Learning to Love
Doctrine and Covenants

Section 2: Elijah the Prophet By Michael J. Preece

Section 2: Elijah the Prophet

Scripture Mastery

D&C 2 The words of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith: Behold, I will reveal unto you the priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet.

This section consists of Joseph Smith’s inspired recollection of some of the words of Moroni when he visited Joseph on the night of September 21, 1823. The vision occurred twice more during the night of September 21-22, and again a fourth time on the morning of September 22 when Joseph, who found that he had insufficient strength to work in the fields after his experience of the previous night, fainted as he was returning to the family cabin. During those visits, Moroni paraphrased the Old Testament quotation of Malachi which predicted the coming of the Prophet Elijah:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (Malachi 4:5-6).

The prophet Malachi had been the last of the Old Testament prophets, writing around 430 BC to a nation that was already declining into apostasy (see Malachi 1-2). He reproved his people for their sins, and then in closing his prophecy (and, as it turns out, closing the entire Old Testament), he foretold the comings of John the Baptist (see Malachi 3:1) and the coming again of the prophet Elijah (see Malachi 4:5-6—Elijah lived on earth just after 900 BC at the time of King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel) to prepare the way for the Savior. John the Baptist held the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, and Elijah held the keys of the sealing power of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Actually, Malachi foresaw and foretold the missions of both John the Baptist and Elijah in preparing the way for both of the comings of the Savior—his first and his second comings. These prophecies have been fulfilled relative to both the Lord’s mortal ministry and his second coming. Because Joseph Smith was to be instrumental in the latter-day work preparatory to the Lord’s second coming, it was fitting that Moroni should quote this passage to the young prophet as an example of those things that were about to be fulfilled.

It should be noted that Moroni’s version of Malachi 4:5-6 (in D&C 2) is somewhat different than the version found in the King James Version of the Bible. Moroni’s version is also found in Joseph Smith–History 1:38-39 in the Pearl of Great Price, where Joseph describes Moroni’s visit. However, D&C 110:14-15; 128:17-18; 3 Nephi 25:5-6; and JST Malachi 4:5-6 all agree with the wording of the King James Version rather than with section 2 or JS-H 1:38-39. This indicates that we are dealing here not with “correct” and “incorrect” versions of the biblical passage but rather with different shades or levels of meaning reflected in the different versions.

Section 2 was first published in the 15 April 1842 Times and Seasons. Although it is chronologically the oldest of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants (it is the words of Moroni when he appeared to Joseph Smith on the evening of September 21, 1823), it was not added to that book of scripture until 1876 by Orson Pratt under the direction of President Brigham Young.

Our feeling for this section is enhanced as we learn something about the Prophet Elijah. He was the prophet of the ninth century BC, whose story is told in 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 2, and who was the last of the Old Testament prophets to hold the keys of the sealing power. Elijah was “an hairy man with a girdle of leather about his loins,” and a commanding figure in the religious development of the Hebrew people. He was one of the few important biblical prophets who left us no written record. If any of Elijah’s writings ever existed, they have been lost through time.

Elijah lived at a time when the Israelites were divided into two kingdoms: the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel. He lived in the latter which was ruled by the wicked King Ahab and his equally wicked wife Jezebel. The people of the Kingdom of Israel were largely a spiritually degenerate group who worshiped several pagan gods, particularly one called Baal.

Elijah is remembered for his role in the following stories:

  1. He prophesied of a devastating drought and famine in the land. He was sustained during the famine initially by drinking from the Brook of Cherith and by being fed “bread and flesh” by the ravens. Later he was fed by a widow whose barrel of meat and cruse of oil did not fail all of the time she supplied him with food.

  2. He confronted 450 prophets of Baal and challenged them to call down fire from their god to consume the offering of a bullock. When they failed, he called down fire from the God of Israel which consumed the bullock, even after soaking the wood under the offering with water.

  3. He called down fire from heaven to consume his detractors.

  4. He spoke with the Lord on Mount Horeb (Sinai) on the same spot where the Lord had previously visited with Moses.

  5. He parted the waters of the River Jordan.

  6. He was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and in a chariot of fire.

After Elijah’s being caught up into heaven (2 Kings 2:1-12), the legend grew that the great Prophet would come again and that his return would announce a greater coming—that of the Messiah. In fact, Old Testament scripture literally ends with this promise (Malachi 4:5-6 are the final two verses in the Old Testament record). Even today the Jewish people look forward to the return of Elijah. “This belief is manifested in rites attendant upon the celebration of the Passover: at the Passover meal a cup of wine is placed at the table for the Prophet, and the door is left open in the anticipation that he will select that day and that occasion to announce the Messiah’s coming” (David C. Gross, Judaism, 183). President Joseph Fielding Smith made an interesting observation regarding this custom: “It was on [Easter Sunday] the third of April 1836, that the Jews, in their homes at the Passover [season], opened their doors for Elijah to enter. On that very day Elijah did enter—not in the home of the Jews . . . but he appeared in the house of the Lord in Kirtland and there bestowed his keys to bring to pass the very things for which these Jews, assembled in their homes, were seeking” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:100-101). Thus, this prophecy was fulfilled on April 3, 1836, when the Prophet Elijah did appear to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple.

Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett have offered a minor correction to the correlation between the Jewish expectation and the appearance of the prophet Elijah in the Kirtland Temple: “It has often been noted that April 3, 1836, fell during the Jewish Passover in that year, and that during the Passover meal modern Jews save a place at the table in expectation of the return of Elijah as promised in Malachi (4:5-6). All of this is correct. However, it has also been claimed that this expectation of Elijah during the Passover feast would have occurred in Jewish homes at exactly the same time Elijah was actually appearing to Joseph and Oliver in the Kirtland Temple, and this needs some correction. Passover is observed for eight days, and in 1836, the first day of Passover—the day of the Passover meal—lasted from sundown on Friday, April 1 until sundown on Saturday, April 2. Elijah appeared to Joseph and Oliver on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, April 3, more than a full day after the Passover Feast but still clearly during the Passover Week. However, the remarkable synchronism between Elijah and the Passover and Elijah in the Kirtland Temple is not appreciably less significant because of this” (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, 66-67).

The Lord has decreed that each of us must make a concerted effort in helping to forge a welding link or a complete and perfect union which will bind all of God’s children together (D&C 128:18) from Adam to the present time. No one of us can be exalted without doing our part to form this union and becoming a part of the union ourselves. This welding link is formed as we in families are sealed to one another, as we seek out the names of our dead ancestors, and as we do proxy endowments, baptismal work, and sealing ordinances for them. To man’s frail intuition it is not obvious why this union must be formed, but there is no mistaking the Lord’s intent regarding this work. It is obviously of central and supreme importance. The reader should note that in the celestial heaven, there will be only one family in which each and every one of the celestial inhabitants will be sealed to one another.

There is more to the sealing power than sealing families together. For a more complete discussion of the sealing power, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 11, The Sealing Power. See also the commentary for verse 1 below.

1 Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

verse 1 “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet” The King James Version of the Bible renders this, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet.” This change in wording pointed out to Joseph Smith his future role in the latter-day work of Elijah. In other words, Joseph would hold the keys of the priesthood and do the preparatory work of Elijah.

“by the hand of Elijah” Presumably, Joseph would receive this Priesthood by the literal laying on of Elijah’s hands.

What did Elijah actually restore when he came to the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836? It wasn’t the priesthood since that had already been restored by John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John. He restored a vital part of the keys of the priesthood—the keys of the “sealing power.” Elijah was the last prophet of the Old Testament to hold all the keys of the sealing power of the Melchizedek Priesthood (ca. 900 BC). This is the same Elijah who appeared to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration to give them the same priesthood keys.

And what is the sealing power? We know that at least in part, it is the power by which families can be sealed together forever—husband to wife, parent to child, etc.— but it is also more. Consider carefully President Joseph Fielding Smith’s explanation of the power and authority Elijah came to restore:

The keys that Elijah held were the keys of the everlasting priesthood, the keys of the sealing power, which the Lord gave unto him. And that is what he . . . gave to the prophet Joseph Smith; and that included a ministry of sealing for the living as well as the dead—and it is not confined to the living, and it is not confined to the dead, but includes them both. . . .

Elijah’s mission was the sealing power. He held the keys by which the parents could be sealed together and children sealed to parents. He bestowed these keys upon the prophet Joseph Smith. . . .

But what was the nature of his mission to the earth in these latter days? It was to restore power and authority which once was given to men on the earth and which is essential to the complete salvation and exaltation of man in the kingdom of God. In other words, Elijah came to restore to the earth, by conferring on mortal prophets duly commissioned of the Lord, the fulness of the power of priesthood. This priesthood holds the keys of binding and sealing on earth and in heaven of all the ordinances and principles pertaining to the salvation of man, that they may thus become valid in the celestial kingdom of God (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:111-12, 117).

In other words, the authority that Elijah restored was the complete power to render valid in the eternal heavens all ordinances and blessings of the priesthood performed on this earth having to do with the spiritual progression and advancement of man. This would include the ordinances of baptism, eternal marriage, the endowment, the sacrament, priesthood ordinations, and all others. Under the direction of a prophet holding these keys, all priesthood ordinances are regarded as valid for all eternity providing they are participated in with righteous intent.

For a more complete discussion of the three components of the sealing power, see the commentary for Helaman 10:7.

The Holy Ghost has a vital role here. He also possesses the sealing power. Since he knows the hearts of men, he is able to certify the validity of all ordinances. In this role he is knows as the Holy Spirit of Promise. The necessity of sealing by the Holy Ghost is emphasized in the following passage: “All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, . . . are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead” (D&C 132:7). Earthly representatives of the Lord, such as bishops and elders may be deceived by an unworthy person, but no one can deceive the Holy Spirit, who will not ratify an ordinance received unworthily. This safeguard is attached to all blessings and covenants associated with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Why was Elijah, rather than some other prophet, sent to restore the sealing power? Apparently, as already mentioned, it was because he was the last prophet to hold the keys of the priesthood before the dispensation of the meridian of time. Certainly others held the keys and could have come including Peter, James, and John.

The coming of Elijah is an event to take place, according to the plain prediction, shortly preceding the great and dreadful day of the Lord. The great and dreadful day of the Lord, this prophecy proclaims, is the day of the second coming of our Lord in the clouds of heaven in great glory and when he shall take vengeance upon the ungodly. It is to be a day dreadful to all who are unrepentant and full of sin, but to the just it shall be a day of peace and salvation. However, before it comes there is to be some mighty work performed by the restoration of Elijah’s authority, which is so potent that it will save the earth from destruction, or from being smitten with a curse (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:112-13).

“the great and dreadful day of the Lord” This day is the day of the Lord’s coming in glory. It will be “great” or “dreadful” depending on who you are—righteous or wicked. For the righteous it will be great. They shall be delivered from all their enemies, be united with Christ, and live on a millennial earth that will have been raised to a level of paradisiacal glory. On the other hand, the day will be dreadful for the wicked, for they shall be consumed by fire and delivered into spirit prison where their debts will be paid to the uttermost farthing.

2 And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.

verse 2 “The fathers” are the patriarchs, the first fathers of the house of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “The children” are the posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, either by lineage or by adoption, who, through the restoration of the new and everlasting covenant, receive from God the same promises that the patriarchs did.

Elijah came to “plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers” whereby the “hearts of the children [should] turn to their fathers” What is the meaning of this rather enigmatic verse?

First, the Prophet Joseph explained: “The word turn here should be translated bind or seal” (TPJS, 330). In other words, through the sealing power, binding covenants may be entered into which bind families into secure units that are safe from spiritual destruction.

Through the temple ordinances, God’s promises to the fathers, the tenets of the Abrahamic covenant, are extended to—“planted in the hearts of”—all God’s children. For the convenience of the reader the tenets of the Abrahamic covenant are summarized: They include: (1) Abraham will become the “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:19), and his posterity will be exceedingly numerous—even “as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the seashore (Genesis 17:2; 22:17-18). (2) The posterity of Abraham will be blessed with certain lands as an eternal inheritance. This is the land of Canaan (Genesis 17:8) extending from the Nile River to the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18). (3) Abraham’s posterity will prove to be a blessing to all families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). They will do this by bearing the priesthood and preaching the gospel to them. Thus, will every family have the opportunity, through the posterity of Abraham, to enjoy the blessings of the gospel, which include the “blessings of salvation, even of life eternal” (Abraham 2:9-11). (4) All of these blessings of the gospel and the priesthood will be offered to all of Abraham’s mortal posterity. These covenants were renewed with Isaac (Genesis 26:1-4,24) and again with Jacob (Genesis 28; 35:9-13; 48:3-4).

The hearts of the children turn to the ancient fathers because the children are now participants in and recipients of the blessings of the fathers. Being profoundly grateful for such privileges, members of the Church (motivated by the “Spirit of Elijah”) also find their hearts turning to their more immediate fathers, and they do all within their power (through genealogical research and subsequent temple work) to insure that the blessings of the ancient fathers are enjoyed by ancestry as well as posterity.

On another level, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith answered the questions—What were the promises made to the Fathers? Who made them? When?—as follows: “This expression has reference to certain promises made to those who died without a knowledge of the gospel, and without the opportunity of receiving he sealing ordinances of the priesthood in matters pertaining to their exaltation. According to these promises, the children in the latter days are to perform all such ordinances in behalf of the dead” (Improvement Era, volume 25, July 1922, 829).

One illustration of the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises in connection with the powers revealed by Elijah, was described by President Wilford Woodruff:

I will here say, before closing, that two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, “You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.” These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights. I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them. The thought never entered my heart, from the fact, I suppose, that heretofore our minds were reaching after our more immediate friends and relatives. I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others; I then baptized him for every President of the United States, except three; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them (JD, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-1886], 19: 229 -230).

3 If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.

verse 3 “If it were not so [that is, if Elijah had not come to restore the sealing power], the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his [Christ’s] coming.” “Wasted” means “made waste” or “destroyed.” The King James Version says “lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Thus, we learn that the “curse” of the KJV is the wasting or destruction of the earth.

Why would the earth be destroyed at the Lord’s second coming? Simply because the earth would not have accomplished its foreordained purpose—to establish on its face a family system patterned after the order of heaven and individuals in that system fully individually prepared to inherit eternal glory. If there were no binding and sealing powers whereby God’s children could be readied to enter back into his presence and those same children cemented forever in an eternal family unit, then the purposes and designs of this earth shall have been frustrated, and there would be no reason for the earth to continue to exist.

Because of an occasional haste to associate Elijah’s mission primarily with work for the dead, President Harold B. Lee reminded us that “it applies on this side of the veil as well as on the other side” (Church News, 11 August 1973, 14). By that President Lee meant that the sealing power is essential for all spiritual growth. Without it we cannot be granted the gifts of the Spirit or increments of the attributes of Christ which are the sum and substance of our spiritual growth. Of what use would this mortal experience be were we unable to grow spiritually through our obedience? See a more complete discussion of the concept of the sealing power in the commentary for Helaman 10:7 (this same commentary is repeated in the commentary for D&C 110:14­15). Also, as mentioned above, see the discussion in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine as referenced above.

Once the reader understands the expanded application of the concept of the sealing power, the following comments by the prophet Joseph Smith make sense. Joseph taught that the “spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is, that ye have power to hold the key of the revelation, ordinances, oracles, powers, and endowments of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth; and to receive, obtain, and perform all the ordinances belonging to the kingdom of God, even unto the turning of the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the hearts of the children unto the fathers, even those who are in heaven” (HC, 6:251).

Brief Historical Setting

Joseph and his family drew great comfort from the fact that the Lord, by sending the messenger Moroni, had manifest his continued acceptance of Joseph as the instrument through which the gospel would be restored. This feeling of peaceful tranquility, however, was soon to end. On November 1, 1823, Alvin, Joseph’s eldest brother, became seriously ill. He died less than three weeks later of what was thought to be an intestinal obstruction resulting from a large dose of calomel. The loss of Alvin was a terrible blow to the Smith family. Not only had he been a stabilizing influence to all of them, but his industry and consistent hard work were great assets to the family’s finances. Without Alvin, the one hundred dollar annual contract payment for the farm became increasingly burdensome. The responsibility fell to Hyrum and Joseph to roam the countryside looking for work.

Character Vignette

Alvin Smith

Alvin Smith was born on February 11, 1798 in Tunbridge, Vermont and was thus nearly eight years older than the Prophet Joseph. He was the first-born of Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. His was a pleasant and loving disposition, and he always sought out opportunities to aid the family in their continual financial struggles. Joseph Jr. later described his oldest brother as one in whom there was no guile (HC, 5:126). “He was a very handsome man, surpassed by none but Adam and Seth” (HC, 5:247). Lucy Mack writes that on the morning of November 15, 1823, “Alvin was taken very sick with the bilious colic.” One physician hurried to the Smith home and administered calomel to Alvin. The dose of calomel “lodged in his stomach,” and on the third day of sickness, Alvin became aware of the fact that death was near. He asked that each of the Smith children come to his bedside for his parting counsel and final expression of love. As his mother later recalled, “When he came to Joseph, he said, ‘I am going to die, the distress which I suffer, and the feelings that I have, tell me my time is very short. I want you to be a good boy, and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the Record [Joseph had been visited by Moroni less than three months before this time]. Be faithful in receiving instruction, and in keeping every commandment that is given you’” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, Preston Nibley, ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958], 86-89). Alvin died on November 19 at age 25. Lucy Mack Smith wrote of the pall of grief surrounding his passing: “Alvin was a youth of singular goodness of disposition— kind and amiable, so that lamentation and mourning filled the whole neighborhood in which he resided” (Ibid., 88). Alvin’s brother Joseph wrote many years later: “I remember well the pangs of sorrow that swelled my youthful bosom and almost burst my tender heart when he died. He was the oldest and noblest of my father’s family. . . . He lived without spot from the time he was a child. . . . He was one of the soberest of men, and when he died, the angel of the Lord visited him in his last moments” (HC, 5:126-26).

It was in this setting that Joseph went to work for Josiah Stowell of South Bainbridge, New York, and Joseph Knight of Colesville, New York. Josiah Stowell believed he had located the site of an ancient Spanish mine. When his hired hands failed to find it, he hired the Smiths—Joseph and his father—to help. Apparently, Joseph, Jr., had a reputation for being able to discern the unknown using a seer stone which he had found in 1822. After less than a month of working in the dig, Joseph prevailed upon Stowell to give up his vain pursuit.


Not only did the Smiths have to make payments on the farm, but in 1822, before Alvin died, they had started construction of a larger frame home which was completed in late 1825 or early 1826. The carpenter who did the work on this home began pressing them for his money. Indeed, he had designs on the Smith farm. His plan was to force them into foreclosure and buy the land and home for himself. In spite of the Smiths’ best efforts they did lose the farm. However, it was purchased by a friendly party who allowed them to rent the farm and continue to live on it until 1829 when the parents and five children moved in with Hyrum and his wife.

At this point it seems appropriate to digress briefly and address some charges which will be brought against the Smith family some years later in 1834. For this material I am indebted to Daniel C. Peterson and Donald L. Enders and their article, “Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family Be Trusted?” in the FARMS publication, Insights [September 1993].

Eber D. Howe, in 1834, published the original anti-Mormon book, Mormonism Unvailed [sic] which featured affidavits gathered from former Smith neighbors by the excommunicated and bitter Philastus Hurlbut describing the Smith family as, among many other derogatory things, “lazy” and “indolent.” Joseph Capron, for example, declared that the Smiths’ “great object appeared to be, to live without work.” “It was a mystery to their neighbors,” said David Stafford, “how they got their living.”

In 1993, Donald L. Enders, a senior curator at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City, published hard evidence that dealt a serious blow to the credibility of the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits (see “The Joseph Smith, Sr., Family: Farmers of the Genesee,” in Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man, edited by Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate Jr., 213-25). Utilizing land and tax records, farm account books, soil surveys, horticultural studies, surveys of historic buildings, archaeological reports, and interviews with agricultural historians and other specialists—sources not generally used by scholars of Mormon origins—Enders concludes that, on questions of testable fact, the affidavits cannot be trusted.

The Smiths’ farming techniques, it seems, were virtually a textbook illustration of the best recommendations of the day, showing them to have been, by contemporary standards, intelligent, skilled, and responsible people. And they were very hard working. To create their farm, for instance, the Smiths moved many tons of rock and cut down about six thousand trees, a large percentage of which were one hundred feet or more in height and from four to six feet in diameter. Then they fenced their property, which required cutting at least six or seven thousand ten-foot rails. They did an enormous amount of work before they were able even to begin actual daily farming.

Furthermore, in order to pay for their farm, the Smiths were obliged to hire themselves out as day laborers. Throughout the surrounding area, they dug and rocked up wells and cisterns, mowed, harvested, made cider and barrels and chairs and brooms and baskets, taught school, dug for salt, worked as carpenters and domestics, built stone walls, and fireplaces, flailed grain, cut and sold cordwood, carted, washed clothes, sold garden produce, painted chairs and oil-cloth coverings, butchered, dug coal, and hauled stone. And, along the way, they produced between one thousand and seven thousand pounds of maple sugar annually. “Laziness” and “indolence” are difficult to detect in the Smith family.

What resulted from the Smith’s hard work? The 1830 tax records for Manchester Township appraise the family’s holdings at the average level per acre for farms in the vicinity. Of the ten farms owned by the Staffords, Stoddards, Chases, and Caprons— residents of the neighborhood who affixed their signatures prominently to affidavits denigrating the Prophet’s family—only one was assessed as more valuable per acre that the Smiths’. The others received lower appraisals—and, in some cases, significantly lower ones.

The conclusion to be drawn? If the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits cannot be trusted on matters that can be quantified and tested, there seems little reason to trust their judgments in the less tangible matter of character. Clearly, they reflect religious hostility and perhaps envy from their less successful neighbors. As the Prophet’s brother William expressed it, “We never knew we were bad folks until Joseph told his vision.

We were considered respectable till then, but at once people began to circulate falsehoods and stories in a wonderful way.”


During the treasure hunting expedition, working for Josiah Stowell, Joseph and his father boarded at the Isaac Hale home in Harmony, Pennsylvania. While there, Joseph met Isaac’s daughter, Miss Emma Hale. The relationship between Joseph and Emma flourished, and, in spite of stiff opposition from Emma’s father, the couple was married in South Bainbridge on January 18, 1827, at the home of Josiah Stowell.

1827 September

Joseph’s fifth annual visit to Cumorah was on September 22, 1827. Joseph was twenty-one years of age at the time. Instead of going during the day as had become his annual custom, he arrived there just after midnight of September 21, in the first hours of September 22. This was done to throw off meddlers who knew of the date. On this visit he was given possession of the plates, the breastplate, and the Urim and Thummim. Rather than taking the plates home immediately, he concealed them in the woods in a hollow birch log. When he finally did pick them up the following day, he quickly learned that it was necessary to maintain a constant vigil in order to keep the plates safe, since many evil and conspiring men sought almost continually to wrest the plates from him. Joseph himself wrote: “I soon found out the reason why I had received such strict charges to keep them safe, and why it was that the messenger had said that when I had done what was required at my hand, he would call for them. For no sooner was it know that I had them, than the most strenuous exertions were used to get them from me. Every stratagem that could be invented was resorted to for that purpose. The persecution became more bitter and severe than before, and multitudes were on the alert continually to get them from me if possible (HC, 1:18).

Lucy Mack Smith described a specific group who had designs on the plates:

My husband soon learned that ten or twelve men were clubbed together, with one Willard Chase, a Methodist class leader, at their head; and what was still more ridiculous, they had sent sixty or seventy miles for a certain conjuror, to come and divine the place where the plates were secreted.

We supposed that Joseph had taken the plates, and hid them somewhere, and we were apprehensive that our enemies might discover their place of deposit. Accordingly, the next morning, after hearing of their plans, my husband concluded to go among the neighbors to see what he could learn with regard to the plans of the adverse party. The first house he came to, he found the conjuror and Willard Chase, together with the rest of the clan. Making an errand, he went in and sat down near the door, leaving it a little ajar, in order to overhear their conversation. They stood in the yard near the door, and were devising plans to find “Joe Smith’s gold bible,” as they expressed themselves. The conjuror seemed much animated, although he had traveled sixty miles the day and night previous (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, [Liverpool: 1853] 102-03).

Brigham Young probably had this “conjuror” in mind when he wrote:

I well knew a man who, to get the plates, rode over sixty miles three times the same season they were obtained by Joseph Smith. About the time of their being delivered to Joseph by the angel, the friends of this man sent for him, and informed him that they were going to lose that treasure, though they did not know what it was. The man I refer to was a fortune-teller, a necromancer, an astrologer, a soothsayer, and possessed as much talent as any man that walked on the American soil, and was one of the wickedest men I ever saw. The last time he went to obtain the treasure he knew where it was, and told where it was, but did not know its value. Allow me to tell you that a Baptist deacon and others of Joseph’s neighbors were the very men who sent for this necromancer the last time he went for the treasure. I never heard a man who could swear like that astrologer; he swore scientifically, by rule, by note. To those who love swearing, it was musical to hear him, but not so to me, for I would leave his presence. He would call Joseph everything that was bad, and say, “I believe he will get the treasure after all.” He did get it, and the war commenced directly.

When Joseph obtained the treasure, the priests, the deacons, and religionists of every grade, went hand in hand with the fortune-teller, and with every wicked person, to get it out of his hands, and, to accomplish this, a part of them came out and persecuted him (JD, 2:180-81).

Joseph soon realized that he would never find peace in the Palmyra area, so he sent word to Alva Hale, Emma’s brother, to come up from Harmony with a wagon to transport them and their belongings back to Harmony. With some financial help from his wealthy neighbor, Martin Harris, Joseph was able to pay his debts and travel to Harmony in the late fall of 1827. During the trip the plates were hidden in a barrel of beans. Joseph and Emma moved into a small two-room house on Isaac Hale’s land, about 150 yards from the main house. Here the translation of the plates could begin, and here the two of them lived for the next two and one half years. Joseph would later purchase this house and thirteen acres of land for two hundred dollars.


Joseph spent the first two months in Harmony simply copying characters and translating a few of them. In February 1828 Martin Harris arrived in Harmony. Some time between December 1827 and February 1828, Martin Harris had received a vision affirming the divinity of Joseph’s calling (Dean Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:9). With Joseph’s permission Martin carried some of the characters and their translation to a few Middle East experts for confirmation of the authenticity of the characters and their translation. The most important encounter was with Dr. Charles Anthon, professor of classical studies at Columbia College. After presenting the characters and Joseph’s translation, Martin came away satisfied that Dr. Anthon had confirmed their authenticity. Dr. Anthon later, however, denied that he had confirmed their validity and called them a hoax.

History shows that Professor Charles Anthon could not have read the characters anyway. In 1821-22 Jean-Francois Champollion had begun a series of studies on the Rosetta Stone, which culminated many years later in his Egyptian Grammar and Dictionary. By 1829 a few of Champollion’s studies from the Rosetta Stone had been published in Europe, but no Egyptian dictionary or grammar was yet available anywhere in the world. Surely Professor Anthon could not have read a reformed Egyptian text with any degree of confidence in 1829, nor could he credibly have pronounced someone else’s translation either correct or incorrect.

- Michael J. Preece