What was on the lost pages of the Book of Mormon? Historian Don Bradley has been wondering this ever since he was in primary!
Don: Since primary, yeah. I think I was ten. I was in South Bend, Indiana Ward where Notre Dame is, and Mike Standiford was my primary teacher, Blazer A. We did a unit on Church History on the Presidents of the Church. Somewhere I even got coloring sheets that were stapled together into a little book. I need to find where that’s at. It shows Joseph Smith and Martin Harris and it tells the story of the lost pages. I remember being there in that primary class and thinking, “We’re missing part of the Book of Mormon? What was in it?” Because like if you grow up a Latter-day Saint, how foundational is the Book of Mormon?
Only absolutely foundational, right? As a child, you’re going to hear more about the Book of Mormon than anything and how foundational it is. So, the idea that there was a big part of it that we didn’t have, nobody even talked about what was in it. This was just wild to me. I think that when we encounter a funny idea, and then we encounter it over and over and over again, it ceases to become funny to us. We just get sort of inured to it. We get used to it. That’s, I think, what has mostly happened or to a good extent has happened to us as a Latter-day Saint culture is we’re so used to the idea that part of our foundational scripture is missing, that we didn’t even give it much thought. Isn’t that kind of weird that we’re missing? In fact, you know what part we’re missing. We’re missing the first part. We’re missing the original first part of the Book of Mormon.
Don has found clues not only in the Book of Mormon, but in various accounts of Joseph’s friends and relatives. He thinks the actual number of pages lost could be two to three times that amount! How does he come to that conclusion?
Don: So one of my sources on the length of these pages, is the ancestor of one of our living apostles. At a stake conference in Provo, on April 6, 1856, a man named Emer Harris spoke about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and he talked about the lost 116 pages. He says explicitly some of what was in those pages, which is in my chapter 14, on the story of Mosiah and the Mulekites. He talks more about Mulekites and he also says something about the length of the lost manuscript. He says–oh, and the living apostle is Dallin Harris Oaks. Most people don’t know that’s what the H stands for. But it is. He’s, I believe, a great, great, great grandson of Emer Harris.
GT: So how’s Emer related to Martin?
Don: Oh, did I not mention it? He’s his brother.
Don: As historians, we create models of the past, and the model that can explain the most data in the simplest way is the best model. So what I’m doing here in describing the evidence for the manuscript length, and I end up arguing, but it’s like over 200, and maybe even up to around 300, well actually possibly more, but maybe nearly 300 pages, maybe 250.
In Sunday School, we’ve been talking about the story of Nephi killing Laban in the Book of Mormon. Don Bradley has some extra information about this story! Have you ever wondered why Laban was drunk? Don thinks Laban was celebrating the Passover feast. What else does Don know about this story that is part of the missing pages of the Book of Mormon? Don tells about an account from a non-Mormon named Fayette Lapham. Lapham gives details from the Lost Pages telling additional information not found in our current Book of Mormon.
Don: Again, he doesn’t remember names, so he doesn’t name Nephi and Laban but he’s describing them. [Lapham says] This prophet’s son goes back to get this record and he finds the guy who he tried to get it from. That guy is lying drunk in the street–it’s obviously [Laban] who he’s talking about. But he says that the reason that the guy was drunk is because there was a great feast going on in the city at the time. So think like Jewish festival, right? So [there is a] Jewish festival being celebrated in Jerusalem. Now think about that. Our Book of Mormon text doesn’t say that. The small plates don’t say that. Think about what the small plates do say. They say, among other things, that Laban was out by night among the elders of the Jews, and he comes home drunk. If he’s just out carousing, he’s got really high-profile drinking buddies, right? He’s out with the elders. Notice something else that’s crucial to the story. He’s wearing armor and he’s carrying a sword. He got with his drinking buddies? I mean, the first and final days of Passover, in Judaism are known as holy convocations, per the Hebrew Bible. They are group celebrations where the Israelites get together, they have these feasts. This would be an occasion to dress up, if you will. So this account that Laban was drunk, from Joseph, Sr., that Laban was drunk because of the feast being celebrated, would help to explain why Laban is out in armor and sword, drinking by night with the elders of the Jews, and why when Nephi pretending to be Laban goes to Zoram and he’s like, “Hey, yeah, let’s go get the brass plates/scriptures and take them out to the elders, my brothers. Zoram’s like, “Yeah, that makes sense.” He doesn’t seem to bat an eye about that. Well, if it’s Passover and there’s a religious celebration that makes sense. If Laban’s out carousing with his drinking buddies, it kind of makes less sense.
Don also discusses a bit about his spiritual journey in this episode. What do you think of his conclusions so far?
Don Bradley is great and very observant. He’s also got a great, straightforward youtube answer to the Kinderhook plates that doesn’t require mental gymnastics.
Don Bradley has done a remarkable service for students of the Book of Mormon and its history. I would say, this work is on par with some of the work of B. H. Roberts, or of Hugh Nibley–although the approach, given his lack of actual access to the lost manuscript, is thus limited in scope, it is uniquely valuable in its combination of close reading of historical and scriptural sources, scholarship and faith. Even if the most speculative of his theses (each chapter presents a number of possibilities, while then defending at least one self-standing thesis), may prove incorrect, it is valuable to consider the linkages that are certainly clear in the extant text, as well as in the early historical records surrounding the Church. While it may be possible to argue with any individual claim that is made in Bradley’s book, one cannot argue with his scholarship or faith in the Book of Mormon. I recommend this book for anyone who believes in scripture, particularly, the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon, but wants to ponder even more connections among them, the restored gospel, and the temple.