Lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon (lost early manuscript of religious text; 1828)
The Book of Lehi, more commonly known as the lost 116 pages, comprises the first manuscript of the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph Smith, Jr., and transcribed by Martin Harris. While the rest of the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, the contents of the first manuscript are still largely unknown.
Joseph Smith was the founder of the Latter-day Saint tradition, a collection of Christian churches which revere the Book of Mormon as scripture, the largest of which being the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to Smith, he was revealed the location of buried golden plates in September 1823 by an angel named Moroni, the last of a people descended from Israelites who sailed to the ancient Americas. The contents of these plates, Smith said, was the history of this people and its various factions, as well as a description of Jesus Christ appearing to them after his resurrection. These plates were written in an unknown language, thus requiring Smith to translate them with the use of seer stones. He recruited Martin Harris, a farmer and acquaintance of the Smith family, to fund and participate in the transcription process.
In June 1828, after transcribing the first portion of the plates, Smith allowed Harris to take the manuscript with him to show Harris’s wife, Lucy, and to keep it in their home. However, a few days later, the manuscript was no longer in Harris’ possession. A distraught Smith recorded in a revelation that he was commanded to continue translating the book starting from the second chapter, the plates of Nephi, and that he was forbidden from transcribing the Book of Lehi. After replacing Harris with Oliver Cowdery as his scribe, he finished translating the plates without the Book of Lehi and published this second manuscript as the Book of Mormon. The lost 116 pages remain lost to this day.
While the exact text is unknown, the chapter 1 Nephi of the Book of Mormon contains an abridgement of the Book of Lehi as recounted by one of Lehi's sons, Nephi. From this, it can be assumed that the Book of Lehi largely described Lehi's life, including accounts such as Lehi's first vision of the destruction of Jerusalem, the family's experiences in the Arabian desert, and Lehi's genealogy. In addition, it is known that Smith recounted some details of the pages to his father, Joseph Smith, Sr., who then shared these details with local resident named Fayette Lapham.
It has been speculated, such as by non-Mormon church historian Dan Vogel, that Lucy Harris burned the pages. Lucy became skeptical of Smith’s religious claims because of how much her husband was helping him, and had requested to see the golden plates multiple times. In 1840, John Clark, a pastor who knew Martin Harris personally, wrote that Lucy likely kept the manuscript and planned to withhold it until the Book of Mormon was published.
It is also impossible to recreate the 116 pages as the golden plates either are no longer in human possession or never existed. Smith claimed to have returned the plates to Angel Moroni after finishing his translation, whereupon they were taken to heaven.
- Article by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that describes the origin of the Book of Mormon Retrieved 20th June '23
- Section 10 of Doctrine & Covenants detailing the revelation concerning retranslating the plates Retrieved 20th June ‘23
- Article by S. Kent Brown regarding potential clues from 1 Nephi on the Book of Lehi Retrieved 20th June '23
- An article by LDS Living magazine that gives detail into Lapham's dialog with Joseph Smith, Sr., about the pages Retrieved 20th June '23
- Article by J. B. Haws, a professor of church history at Brigham Young University, detailing the possible fates of the pages Retrieved 20th June '23