Lesson 10: Joseph Smith—History 1:55–65

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


Introduction

The Prophet Joseph Smith described several significant events that he experienced between the ages of 17 and 22. These events included his labors to help sustain his family, his brother Alvin’s death, and his marriage to Emma Hale. Joseph also wrote that after years of instruction from the angel Moroni, he was given charge of the plates and began to translate the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris showed a copy of some of the characters from the plates and their translation to scholars in New York. These scholars certified the authenticity of the characters and the correctness of their translation. However, one scholar rejected the account of how Joseph Smith obtained the plates, fulfilling a prophecy from the book of Isaiah (see Isaiah 29:11–12 and 2 Nephi 27:15–20).

Suggestions for Teaching

Joseph Smith—History 1:55–58

Joseph Smith works for Josiah Stoal and marries Emma Hale

Note: In Joseph Smith—History, the Prophet refers to Josiah Stoal. In some historical records, Stoal also appears as Stowell or other variants.

Invite a few students to name a significant event that has happened in their lives during the past few years. Ask them to explain how this event has influenced their character and their future. Then ask the class to name some significant events they expect to occur in their lives during the next five years. Explain that in today’s lesson they will learn about significant events in a five-year span of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s life. Point out that in the account recorded in Joseph Smith—History 1:55–65, Joseph Smith was between the ages of 17 and 22—close to the age of many seminary students.

Invite students to read Joseph Smith—History 1:55–58 silently, looking for important events in Joseph Smith’s life.

  • What significant events occurred during this time period in Joseph Smith’s life? (Students’ answers may include the following: Joseph’s brother Alvin died; Joseph went to work for Josiah Stoal; Joseph married Emma Hale.)

Joseph Smith—History 1:59–62

Joseph receives the plates and begins translating them

Bring an object from home (or identify an object in your classroom) that you feel has great value and that you treat with care. Explain the significance of the object and why you treat it so carefully.

  • Have you ever seen someone who has neglected or failed to take care of something of value? Why do some people do this?

Explain that Joseph Smith was entrusted with something very significant. Encourage students to consider what they can learn from his example as they study Joseph Smith—History 1:59–62.

Invite a student to read Joseph Smith—History 1:59 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify the significant items the angel Moroni gave to Joseph Smith.

  • What items did Moroni entrust to Joseph Smith? (The gold plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate. Explain that the Urim and Thummim is a divinely prepared instrument that aids a seer in the work of translation and in receiving revelation.)

  • What charge did Moroni give to Joseph Smith concerning the plates? (You may want to suggest that students mark the phrase “use all my endeavors to preserve them.”)

Write the following statement on the board: As we take responsibility for and preserve that which the Lord has given us, He will _____________________________________________.

  • What did the Lord promise Joseph if he would be responsible in his care of the plates?

Invite students to suggest ways to complete the statement on the board. The following is one way they might respond: As we take responsibility for and preserve that which the Lord has given us, He will extend His protection and help.

    To help students liken Joseph’s experience to their own circumstances, ask the following question:
  • What are some examples of sacred trusts the Lord has given us? (Responses might include treating our bodies with reverence, baptismal and temple covenants, priesthood authority and duties, Church callings, our responsibility to nourish our minds and spirits, our family responsibilities and relationships, and our testimonies.)

Invite a student to read Joseph Smith—History 1:60 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify a sentence that illustrates that the Lord fulfilled His promise as Joseph was faithful to the trust given him. (“But by the wisdom of God, they remained safe in my hands, until I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand.”)

To illustrate how the Lord extended His protection and help as Joseph Smith diligently sought to preserve the plates, invite a student to read aloud the following account. Before the student reads, explain that it is an excerpt from an account by Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, about what happened shortly after Joseph Smith obtained the plates from Moroni at the Hill Cumorah. Also explain that when Joseph Smith received the plates from Moroni, he initially hid them in a decayed birch log about 3 miles from his home. Joseph Smith’s mother recorded what occurred as he later retrieved the plates from his hiding place and brought them home:

“Joseph, on coming to them, took them from their secret place, and, wrapping them in his linen frock, placed them under his arm and started for home.

“After proceeding a short distance, he thought it would be more safe to leave the road and go through the woods. Traveling some distance after he left the road, he came to a large windfall, and as he was jumping over a log, a man sprang up from behind it and gave him a heavy blow with a gun. Joseph turned around and knocked him down, then ran at the top of his speed. About half a mile farther he was attacked again in the same manner as before; he knocked this man down in like manner as the former and ran on again; and before he reached home he was assaulted the third time. In striking the last one, he dislocated his thumb, which, however, he did not notice until he came within sight of the house, when he threw himself down in the corner of the fence in order to recover his breath. As soon as he was able, he arose and came to the house. He was still altogether speechless from fright and the fatigue of running” (in Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Preston Nibley [1958], 108).

  • When have you (or someone you know) received the Lord’s protection and help as you diligently sought to be true to a sacred trust from the Lord?

To help students reflect on their desire to preserve the sacred trusts the Lord has given them, ask a student to read the following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder D. Todd Christofferson

“Be wise with what the Lord gives you. It is a trust. …

“Rather than drifting into carelessness, may your life be one of increasing exactness in obedience. I hope you will think and feel and dress and act in ways that show reverence and respect for sacred things, sacred places, sacred occasions” (“A Sense of the Sacred” [Church Educational System fireside for young adults, Nov. 7, 2004], 9, 10; speeches.byu.edu).

Invite a student to read Joseph Smith—History 1:61–62 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for examples of how the Lord blessed Joseph and Emma Smith for their faithfulness in being responsible for sacred things.

  • How did the Lord bless the Prophet and his wife at this time? (Help students see that the Lord helped Joseph accomplish His will through the help of Martin Harris.)

Joseph Smith—History 1:63–65

Martin Harris shows characters from the plates to scholars in New York

If possible, show students the accompanying picture, which shows examples of characters that were written on the gold plates. In 1828, Joseph Smith copied some of the characters onto a piece of paper. Martin Harris asked if he could present a copy of some of the characters from the plates to scholars in New York who had knowledge of ancient languages and civilizations. (As you show the picture, you may want to mention that several copies of the characters were made. It is unknown whether this was the actual copy that Martin Harris presented to the scholars.)

characters from plates

Write Joseph Smith—History 1:63–65 and Isaiah 29:10–12 on the board. Explain that the reference from Joseph Smith—History describes Martin Harris’s meeting with the scholars. The Isaiah reference contains a prophecy about the latter days. Invite students to work in pairs and take turns reading these passages aloud to each other. Instruct them to read the Joseph Smith—History passage first. You may want to suggest that they read the chapter heading to Isaiah 29 before they read the Isaiah passage. As they read the verses in Isaiah 29, have them look for similarities to Martin Harris’s account. After students have finished reading and discussing both passages, ask the following question:

  • What truth do these passages teach us about the Lord’s foreknowledge and the prophecies of His servants? (You may want to mention that when Martin showed the characters from the plates to the scholars in New York, he helped fulfill the prophecy recorded in Isaiah 29:11–12).

Although students may use different words, they should identify the following truth: The prophecies of the Lord’s servants will come to pass. You may want to write this truth on the board. You might also suggest that students write it in their scriptures next to Joseph Smith—History 1:65. Ask students if they can think of scripture mastery passages that teach this same truth (for example, see D&C 1:37–38 and Amos 3:7). You may want to suggest that they write these references next to Joseph Smith—History 1:65.

  • How does the fulfillment of divine promises or prophetic statements strengthen your faith?

Invite students to write a few sentences in their class notebooks or scripture study journals that summarize what they learned in today’s lesson and why it is important to them. To allow students a chance to explain and testify of the truths they have learned, invite a few of them to share what they wrote with the class.

Commentary and Background Information

Joseph Smith—History 1:56. Alvin Smith’s final words of counsel to Joseph Smith

Lucy Mack Smith reported that before Alvin Smith died, he spoke the following words to his younger brother Joseph:

“I want you to be a good boy, and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the Record. Be faithful in receiving instruction, and in keeping every commandment that is given you. Your brother Alvin must leave you; but remember the example which he has set for you; and set the same example for the children that are younger than yourself, and always be kind to father and mother” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Preston Nibley [1958], 87).

Joseph Smith—History 1:56. “Hence arose the very prevalent story of my having been a money-digger”

Since the early days of the Restoration, critics have attacked Joseph Smith’s character because he was employed as a youth to dig for money. Critics labeled his efforts as “money-digging” or “treasure-seeking” in an effort to blot his character. Joseph Smith grew up in a time and culture in which treasure-seeking or digging for buried gold and silver was common and accepted. In his history, Joseph Smith explains that he and his family were hired to dig for silver (see Joseph Smith—History 1:56).

Joseph Smith—History 1:59–62. Translated by the gift and power of God

Some have asked: Do we have details about how the Book of Mormon was translated? Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave the following answer:

“Many who read the Book of Mormon understandably desire to know more about its coming forth, including the actual process of translation. This was certainly so with faithful and loyal Hyrum Smith. Upon inquiring, Hyrum was told by the Prophet Joseph that ‘it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon’ and that ‘it was not expedient for him to relate these things’ (History of the Church, 1:220). Thus what we do know about the actual coming forth of the Book of Mormon is adequate, but it is not comprehensive. …

“Whatever the details of the process, it required Joseph’s intense, personal efforts along with the aid of the revelatory instruments. The process may have varied as Joseph’s capabilities grew, involving the Urim and Thummim but perhaps with less reliance upon such instrumentalities in the Prophet’s later work of translation. Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Joseph Smith told him that he used the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced at translation but that later he did not need it, which was the case in Joseph’s translation of many verses of the Bible (see Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, 11 Aug. 1874, 498–99). …

“Why do we not have more disclosure concerning the process of translation of the Book of Mormon? Perhaps the full process was not disclosed because we would not be ready to understand it, even if given. Perhaps, too, the Lord wanted to leave the Book of Mormon in the realm of faith, though it is drenched with intrinsic evidence. After all, Christ instructed Mormon, who was reviewing the Savior’s own teachings among the Nephites, not to record all of them on the plates because ‘I will try the faith of my people’ (3 Ne. 26:11). Perhaps the details of translation are withheld also because we are intended to immerse ourselves in the substance of the book rather than becoming unduly concerned with the process by which we received it” (“By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1997, 39, 41).

Although we do not know all the details about how the Book of Mormon was translated, we do know it was translated “by the gift and power of God” (D&C 135:3) and that the portion that was translated is true (see D&C 17:6).

Joseph Smith—History 1:59–62. “By means of the Urim and Thummim I translated”

The Urim and Thummim was “an instrument prepared of God to assist man in obtaining revelation from the Lord and in translating languages” (Bible Dictionary, “Urim and Thummim”). Joseph Smith used the Urim and Thummim to aid in the translation of the Book of Mormon. In addition to the Urim and Thummim, the Prophet used a seer stone in the translation process.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the following about the translation process and Joseph Smith’s use of the Urim and Thummim and the seer stone:

“The Prophet Joseph alone knew the full process, and he was deliberately reluctant to describe details. We take passing notice of the words of David Whitmer, Joseph Knight, and Martin Harris, who were observers, not translators. David Whitmer indicated that as the Prophet used the divine instrumentalities provided to help him, ‘the hieroglyphics would appear, and also the translation in the English language … in bright luminous letters.’ Then Joseph would read the words to Oliver (quoted in James H. Hart, “About the Book of Mormon,” Deseret Evening News, 25 Mar. 1884, 2). Martin Harris related of the seer stone: ‘Sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin’ (quoted in Edward Stevenson, “One of the Three Witnesses: Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, 6 Feb. 1882, 86–87). Joseph Knight made similar observations (see Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17 [Autumn 1976]: 35).

“Oliver Cowdery is reported to have testified in court that the Urim and Thummim enabled Joseph ‘to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates’ (“Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, 9 Apr. 1831). If these reports are accurate, they suggest a process indicative of God’s having given Joseph ‘sight and power to translate’ (D&C 3:12).

“If by means of these divine instrumentalities the Prophet was seeing ancient words rendered in English and then dictating, he was not necessarily and constantly scrutinizing the characters on the plates—the usual translation process of going back and forth between pondering an ancient text and providing a modern rendering.

“The revelatory process apparently did not require the Prophet to become expert in the ancient language. …

“Whatever the details of the process, it required Joseph’s intense, personal efforts along with the aid of the revelatory instruments. The process may have varied as Joseph’s capabilities grew, involving the Urim and Thummim but perhaps with less reliance upon such instrumentalities in the Prophet’s later work of translation. Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Joseph Smith told him that he used the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced at translation but that later he did not need it, which was the case in Joseph’s translation of many verses of the Bible (see Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, 11 Aug. 1874, 498–99)” (“By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1997, 39).

Joseph Smith—History 1:63–65. Who were the scholars Martin Harris visited?

Martin Harris visited at least three men who had reputations as able linguists. In Albany, New York, he talked with Luther Bradish, a diplomat, statesman, world traveler, and student of languages. In New York City he visited Dr. Samuel Mitchell, vice president of Rutgers Medical College. He also visited a man who knew several languages including Hebrew and Babylonian. This was Professor Charles Anthon of Columbia College in New York City, who was among the leading classical scholars of his day. At the time of Martin Harris’s visit, Charles Anthon was adjunct professor of Greek and Latin. He knew French, German, Greek, and Latin and was familiar, if books in his library are evidence, with the latest discoveries pertaining to the Egyptian language, including the early work of Champollion.

Supplemental Teaching Idea

Joseph Smith—History 1:55–58. Joseph Smith marries Emma Hale

Invite students to read Joseph Smith—History 1:57–58.

Point out that Joseph Smith desired to be married and sought out a wife. Share the following statement by the Prophet’s mother about Joseph Smith’s marriage to Emma Hale:

“We were pleased with his choice and not only consented to his marrying her, but requested him to bring her home with him and live with us” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Preston Nibley [1958], 93).

  • Why is marriage important?

Share your feelings about the importance of marriage.