S A I N T S: AN ANGEL OF PETTINESS…
22 September 1824…
“At the hill, Joseph pried up the rock, reached into the stone box, and lifted out the plates. A thought then crossed his mind: the other items in the box were valuable and ought to be hidden before he went home. He set the plates down and turned to cover the box. But when he returned to the plates, they were gone. Alarmed, he fell to his knees and pleaded to know where they were.
“Moroni appeared and told Joseph that he had failed to follow directions again. Not only had he set the plates down before safely securing them, he had also let them out of his sight. As willing as the young seer was to do the Lord’s work, he was not yet able to protect the ancient record.”
Saints (Volume 1): The Standard of Truth 1815-1846 (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 September 2018) 3:29-30.
As this scene unfolds, you begin to realize that the messenger is a real taskmaster. Could this be because of his military background? Taken in the spirit the church is delicately trying to persuade you to think, you are led to believe that Joseph is being ‘taught lessons’ on how careful he should be about things. However, these two paragraphs fall flat on their face for a variety of reasons.
Joseph was told “that he had failed to follow directions again.” Perhaps the angel felt he failed in not bringing Alvin with him even though he had died. Whatever the reasoning, it is obvious that Joseph was being treated as a bumbling idiot, as opposed to the future prophet of the restored church.
Try putting yourself in Joseph’s shoes for a moment. Four years earlier you had a vision, where God the Father and his son Jesus Christ appeared. This was prefaced by an ugly encounter with a demon. Then, you had an angel appear, giving you instructions to seek out a hidden book in a nearby hill. This apparition happened three times that evening/morning. Upon visiting the hill, this same spirit allows you a ‘sneak peek’ at the items, only to order you to bring back your brother in a year. Given divine insight (if one believes in such things), the angel knew his brother would die within a few short weeks, thus, making the boy a failure and incapable of accomplishing the simplest tasks.
In this setting, you’ve become quite accustomed to heavenly visits, and have aged through some of your most difficult teen years with these experiences behind you. It seems to me that your actions and decision-making processes would lead you to be far more serious than Joseph was, yet never as reckless as the angel made you out to be.
Yet, the historical information at our disposal suggests that Joseph didn’t act responsibly in any way during these years. In fact, he was convicted in a New York court of being a “disorderly person” less than 18 months from this visit, and though there are few specifics, we’re led to think a similar visit happened exactly one year from this event; less than six months from his conviction.
Nothing seems to add up.
Additionally, the incredulous are asked to believe that Joseph’s actions on the hill that day were so egregious that the angel had to magically whisk away the plates, giving Joseph the gut-wrenching feeling that he had lost them.
Let’s revisit the setting. Joseph must travel three miles, alone, to the hill. This is not a city area bustling with people, but a rural setting, with ample foliage and trees for cover. No historical account leads us to presume the area of the box was in an open meadow, rather in a wooded area near the peak.
Back to the narrative:
“A thought then crossed his mind: the other items in the box were valuable and ought to be hidden before he went home. He set the plates down and turned to cover the box. But when he returned to the plates, they were gone. Alarmed, he fell to his knees and pleaded to know where they were.”
In questioning the veracity of the claim, we wonder: How far off did Joseph wander from the plates before realizing he forgot to cover the other items in the box? Does the term “and turned to cover the box” mean he was only a few steps away? If so, why such reactive pettiness by the angel? Are we being led to believe the plates were far enough out of his sight that he had to “return to” them to discover them missing? Given the nature and value of the plates, why would he EVER set them down in an unsafe place to go back to the rock? Conversely, the hillside was no doubt devoid of other people, so wouldn’t Joseph feel comfortable leaving the plates for a moment to cover the box?
“Not only had he set the plates down before safely securing them, he had also let them out of his sight. As willing as the young seer was to do the Lord’s work, he was not yet able to protect the ancient record.”
How was he supposed to “secure them?” Again, we’re led to believe this was all done in secrecy, with no other people around. What could be more secure than that? He “let them out of his sight?” Historically, we learn that later there were few times the plates were ever “in” his sight.
No, the entire scenario is full of holes, and without having “faith” to believe it is true, those on the outside are left to shake their heads at the embarrassment and inaccuracy of the church’s latest historical account.
RE-rewrite: I’m afraid an accurate re-write of these paragraphs would not resemble anything the church has produced. It is my opinion that 1824 was among the critical years when the mental, and perhaps physical drafts of the book were manufactured, and that the ‘Moroni Delays’ were designed to throw people off the scent that Book of Mormon was being developed.