September 17, 2008

Gardner's Book of Mormon Myths: Number 3

Likening With Care, part 6
Today's post continues Gardner's top five myths or misconceptions regarding the Book of Mormon (see also myths five and four).Gardner:

"The third myth is that we have the book that Mormon envisioned."
We are missing the first 116 pages of the manuscript, which covered all of the Book of Lehi and the first chapter of Mosiah. In that section, we would have had Mormon's editing of those books and they wouldn't be written in the same way as we see 1 Nephi.1

In his study of the Book of Mormon, Gardner notes that the first 116 pages, dictated by Joseph Smith to Martin Harris, Emma Smith, and possibly Reuben Hale in Harmony, Pennsylvania between April and June 14, 1828, are lost. In the first edition of the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith said the missing pages contained an account "from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon." Lehi's record is mentioned in the Book of Mormon in 1 Nephi 1:17 and it is believed that Nephi's chapters 1-10 follow the same time period.2

Based on this loss, Gardner posits that the Book of Mormon would have been given through Joseph Smith as a complete book from beginning to end as deliberately organized and designed by Mormon (and completed by his son, Moroni). In a 2008 FAIR conference address Gardner laid out his case for the original structure of the Book of Mormon, and how it was designed specifically to "convince the Jew and the Gentile that Jesus is the [Messiah], the Eternal God" (Book of Mormon, Title Page).3 Gardner believes the book still fulfills its purposes in this regard, but finds insight in Mormon's overall approach.


I have seen a couple of fanciful attempts to "reveal" the lost 116 pages. One begins with material obviously modeled on 1 Nephi, but "expanded." That is simply wrong. Nephi crafted his document, he did not edit or abridge it. Mormon wrote very differently from Nephi.

One such attempt is included in Christopher Nemelka's "The Sealed Portion: Final Testament of Christ." In it he claims to have translated the sealed portion, as well as the lost 116 pages of the book of Lehi. Reviews have shown Nemelka's work to be inconsistent with the Book of Mormon, and have typically argued that it was a forgery written by Nemelka himself.4

Brant Gardner, personal email in my possession, Sept. 1, 2008.

See William J. Critchlow III, "Manuscript, Lost 116 pages," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2; D&C 3; 10; HC 1:56.

Gardner, "Mormon's Editorial Method and Meta-Message," FAIR Conference, August 2008.See also a rough summary of the paper in my notes from the FAIR conference here.

A free download of Nemelka's sealed portion can be found here. As an aside, Nemelka incorporated quotes from the modern LDS temple endowment in his sealed portion. For a review see the FAIRwiki article "Christopher Marc Nemelka." See also the article on Nemelka by Ben Fulton, "True Believer," City Weekly, Dec. 27, 2001.


Anonymous said...

Keep them coming.

Zen said...

We know that the lost manuscript took up 116 handwritten pages on foolscarp paper. But how many pages would that mean in our current edition of the Book of Mormon? I would not suspect it was a 1-to-1 ratio.

BHodges said...

Indeed, the FAIRwiki article points out that Nemelka's 116 pages translation length is problematic:

There are two extant Book of Mormon manuscripts. The original, dictated by Joseph Smith to his scribes, was probably about 480 pages long; we have fragments from 236 of these pages. A copy was made of the original manuscript—the so-called "printer's manuscript"—and is completely extant save three lines on the first page. This version occupied 464 manuscript pages. Thus, the two manuscript lengths agree within 3-4%.

A computerized count of the original 1830 publication of the Book of Mormon yields 270,745 words. Thus, each original manuscript page would have held about 564 words; the printer's manuscript about 583.

Nemelka's "Book of Lehi" contains 26,709 words when the italicized chapter summaries are excluded. Dividing by 116 pages, we get 230 words per page. The "Book of Lehi" seems, therefore, to contain only about 41% (at best) of the material which one would expect.

Jacob J said...

I don't really disagree with Gardner on this, but I was tempted to ask him after FAIR about his take on WofM. I mentioned a paper from the JBMS a little while ago in this post. The first part of Word of Mormon seems to suggest that after Mormon got done with the 116 pages, he found the small plates and then he says he decided to finish his record based on the prophesies in the small plates. This seems to throw a monkey wrench into some of Gardner's thoughts on the whole thing being a deliberately organized book from beginning to end. Doesn't Mormon say pretty explictely that he altered his plan for the book part way through?

"Wherefore, I chose these things [the pleasing prophecies on the small plates], to finish my record upon them, which remainder of my record I shall take from the [large] plates of Nephi; and I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people." (WofM 1:5)

BHodges said...

A good Q. We'll see what Brant has to say when he checks your comment. I can also check my commentary for WoM when I get home and see what he said there.

Brant said...

Mormon found the small plates after he finished some part of the translation, probably the Book of Lehi. The 116 pages appear to have included the first chapter of Mosiah, so a logical "break" would be in a visit to the "library" between those two books, which occasioned a major change in place and perhaps in sets of records (though that is obviously speculation).

However, even though he found them at that time, he appears to add them more as an appendix than as a part of his record. He does not really refer to them and they don't fit into his scheme (other than the same way that Ether does, as an appendix). The interesting text is that which covers the mission first chapter of Mosiah, not that which introduces the small plates.

Jacob J said...


Thanks for the response.

He does not really refer to them and they don't fit into his scheme

I am open to your argument, but I have a hard time accepting this. Firstly, WofM 1:5 seems to directly say that the small plates played into his scheme. I was not able to tell from your comment what your take on WofM 1:5 is.

Secondly, in my reading of the BofM, I find the small plates to be tremendously influential on sermons in the large plates. I see strong connections between 2 Ne 6-9 / Mosiah 2-5 / Mosiah 12-16. Alma 42 seems to be a fairly overt commentary on 2 Ne 2. Statements in the large plate in many places seem to show an awareness of the small plates (for just one example: Helaman 14:30-31 and 2 Ne 2:26-27).

Now, even if I am correct on this second point and the writters of the large plates were aware of the small plates, I realize that would not necessarily show that Mormon based his scheme on the small plates. But, given WofM 1:5 it seems plausible to suggest that Mormon was influenced by the small plates in his decisions of what to use from the large plates.

Hans said...

I just read some of Nemelka's material. I did appreciate his posting the letter to the FP announcing his revelation and letting us know that he sent it by USPS. One would think that a prophet would at least FedEx!

BHodges said...

As long as he didn't ship through DHL, who gave my new laptop away to some stranger 2 weeks ago and has yet to send the replacement.

Brant said...

jacob j:

I will take the time to look at the things you see as connected. I looked for connections, but didn't find any I could clearly ascribe to the small plates. Since some of the material was likely on the large plates, similarity in material isn't sufficient for me to make the connection, particularly when Mormon indicates that they were a separate tradition and that he found them unexpectedly. When Mormon edited the plates, he did so from the large plates, so it isn't a question of what Mormon thought of them, but of what the large plate tradition writers thought of them (and I suspect that after Mosiah and perhaps Benjamin that they were essentially forgotten).

As for Words of Mormon, it is enigmatic and I spent a long time trying to understand what it meant. We have "Wherefore, I chose these things [the pleasing prophecies on the small plates], to finish my record upon them. . ."

That is unclear because Mormon didn't physically write on them. He also didn't "end" as he keeps writing.

". . .which remainder of my record I shall take from the [large] plates of Nephi." This is where he tells us that he will continue and take the accound from the large plates rather than the small plates.

So, we are left with the enigmatic "finish my record upon them." In the commentary, I suggested that he "finished" the book of Lehi and then added the small plates, continuing with Mosiah after the bridging Words of Mormon text.

Anonymous said...


Is it possible that we are reading too much into the position of the WofM in the BofM as dictated by Joseph Smith's instructions to the printer. Might they not have been actully part of the small plates and that Mormon had planned on using them as an introduction to the Appendix.

Larry Poulsen

Jacob J said...

Thanks again for the response Brant. If I get a chance maybe I'll post a more detailed analysis of the connections I am talking about. I certainly haven't given enough info above to explain the connections I see between Jacob/Benjamin/Abinadi, for example.

Nevertheless, I was interested to hear that you don't see the small plates influence in the rest of the BofM. I'll have to read more closely to see if I can isolate my best arguments in favor. That may be a fun thing for me to evaluate further.

Brant said...


The placement of Words of Mormon is not necessarily a problem, but the specifics of the text is. While I am an advocate of a loose translation, I do believe that the translation did bear some resemblance to the underlying text (grin).

jacob j:

I haven't had the time to do it yet, but I am interested in looking. The real problem will be in isolating something that is clearly from the small plates rather than the large plates. Some of Jacob is possible as the separate transmission line had begun and I suspect that he was out of favor with the large plates record keepers. Unfortunately, we don't get a lot in the rest of the books that can be checked (or that might have been worth referencing!).

BHodges said...

jacob j:

In Brant's commentary on Alma ch. 3 he notes that Mormon is referring to a prophecy of Nephi that seems to depend on 2 Ne. 5, but the wording is different; different enough that Gardner posits Mormon is quoting the prophecy from the large plates rather than the small. See his commentary on Alma 3, pg 74-76 of vol. 4.

Eric Boysen said...

Is it only to me that that it appears that the small plates were an appendix of sorts that didn't fit into Mormon's conception, but that DID fit into God's conception of the work both for doctrine and to fill the void that would be left when a future prophet would let his financial backer walk away with the only copy of a critical document.

BHodges said...

It is an interesting aspect of the discussion of the foreknowledge of God, Eric. I'm, not certain God sees the future completely (I think such a thing could deny the concept of free agency) but God is still apparently very aware of possibilities.

FelixAndAva said...

BHodges, I'm not sure how God knowing what we're going to do takes away our choice to do that thing, as long as He doesn't intervene to change our choices.

As far as the subject of the post, that we supposedly have the book Mormon envisioned, the lost 116 pages would certainly seem to disprove that. So would the fact that only about 1/3 of the plates that Joseph Smith received got translated (the remainder being sealed). To me, it seems certain that Mormon's "vision" for the book he was writing/editing would have included that material that we do not currently possess.

BHodges said...

Thanks for the comments. I don't see the sealed portion as a problem in light of Gardner's analysis. Further, Gardner actually offers more empirical reasons why he believes the BoM had a definite structure planned by Mormon which was affected by the loss of the 116 pages. I find Gardner's approach very persuasive, though the BoM still achieves its stated purpose of testifying and convincing us that Jesus is the Christ (see the Title Page).

You can read more about the BoM structure as Gardner has seen it in his FAIR conference address from last year:

On the topic of foreknowlege you can check out one interesting discussion here:

You say that as long as God doesn't intervene to change our acts we still have free agency, but the real problem is that God knows the future completely it is actually impossible for God to intervene in any way at all. The future is already now, it's decided, your fate and mine, and God would literally be powerless to stop it. I'm still working through all of the philosophical implications myself, go check out the discussion and see what you think.

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