You are here

Celebrating the Restoration Day 4: Timing the Translation of the Book of Mormon
Jack Welch's picture
Post contributed by Jack Welch
April 2, 2020
Peter Whitmer cabin in Fayette, New York. Photo by runt35 via Wikimedia Commons.
Peter Whitmer cabin in Fayette, New York. Photo by runt35 via Wikimedia Commons.

For a further analysis of the question, how long it took for Joseph to translate the Book of Mormon, see my recent article, “Timing the Translation of the Book of Mormon: ‘Days [and Hours] Never to Be Forgotten,’” BYU Studies Quarterly 57 no. 4 (2018): 10–50.

Amazingly, the translation of the Book of Mormon as we now have it took less than 65 actual days of translating. That is a lot less time than you might have thought, or than anyone can actually imagine. Four “anchor dates” solidly pin down the beginning, middle, and ending points in those days, which Oliver Cowdery later said, were “days never to be forgotten.” For a reality check, take a few minutes to at least scan and fathom the attached chart, which hopefully is self-explanatory.

Each of the historical facts in “The miraculous Timing of the Translation of the Book of Mormon” is established by sources mentioned in the footnotes or in the document section (quoting 206 documents!) of the longer of these two articles. That collection of primary source documents is 102 pages long. Reading even only a few of these accounts left by people who were closely involved in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, or by others who were involved early enough in this historical development to have heard from these eye-witnesses, can be very moving for anyone, young or old.

I can't think of any other event in world history that matches the accomplishment of translating and bringing forth the Book of Mormon. The amount of consistent and coherent independent statements that document these day-by-day events is extraordinary.

There is surely more here than anyone can read in a day. That is not the purpose here. But everyone should know that this detailed history exists. It is credible. It is impressive. If you feel a bit overwhelmed, that's OK. Just think how Joseph, Emma, Oliver, Lucy Smith, Martin Harris, and the others involved in this daunting task must have felt!

Table 1: Estimated Day-by-Day Translation in 1829

Date (1829)

Possible Chapters Translated

Event

March

Mosiah 1

A few pages translated. The work of translation resumed where it left off after loss of the 116 pages in 1828.

 

April 5 Sun.

 

Oliver Cowdery arrived in Harmony, Pennsylvania.*

6

 

Joseph purchased property from Emma’s father.* About this time, D&C 6 was received, directed to Oliver Cowdery as he began serving as Joseph Smith’s scribe.

7

Mosiah 2–4

Oliver began working as Joseph’s scribe.*

8

Mosiah 5–7

 

9

Mosiah 8–11

About this time, D&C 8 was received, directed to Oliver about the power to translate. Compare Mosiah 8:11–16, speaking of King Mosiah’s power to translate.

10

Mosiah 12–16

 

11

Mosiah 17–20

 

12 Sun.

Mosiah 21–25

About this time, Oliver wrote a letter to David Whitmer.

13

Mosiah 26–28

 

14

Mosiah 29 and Alma 1–2

 

15

Alma 3–6

 

16

Alma 7–10

 

17

Alma 11–13

 

18

Alma 14–17

 

19 Sun.

Alma 18–19

About this time, Oliver wrote a second letter to David Whitmer.

20

Alma 20–23

 

21

Alma 25–26

 

22

Alma 27–30

 

23

Alma 31–33

 

24

Alma 34–36

 

25

Alma 37–38

 

26 Sun.

Alma 39–40

About this time, D&C 9 was received (compare D&C 9:14, “a hair of your head shall not be lost, and you shall be lifted up at the last day,” with Alma 11:44 or 40:23).

27

Alma 41–43

 

28

Alma 44–45

 

29

Alma 46–48

 

30

Alma 49–51

 

May 1

Alma 52–54

Alma 55–57

2

Alma 55–57

 

3 Sun.

Alma 58–61

 

4

Alma 62–63 and Helaman 1

 

5

Helaman 2–4

 

6

Helaman 5–7

 

7

Helaman 8–10

 

8

Helaman 11–13

 

9

Helaman 14–16

 

10 Sun.

3 Nephi 1–3

 

11

3 Nephi 4–6

 

12

3 Nephi 7–10

 

13

3 Nephi 11–12

 

14

3 Nephi 13–15

 

15

3 Nephi 16–18

Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood.* At this time, Joseph and Oliver went into the nearby woods to pray about baptism for the remission of sins, which they had found mentioned in the translation, presumably in 3 Nephi 11:21–12:2.

16

3 Nephi 19–21

 

17 Sun.

3 Nephi 22–23

About this time, Oliver wrote a third letter to David Whitmer.

18

 

About this time, Joseph and Oliver traveled 30 miles to Colesville, New York.

19

 

Joseph and Oliver returned 30 miles from Colesville. Perhaps at this time, Peter, James, and John appeared to restore the higher priesthood and the power to give the gift of the Holy Ghost, mentioned in 3 Nephi 18:36–38.

20

3 Nephi 24–27

 

21

3 Nephi 28–30 and 4 Nephi

About this time, D&C 7 may have been received, speaking about John not tasting death. Compare material in the account about the Three Nephites in 3 Nephi 28:1 (“what desirest thou?” D&C 7:1); 28:9 (“bring souls,” 7:2); 28:2 (“speedily,” 7:4); 28:7 (“never taste death,” “power over death” in 7:2).

22

Mormon 1–4

 

23

Mormon 5–7

 

24 Sun.

Mormon 8–9

 

25

Ether 1–3

Samuel Smith was baptized.*

26

Ether 4–7

 

27

Ether 8–10

 

28

Ether 11–12

Near this date, Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer arrived in Harmony, Pennsylvania.

29

Ether 13–15 and Moroni 1–4

 

30

Moroni 5–8

About at this point, D&C 12 was received, directed to Joseph Knight Sr. (compare 12:8, “full of love,” “faith, hope and charity,” with Mosiah 3:19; Ether 12:28; Moro. 7:1; 8:14).

31 Sun.

Moroni 9–10

and title page*

About this time, D&C 11 was revealed to Hyrum. Compare D&C 11:16 (“my gospel”), and 11:25 (“deny not”) with 3 Ne. 27:21 and Moro. 10:8.

Jun 1

 

Joseph and Oliver packed and moved from Harmony, Pennsylvania, to Fayette, New York.*

2

 

Travel to Fayette.

3

 

Travel to Fayette.

4

 

Travel to Fayette and unpack. About this time, D&C 10 was finalized, telling Joseph to translate the plates of Nephi (D&C 10:41).

5

Translation resumes with 1 Nephi 1–2

About this time, the voice was heard in Father Whitmer’s chamber authorizing Joseph and Oliver to be ordained elders.

6

1 Nephi 3–6

 

7 Sun.

1 Nephi 7–9

About this time, John and Peter Whitmer Sr. were baptized, and D&C 15 and 16 were received.

8

1 Nephi 10–12

About this time, D&C 14 was given for David Whitmer.

9

1 Nephi 13–16

About this time, D&C 18 was received (compare 18:20, “church of the devil,” with 1 Ne. 14:10).

10

1 Nephi 17–19

 

11

 

Copyright form was filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, using the full title page as the “title” of the book on the copyright form.*

12

1 Nephi 20–22

 

13

2 Nephi 1–3

 

14 Sun.

 

Oliver wrote to Hyrum.* His letter used some words similar to those in 2 Ne. 9:21–23; Mosiah 5:9–10; and Moro. 8. About this time, David and Peter Whitmer Jr. were baptized.

15

2 Nephi 4–6

 

16

2 Nephi 7–9

 

17

2 Nephi 10–13

 

18

2 Nephi 14–19

 

19

2 Nephi 20–24

 

20

2 Nephi 25–27

 

21 Sun.

 

About this time, Oliver Cowdery composed the “Articles of the Church of Christ.” This document quotes extensively, verbatim, from the Original Manuscript of 3 Ne. 9:15–16, 18; 11:23–27, 32, 39–40; 18:22, 28–33; 27:8–10, 20; Moro. 3:1–4; 4:1–2; 5:1–2; 6:6; and also from D&C 18:4, 22–25, 31, 34.

22

2 Nephi 28–31

About this time, D&C 17 was received, authorizing Oliver, David, and Martin to obtain a view of the plates (17:2; compare 2 Ne. 27:12).

23

2 Nephi 32–33

About this time, the manifestation of Moroni was given to the Three Witnesses, as prompted by the translation of 2 Ne. 27:12–13.

24

Jacob 1–3

 

25

Jacob 4–5

 

26

Jacob 6–7

 

27

Enos and Jarom

 

28 Sun.

Omni and Words of Mormon

 

29

 

In Manchester, New York.* About this time, the Eight Witnesses were shown the plates.

30

 

By this date, the translation was finished.* About this time, the testimonies of the Three and the Eight Witnesses were written.

July

 

About this time, the preface to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon was written. It uses at least nine phrases found in the title page or in D&C 10.

*Bolded texts give historically documentable details. For historical documentation, see pp. 85–118 in “The Miraculous Timing of the Translation of the Book of Mormon.”

Table 2: Word counts in the Large and Small Plates

All other dates are estimates, assuming a relatively consistent rate of translation. Royal Skousen, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, has 269,510 words in the original Book of Mormon text. The number of days allotted for the translation of each book in the Book of Mormon corresponds proportionally with the percentage of total words contained in each book, except for Sundays, for which fewer words were counted.

 

Large Plates

 

Words

Percent

Mosiah

31,348

11.6

Alma

85,753

31.9

Helaman

20,650

7.7

3 Nephi

28,801

10.7

4 Nephi

1,980

0.7

Mormon

9,483

3.5

Ether

16,720

6.2

Moroni

6,140

2.3

Title Page

268

0.1

Small Plates

 

Words

Percent

1 Nephi

25,441

9.4

2 Nephi

29,531

11.0

Jacob

9,212

3.4

Enos

1,177

0.4

Jarom

737

0.3

Omni

1,406

0.5

Words of Mormon

863

0.3

Maximum number of possible days available for the translation of the Book of Mormon from April 7 to June 30:

Mosiah–Moroni:

53 days

1 Nephi–Words of Mormon:

21 days

Total:

74 days

Further Reading

John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Timing of the Translation of the Book of Mormon,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, edited by John W. Welch, 79–213. Provo, UT/Salt Lake City: BYU Press/Deseret Book, 2005.

Read the Other Restoration Posts

Display ad for ScripturePlus app by Book of Mormon Central

DONATE