Nephi, Moroni, or Someone Else?
The angel that Joseph Smith claimed appeared to him in his bedroom telling him about golden plates has been described as both Moroni and Nephi in LDS publications. There is also an account, written by Joseph Smith himself, in which the angel spoke of “Maroni” (Moroni), but he was clearly not referring to himself:
“I fell into transgressions and sinned in many things which brought a wound upon my soul and there were many things which transpired that cannot be writen and my Fathers family have suffered many persicutions and afflictions and it came to pass when I was seventeen years of age I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision for behold an angel of the Lord came and stood before me and it was by night and he called me by name and he said the Lord had forgiven me my sins and he revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester Ontario County N.Y. there was plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni & his fathers the servants of the living God in ancient days and deposited by th[e] commandments of God and kept by the power thereof and that I should go and get them and he revealed unto me many things concerning the inhabitents of of the earth which since have been revealed in commandments & revelations and it was on the 22d day of Sept. AD 182 1822 and thus he appeared unto me three times in one night and once on the next day and then I immediately went to the place and found where the plates was deposited as the angel of the Lord had commanded me and straightway made three attempts to get them and then being excedingly frightened I supposed it had been a dreem of Vision but when I considred I knew that it was not therefore I cried unto the Lord in the agony of my soul why can I not obtain them behold the angel appeared unto me again and said unto me you have not kept the commandments of the Lord which I gave unto you therefore you cannot now obtain them for the time is not yet fulfilled …” (Letterbook I, Joseph Smith Papers)
Notice that the vision is in 1822, not 1823 which is what the LDS Church maintains today:
“On the night of September 21, 1823, Joseph Smith prayed to know God’s further will toward him. Steadily a light grew ‘as though the house was filled with consuming and unquenchable fire.’ Moroni, a messenger sent from God, stood before him.” (Moroni: Messenger of the Restoration)
Also, in Joseph Smith’s handwritten account, Joseph is seventeen years of age, the messenger is called “an angel of the Lord.” And, as mentioned, this angel does speak of “Maroni [Moroni],” yet the angel was clearly not referring to himself; neither does the angel mention that Moroni is the name of a personage watching over the golden plates.
Nephi or Moroni, The Record Gets Worse:
There are four major LDS publications calling the angel in Joseph Smith’s bedroom vision account Nephi instead of Moroni. LDS apologists suggest that early Church editors may have copied an error from one source in which a typo was made. However, that would hardly diminish the glaring problem of having the name Nephi in all four of these LDS publications:
• 1842 Times and Seasons
• 1842 Millennial Star
• 1851 The Pearl of Great Price (published in England)
• 1853 Lucy’s biography, Coray/Pratt
It clearly shows that Mormons from the top on down were mostly clueless during the 1830s, 40s, 50s, and beyond that the name of the messenger was Moroni.
The Joseph Smith Papers / The Church Historian’s Press:
History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2], Page 5
“… that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi.” (Joseph Smith Papers)
Note: A later redaction in an unidentified hand changed “Nephi” to “Moroni” and noted that the original attribution was a “clerical error.” Early sources often did not name the angelic visitor, but sources naming Moroni include Oliver Cowdery’s historical letter published in the April 1835 LDS Messenger and Advocate; an expanded version of a circa August 1830 revelation, as published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants; and a JS editorial published in the Elders’ Journal in July 1838.a The present history is the earliest extant source to name Nephi as the messenger, and subsequent publications based on this history perpetuated the attribution during JS’s lifetime. Joseph Smith Papers, Editorial Title History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2])
In July 1838, Smith wrote an article for the church periodical Elders’ Journal, in the form of questions and answers, that stated the following:
“Question 4th. How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon?”Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, as a resurrected being, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them.”
However, on May 2, 1838, a few months before Smith’s statement in Elders’ Journal, Smith began dictating a church history that included a detailed account of his visits from the angel. In this text, Smith identified the angel as “Nephi”, which is the name of the Book of Mormon’s first narrator. Smith’s 1838 identification as “Nephi” was left unchanged when the 1838 history was published in 1842 in Times and Seasons, which Smith edited himself, and in Millennial Star. In the latter, an editorial referred to the 1823 vision and praised “the glorious ministry and message of the angel Nephi”. After Smith’s death, the identification as “Nephi” was repeated when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) published its first edition of the Pearl of Great Price. It was also repeated in 1853 when Smith’s mother Lucy Mack Smith published a history of her son. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_Moroni)
Nephi, Moroni, or Someone Else? Conclusion:
In a letter written to William W. Phelps by Joseph Smith Jr., on November 27, 1832, Joseph Smith said the angel that visited him spoke of “Maroni” (Moroni), but he was clearly not referring to himself. (Letterbook I, Joseph Smith Papers)
Then, in July 1838, in an article Joseph Smith edited for the Church periodical Elders’ Journal, Joseph Smith is quoted as saying the name of the angel was Moroni. (Elder’s Journal July 1838, page 43)
In 1839, Joseph Smith said the name of the angel was Nephi:
“… that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi.” (Joseph Smith Papers / The Church Historian’s Press, 1839, page 5)
And, the angel is called Nephi in Lucy Smith’s history. (Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, p. 79)
One thing is certain, many if not most LDS members are unaware of early versions of Joseph Smith’s dealings with the angel Nephi or Moroni; here is one example:
“Joseph was permitted to raise the stone again, when he beheld the plates as he had done before. He immediately reached forth his hand to take them, but instead of getting them, as he anticipated, he was hurled back upon the ground with great violence. When he recovered, the angel was gone, and he arose and returned to the house weeping for grief and disappointment.” (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 347)
For more information on this subject:
■ Enchantment, Magic and Money Digging — Rich Kelsey
■ Moroni as a Treasure Guardian — Rich Kelsey
■ Joseph Smith and The Bleeding Ghost — Rich Kelsey
1. Times and Seasons, Volume 3: April 15, 1842, p. 753
2. Millennial Star, Volume 3, August 1842, pp. 53 & 71
3. 1851 The Pearl of Great Price p. 41
4. 1853 Lucy’s biography, Coray/Pratt Biographical Sketches, p. 79
5. Joseph Smith’s Bedroom Dream, 1835 Account: “It is no easy task to describe the appearance of a messenger from the skies– indeed, I doubt there being an individual clothed with perishable clay, who is capable to do this work…. But it may be well to relate the particulars as far as given – The stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age; his garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam.”
6. Joseph Smith Papers, History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2], Page 5:
Endnotes from Wikipedia:
7 (Smith 1838–1842, pp. 42–43).
8 (Smith 1838a, p. 7).
9 (Smith 1838a, p. 5).
10 (Smith 1842, p. 753)
11 (Pratt 1842, p. 53).
12 (1842, p. 71).
13 (Richards 1851, p. 41).
14 Smith, Lucy Mack (1853), Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations.