Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Angel's Identification

I have received many comments to the prior post about Nephi having visited Joseph Smith. That post used the Joseph Smith Papers histories to show Joseph Smith consistently identified the angel who visited him as "Nephi" rather than "Moroni." I'm not going to solve the dilemma for you, but I will point out a few things.

Section 27 of the D&C mentions, "Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon" (D&C 27: 5). However, the original transcript of the revelation did not contain any of these words. You can read the original in Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations: Manuscript Revelation Books, pp. 40-43. These words were added later, probably by Oliver Cowdery. [Oliver thought it was his right to add revelations to the church, as Section 24: 5-6 authorized him to do. He authored a good deal, if not all of Section 20. He also wrote a section on marriage that was contained in the 1835 D&C as Section CI "Marriage" beginning on page 251. It condemned plural marriage and was later deleted.] The addition to Section 27 occurred before the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, and that version can be found in the Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Vol. 2, p. 490 (Section L, verse 2). Joseph Smith reviewed this volume prior to its publication and should have been aware of the mention of "Moroni" as the one who came "to reveal the Book of Mormon."

Section 128 of the D&C is a letter written by Joseph Smith in September 1842. In the letter he wrote: "And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets-- the book to be revealed." (D&C 128: 19.)

So we either have a contradiction in these identities (Nephi vs. Moroni) or we do not. If we do not have a contradiction then these are some possibilities:

The Section 27 and 128 references are not to the visit described in JS-H in verse 33, but to something else.

For those who believe in multiple-mortal probations it is simple: This proves that Nephi and Moroni were the same person, come twice to the earth, once to begin and once to end the Book of Mormon. I'm not at all persuaded of that one.

For those who want Moroni to have credit for his vast contribution then give it to him, even if it was Nephi who came as the angel to visit Joseph. Moroni gets the credit because:
1. He completed his father's work in preserving the book.
2. He was the author who completed the Book of Mormon (the one attributed to his father beginning on page 469 and going to page 487) within the larger Book of Mormon.
3. He added a translation and commentary known as the Book of Ether.
4. He added the Small Plates of Nephi to the text "for a wise purpose."
5. He added his own Book of Moroni to complete the volume.
6. He buried the book, along with other sacred artifacts, to preserve it and the means to translate it.
7. He wrote the cover page to the Book of Mormon.
For these reasons, even if it was Nephi who came, we ought to give credit to Moroni because he deserves mention for his overarching responsibility in preserving, completing and bringing forth the book.

The problem with these proposed alternatives is the language used in the September 1842 letter which calls Moroni "an angel from heaven, declaring..." which suggests it was Moroni who was the one visiting with Joseph. The letter describes a visit, not merely an attribution.

Because of these issues, those who think there is a contradiction are left to wonder:

Did Oliver Cowdery not know the identity of the angel? After all, the testimony of the Three Witnesses in the beginning of the Book of Mormon never mentions the angel's name. It refers only to an "angel from heaven." So if Oliver was confused, it would support the notion that the addition to Section 27 was his. But that doesn't explain why Joseph would approve the addition in the 1835 D&C.

On the other hand, the histories written by Joseph Smith naming the angel "Nephi" came after the 1835 version of the D&C. He wrote these histories naming Nephi in 1838, 1839 and 1841. So was the later naming of Nephi a correction of the earlier addition by Oliver Cowdery naming Moroni? Given the timing, it is possible this may be the case.

This line of reasoning, however, gets interrupted by the 1842 letter calling "Moroni" an "angel from heaven" and associates him with the "Hill Cumorah." So if understanding the timing is how to solve the contradiction, why would Joseph make this later reference? And why call Moroni "an angel from heaven" in the 1842 letter if he didn't at least visit the Hill Cumorah? It is rather a stretch to think that visit was when he first buried the plates, and not when Joseph Smith recovered it as part of the "glad news" discussed in the 1842 letter (Section 128).

Is it possible that Joseph wasn't careful about the name when dictating the letter, but was more careful when compiling his history? Why, if he had worked on the history earlier and got it right, would he then err in the letter?

Most of the references made to the visitor throughout the writings and talks of Joseph Smith refer to a "messenger" or to an "angel" and leave identity unresolved.

What is most interesting is that the controversy resulted in the church editing the Joseph Smith-History in the Pearl of Great Price. They didn't disclose the contradiction, but covered it up until the Joseph Smith Papers project brings it to light. Then we learned it was resolved in favor of Moroni, without any effort to explain there is another possible identity. I commend the church for now allowing it to become public in an official document.

You should know there is an uncertainty about this. You should be allowed to decide for yourself which you want to believe.

I've always called the visitor "Moroni" and intend to continue doing so because it is somewhat annoying at this point to give the angel another name. They won't know what I'm talking about if I change the name, or they will think I'm too dumb to read what is in the Joseph Smith-History. So I will continue to use "Moroni" as the visiting angel. However, I think it was actually Nephi who visited. That is my view. You ought to study it out for yourself and reach your own conclusion.

The question of resurrection is mentioned in my earlier post as a result of the angel actually having handled objects (plates, sword, directors, breastplate) during the visits and in the presence of two of the three witnesses. Physical contact with tangible things is the province of physical beings. (See, e.g., Section 129: 2-7.) Nephi is the more likely to have been resurrected considering when he was born and when he died. Post-Christ era resurrection is normally confined to the Second Coming. (See, e.g., D&C 133: 56.) There are exceptions, but they are for highly specific reasons, based on individual covenants. Unless Moroni had such an individual covenant with Christ he would not have been resurrected, and therefore could not have handled the physical objects involved in the history of this angel's mission to Joseph and the three witnesses. If Moroni had the covenant, I would expect it to be mentioned in his book. Of course not everything is mentioned in the Book of Mormon, but the absence of proof leans in favor of concluding it was Nephi, rather than Moroni, who would have been resurrected at the time of the visits.

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