of these meetings, and the acquaintance described Smith as a "very passable exhorter."
Nevertheless, at some point after 1822, Smith withdrew from organized religion.
According to his mother, Smith claimed, "I can take my Bible, and go into the woods, and learn more in two hours, than you can learn at meeting in two years, if you should go all the time."
Still, Smith seems to have been significantly influenced by the interdenominational revival of 1824-25.

The First Vision

The Sacred Grove
The 'First Vision' (also called the 'grove experience') refers to the vision that Joseph Smith, Jr. said he received in April 1820, in a wooded area in Manchester, New York, which his followers call the 'Sacred Grove'.
Smith described it as a personal theophany, in which he received a forgiveness of sins.
Smith's followers believe the vision reinforces his authority as the founder and prophet of the Latter Day Saint movement.
According to an account Smith told in 1838, he went to the woods to pray about which church to join but fell into the grip of an evil power that nearly overtook him.
At the last moment, he was rescued by two shining "personages" (later identified as Jesus and God the Father) who hovered above him.
One of the beings told Smith not to join any existing churches because all taught incorrect doctrines.
Smith wrote several accounts of the vision beginning in 1832, but none of the accounts was published until the 1840s.
Though Smith had described other visions, the 'First Vision' was essentially unknown to early Latter Day Saints; Smith's experience did not become important in the Latter Day Saint movement until the early-20th century, when it became the embodiment of the Latter Day Saint restoration.
The vision also corroborated distinctive Mormon doctrines such as the bodily nature of God the Father and the uniqueness of Mormonism as the only true path to salvation.
Critics hold varying opinions about the true nature of the 'First Vision', believing it to be a dream, a hallucination, a self-deception, an intentional fabrication, or some combination of these.
Joseph Smith wrote or dictated several versions of his vision story, and told the story to others who later published what they remember hearing. Taken together, these accounts set forth the following details:

Story of the Vision

Joseph Smith Jr, Studying
The Sacred Grove
Joseph Smith said that his first vision occurred in a grove of trees near his home.
Smith said that when he was about twelve (c. 1817–18), he became interested in religion and distressed about his sins.
He studied the Bible and attended church, but the accounts differ as to whether he determined on his own that there was no existing religion built upon the true teachings of Jesus or whether the idea that all churches were false had not "entered his heart" until he experienced the vision.
During this period of religious concern, he determined to turn to God in prayer.
An early account says the purpose of this prayer was to ask God for mercy for his sins while later accounts emphasize his desire to know which church he should join.
Therefore, as his mother had done years before when concerned about an important religious question, Smith said he went one spring morning to a secluded grove near his home to pray.
He said he went to a stump in a clearing where he had left his axe the day before and began to offer his first audible prayer.
He said his prayer was interrupted by a "being from the unseen world".
Smith said the being caused his tongue to swell in his mouth so that he could not speak.
One account said he heard a noise behind him like someone walking towards him and then, when he tried to pray again, the noise grew louder, causing him to spring to his feet and look around, but he saw no one.
In some of the accounts, he described being covered with a thick darkness and thinking that he would be destroyed.
At his darkest moment, he knelt a third time to pray and, as he summoned all his power to pray, he felt ready to sink into oblivion.
At that moment, he said his tongue was loosed and he saw a vision.
Smith said he saw a pillar of light brighter than the noonday sun that slowly descended on him,
growing in brightness as it descended and lighting the entire area for some distance.
As the light reached the tree tops, Smith feared the trees might catch fire.
But when it reached the ground and enveloped him, it produced a "peculiar sensation."
"His mind was caught away from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision."
While experiencing the vision, he said he saw one or more "personages", described differently in Smith's accounts.
In one, Smith said he "saw the Lord."
The First Vision in the Sacred Grove
In diary entries, he said he saw a "visitation of Angels" or a "vision of angels" that included "a personage," and then "another personage" who testified that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God," as well as "many angels".
In later accounts, Smith consistently said that he had seen two personages who appeared one after the other.
These personages "exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness."
The first personage had "light complexion, blue eyes, a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders, his right arm bare."
In later accounts, one of the personages called Smith by name "and said, (pointing to the other), 'This is my beloved Son, hear him.'"
Although Smith left their identity inexplicit, most Latter Day Saints infer that these personages were God the Father and Jesus.
In two accounts, Smith said that the Lord told him his sins were forgiven, that he should obey the commandments, that the world was corrupt, and that the Second Coming was approaching.
Later accounts say that when the personages appeared, Smith asked them "O Lord, what church shall I join ?" or "Must I join the Methodist Church ?"
In answer, he was told that "all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom."
All churches and their professors were "corrupt", and "all their creeds were an abomination in his sight."
Smith was told not to join any of the churches, but that the "fullness of the gospel" would be known to him at a later time.
After the vision withdrew, Smith said he "came to myself" and found himself sprawled on his back.

Context and Development of the Vision Narrative

Before Joseph Smith, Jr. was born, his mother Lucy Mack Smith went to a grove near her home in Vermont and prayed about her husband Joseph Smith, Sr.'s repudiation of evangelical religion.
That night she said she had a dream which she interpreted as a prophecy that Joseph, Sr., would later accept the "pure and undefiled Gospel of the Son of God."
She also stated that Smith, Sr. had a number of dreams or visions between 1811 and 1819, the first vision occurring when his mind was "much excited upon the subject of religion."
Joseph Sr.'s first vision confirmed to him the correctness of his refusal to join any organized religious group.
The Smith family was also exposed to the intense revivalism of this era.
During the 'Second Great Awakening', numerous revivals occurred in many communities in the north-eastern United States and were often reported in the Palmyra Register, a local paper read by the Smith family.
In the Palmyra area itself, large multi-denominational revivals occurred in 1816-1817 and 1824-1825.
In the intervening years, there were Methodist revivals, at least within twenty road miles of Palmyra; and more than sixty years later a newspaper editor in Lyons, New York, recalled "various religious awakenings in the neighborhood."
The family also practiced a form of folk magic,[43] which, although not uncommon in this time and place, was criticized by many contemporary Protestants "as either fraudulent illusion or the workings of the Devil."
Both Joseph Smith, Sr. and at least two of his sons worked at "money digging," using seer stones in (mostly unsuccessful) attempts to locate lost items and buried treasure.
D. Michael Quinn has written that Lucy Mack Smith viewed these magical practices as "part of her family's religious quest" while denying that they prevented "family members from accomplishing other, equally important work."[47] Quinn also notes that the Smith family "participated in a wide range of magic practices, and Smith's first vision occurred within the context of his family's treasure quest."
While Joseph Smith's "religious claims were rejected by many of the persons who had known him in the 1820s because they remembered him as a practitioner of the magic arts," others of his earliest followers were attracted to his claims "for precisely the same reason."
Some have described  the spiritual tradition of the Smith family "a religious melee."
Joseph Smith, Sr., insisted on morning and evening prayers, but he was spiritually adrift. "If there was a personal motive for Joseph Smith Jr.'s revelations, it was to satisfy his family's religious want and, above all, to meet the need of his oft-defeated, un-moored father."
No members of the Smith family were church members before 1820, the reported date of the First Vision.

Dating the First Vision

Smith said that his First Vision occurred in the early 1820s, when he was in his early teens, but his accounts mention different dates within that period.
In 1832, Smith wrote that the vision had occurred "in the 16th year of his age" (about 1821), after he became concerned about religious matters beginning in his "twelfth year" (about 1817).
In a later account Smith said the vision took place "early in the spring of 1820" after an "unusual excitement on the subject of religion" ending during his 15th year (1820).
Professor Richard Bushman wrote that Smith 'began to be concerned about religion in late 1817 or early 1818, when the aftereffects of the revival of 1816 and 1817 were still being felt."
"Church records, newspapers, religious journals, and other contemporary sources clearly reveal that great awakenings occurred in more than fifty western New York towns or villages during the revival of 1819–1820....Primary sources also specify that great multitudes joined the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Calvinist Baptist societies in the region of country where Joseph Smith lived."
In the canonized version of the 'First Vision' (first published in 1842), his family's decision to join the Presbyterian Church occurs prior to his 'First Vision'.
But Lucy Mack Smith said that she and some of her children sought comfort in the church after the death of her oldest son, Alvin, in November 1823, which if her memory was correct, would place the date of the first vision no earlier than 1824.
In 1845, Lucy recalled that she tried to persuade her "husband to join with them as I wished to do so myself."
Her three oldest children Hyrum, Samuel, and Sophronia also joined the Presbyterian church, but "the two Josephs resisted her enthusiasm."
Wesley Walters argues that "Smith's family could not have joined the Presbyterian Church in 1820 as a result of revival in the area, and then joined the same church again in 1823 as a result of another revival."
It has been suggested that Smith's account is a conflation of events over several years, a typical biographical device for streamlining the narrative.
Local moves of the Smith family have also been used in attempts to identify the date of the vision.
In the canonized version, Joseph Smith wrote that the 'First Vision' occurred in "the second year after our removal to Manchester."
The evidence for the date of this move has been interpreted by believers as supporting 1820 and by non-believers as supporting 1824.
The LDS Church has canonized the 1842 account, in which Joseph Smith said that this vision occurred "early in the spring of 1820."

1832 Joseph Smith Account

Joseph Smith Jr - First Vision
The earliest extant account of the 'First Vision' was handwritten by Joseph Smith in 1832, but it was not published until 1965.

'The Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord in the 16th year of my age a pillar of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy way walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life behold the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned aside from the gospel and keep not my commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them according to their ungodliness and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Apostles behold and lo I come quickly as it is written of me in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father . . . ."

Unlike Smith's later accounts of the vision, the 1832 account emphasizes personal forgiveness and mentions neither an appearance of God the Father nor the phrase "This is my beloved Son, hear him."
In the 1832 account, Smith also stated that before he experienced the 'First Vision', his own searching of the Scriptures had led him to the conclusion that mankind had "apostatized from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament."

1838 Joseph Smith History

In 1838, Joseph Smith began dictating the early history of what later became known as the Latter Day Saint movement.
This history included a new account of the 'First Vision', later published in three issues of the 'Times and Seasons' journal.
This version was later incorporated into the 'Pearl of Great Price', which was canonized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1880.
Thus, it is often called the "canonized version" of the first vision story.
This canonized version differs from the 1840 version because the canonized version includes the proclamation "This is my beloved son, hear him" from one of the personages, whereas the 1840 version does not.
The canonized version says that in the spring of 1820, during a period of "confusion and strife among the different denominations" following an "unusual excitement on the subject of religion", he had debated which of the various Christian groups he should join.
While in turmoil, he read from the Bible: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."
One morning, deeply impressed by this scripture, the fourteen-year-old Smith went to a grove of trees behind the family farm, knelt, and began his first vocal prayer.
Almost immediately he was confronted by an evil power that prevented speech.
A darkness gathered around him, and Smith believed that he would be destroyed.
He continued the prayer silently, asking for God's assistance though still resigned to destruction.
At this moment a light brighter than the sun descended towards him, and he was delivered from the evil power.
In the light, Smith "saw two personages standing in the air", identified as God the Father and Jesus Christ. One pointed to the other and said "This is My Beloved Son, hear Him." Smith asked which religious sect he should join and was told to join none of them because all existing religions had corrupted the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Gordon B. Hinckley

In 1998, Gordon B. Hinckley, then Church President and Prophet, declared,
'Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision.
It was the parting of the curtain to open this, the dispensation of the fullness of times.
Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration.
I submit that if Joseph Smith talked with God the Father and His Beloved Son, then all else of which he spoke is true.
This is the hinge on which turns the gate that leads to the path of salvation and eternal life.'

Work as a Treasure-hunter and Marriage

From about 1819, Smith regularly practiced scrying, a form of divination in which a "seer" looked into a seer stone to receive supernatural knowledge.
Smith usually practised crystal gazing by putting a stone at the bottom of a white stove-pipe hat, putting his face over the hat to block the light, then divining information from the stone.
Smith and his father achieved "something of a mysterious local reputation in the profession—mysterious because there is no record that they ever found anything despite the readiness of some local residents to pay for their efforts."
One Joseph Capron, who lived near the Smiths, said that Joseph had "discovered ghosts, infernal spirits, mountains of gold and silver, and many other invaluable treasures deposited in the earth. He would often tell his neighbors of his wonderful discoveries."
Joseph's uncle, Jesse Smith, said that Joseph had told him he had "eyes to see things that are not" and that "the angel of the Lord" had put him "in possession of great wealth, gold & silver and precious stones." Smith told one Jonathan Thompson that he had discovered the two Indians who had buried a trunk of treasure and that one of them continued to guard it.
A childhood friend, Lorenzo Saunders, said that while digging in a hill, Smith said he could "see a man sitting in a gold chair."
W. R. Hine said Smith had told him that he had seen Captain Kidd sailing on the Susquehanna River at flood tide and that he also "saw writing cut on the rocks in an unknown language" telling where Kidd had buried his treasure.
In late 1825, Joseiah Stowell, a well-to-do farmer from South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York, who had been searching for a lost Spanish mine near Harmony Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania with another seer, travelled to Manchester to hire Smith "on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye."
Smith agreed to take the job of assisting Stowell and Hale, and he and his father worked with the Stowell-Hale team for approximately one month, attempting, according to their contract, to locate "a valuable mine of either Gold or Silver and also...coined money and bars or ingots of Gold or Silver".
Smith boarded with an Isaac Hale (a relative of William Hale), and fell in love with Isaac Hale's daughter Emma, a schoolteacher he would later marry in 1827.
Isaac Hale, however, disapproved of their relationship and of Smith in general.

Moroni and the Golden Plates

The Angel Moroni is, in Mormonism, an angel that visited Joseph Smith, Jr. on numerous occasions, beginning on September 21, 1823.
Moroni Buries the Golden Plates
According to Smith, the angel was the guardian of the golden plates, which Latter Day Saints believe were the source material for the Book of Mormon, buried in a hill near Smith's home in western New York.
Moroni is an important figure in the theology of the Latter Day Saint movement, and is featured prominently in Mormon architecture and art.
Three Witnesses besides Joseph Smith also reported that they saw Moroni in visions in 1829, as did several other witnesses who each said they had their own vision.
Moroni is thought by Latter Day Saints to be the same person as a Book of Mormon prophet-warrior named Moroni, who was the last to write in the golden plates.
The book states that Moroni buried them before he died after a great battle between two pre-Columbian civilizations.
After he died, he became an angel, and was tasked with guarding the golden plates, and with eventually directing Joseph Smith to their location in the 1820s.
According to Smith, he returned the golden plates to Moroni after they were translated and as of 1838 the angel Moroni still had the plates in his possession.

Moroni's Name and Identity

There have been two conflicting accounts as to whether the angel who appeared to Smith in 1823 and directed him to the golden plates was named Moroni or Nephi.
Initially, Smith merely referred to "an angel" without identifying its name.
Thus, in an 1831 letter from Lucy Mack Smith to her brother, she discusses Moroni as the person who buried the plates, but does not identify him as the unnamed "holy angel" that gave Smith the means to translate the golden plates.
In Smith's 1832 history, he said he was visited by "an angel of the Lord", who mentioned the 'Book of Mormon' prophet "Moroni" as the last engraver of the golden plates; however, Smith's account did not say whether or not the angel was referring to himself as Moroni (Smith 1832, p. 4).
In 1835, Smith identified the angel as Moroni.
In 1835, while preparing the first edition of the 'Doctrine and Covenants', he made additions to an earlier revelation regarding sacramental wine, and indicated a number of angels that would come to the earth after the Second Coming and drink wine with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (Smith et al. 1835, p. 180). Among those angels, the revelation listed "Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel; to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim".
Oliver Cowdery
Around this time, Oliver Cowdery was writing a history of Joseph Smith in which he identified the angel as the prophet Moroni from the Book of Mormon (Cowdery 1835, p. 112).
On May 2, 1838 Smith began dictating a church history that included a detailed account of his visits from the angel (Smith 1838a, p. 7).
Smith seems to have identified the angel as "Nephi", which is the name of the Book of Mormon's first narrator (Smith 1838a, p. 5).
Smith's apparent 1838 identification as "Nephi" was left unchanged when the 1838 history was published in 1842 in 'Times and Seasons', which Smith edited himself (Smith 1842, p. 753), and in 'Millennial Star' (Pratt 1842, p. 53).
In the latter, an editorial referred to the 1823 vision and praised "the glorious ministry and message of the angel Nephi" (1842, p. 71).

Pearl of Great Price
After Smith's death, the identification as "Nephi" was repeated when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published its first edition of the 'Pearl of Great Price' (Richards 1851, p. 41).
It was also repeated in 1853 when Smith's mother Lucy Mack Smith published a history of her son (Smith 1853, p. 79).
As a further complication, Mary Whitmer, mother to one of the Three Witnesses and four of the Eight Witnesses, said she had a vision of the golden plates, shown to her by an angel whom she always called "Brother Nephi" (Whitmer 1888, p. 621), who may or may not have been the same angel to which Smith referred.
Nevertheless, based on Smith's statement that the angel was "Moroni," and based on both prior and later publications, most Latter Day Saints view Smith's 1838 identification of the angel as Nephi as a mistake, perhaps on the part of the transcriber or a later editor.
In the version of Smith's 1838 history published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the portion canonized by that denomination as the 'Pearl of Great Price', the name "Nephi" has been changed by editors to read "Moroni".


Descriptions of the angel Moroni vary.
In one of Joseph Smith's histories, he described him as an "angel of light" who "had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen.… His hands were naked and his arms also a little above the wrists.… Not only was his robe exceedingly white but his whole person was glorious beyond description". (Smith 1838)
According to Smith's sister Katharine, the angel "was dressed in white raiment, of whiteness beyond anything Joseph had ever seen in his life, and had a girdle about his waist. He saw his hands and wrists, and they were pure and white."(Salisbury 1895, p. 11).

Appearances to Joseph Smith and Others

Martin Harris
David Whitmer
Joseph Smith, Jr. said that on the night of September 21, 1823, Moroni appeared to Smith and told him about the golden plates that were buried (in a stone box) a few miles from Smith's home; visited Smith various times over the course of the next six years; and after Smith translated a portion of the writing on the plates (either one-third or two-thirds; accounts vary) as the Book of Mormon, Smith turned the plates back over to Moroni.
In addition to Joseph Smith, several other early Mormons said they had visions where they saw the angel Moroni.
Three Witnesses said they saw the angel in 1829: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. Other early Mormons who said they saw Moroni include Emma Hale Smith, Hyrum Smith, Luke S. Johnson, Zera Pulsipher, W. W. Phelps, John P. Greene and his wife Rhoda, John Taylor, Oliver Granger, Heber C. Kimball, Lucy Harris, and Harrison Burgess. Mary Whitmer may also have seen Moroni, although she referred to the angel she saw as "Brother Nephi."

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