Moroni, the Angel Formerly Known as Nephi
The Pure and simple truth
is rarely pure and never simple.
Oscar Wilde 1854-1900.
In a General Conference talk given in April 2005, President, Gordon B. Hinckley, Prophet of the Mormon Church made the following remarks:
I hold in my hand a precious little book. It was published in Liverpool, England, by Orson Pratt in 1853, 152 years ago. It is Lucy Mack Smith’s narrative of her son’s life.
It recounts in some detail Joseph’s various visits with the angel Moroni and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
The book tells that upon hearing of Joseph’s encounter with the angel, his brother Alvin suggested that the family get together and listen to him as he detailed “the great things which God has revealed to you.” (Ensign, May 2005: The Great Things Which God Has Revealed; citing Smith, Lucy 1853:84).
Hinckley was apparently holding an original 1853 edition of the book, quoting from page 84. The quote actually runs from the bottom of page 83 on to page 84 in the original text and so Hinckley, in all probability, really was actually holding an original copy. He calls it “a precious little book” and appears to approve of the original edition. What he does not say is that the book was banned by Brigham Young, collected, burned and then rewritten, a completely falsified version later being published, as if it were the original.
It was initially recommended for everyone, and the 16 November 1854 edition of the Church newspaper, The Deseret News, reported that it was deemed suitable for children. It was used as a ‘reader’ in Church schools in the Utah territory. It was subsequently ‘disapproved’ by Brigham Young in 1865. The original 1853 edition was then suppressed and gathered in, both in England and Utah and burned or destroyed, according to The Deseret News, 21 June 1865. Young then had the book ‘revised’ and eventually, in 1901, a falsified reprint of the book was published by the Church.
It was rewritten, rather than being revised in the way that an historian would make revisions by adding footnotes, showing errors and corrections. Rather, the actual text was rewritten and then published, just as if it were the original work, with well over two thousand words added, deleted or changed, without reference, along with a further seven-hundred-and-thirty-six words deleted with the proper indication, according to Jerald and Sandra Tanner. (Introduction to photo reprint of Smith, Lucy 1853, UTLM).
Although this may seem bizarre, it is in fact typical of the way the Mormon Church has rewritten its history and thus hidden previous, sometimes more accurate and revealing accounts and records, often providing no reference to any changes. In their book, Changes in Joseph Smith’s History, the Tanners note that the Church added or deleted over 62,000 words in work Smith himself had written. These changes were made after Smith’s death. It is reasonable to ask why the personal written record of a prophet of God would need 62,000 word changes, if he was indeed a prophet. Perhaps the same question should be asked of the Book of Mormon, purported to be (declared by God himself) the most correct book ever written, which also had thousands of changes made after the first (supposedly correct) edition, and continues to have significant changes made in new editions, even today.
Lucy Mack’s book contains many interesting things, including her own (and particularly her husband’s) dreams which almost exactly parallel Lehi’s vision story, which the young Joseph Smith would have heard his parents repeat from the time he was about six years old and which later appeared in his Book of Mormon as the dreams of prophets over two thousand years earlier. (This is covered in detail in Chapter 9).
In Hinckley’s remarks above, he indicates that the book contains details of various visits by the angel Moroni. In actual fact, if he really is referring to the original 1853 edition, as he says he is, then Hinckley is at least mistaken, if not lying. In the book, Lucy refers to the angel as Nephi and not Moroni. Page 79 specifies that Nephi is the visiting angel. In the 1954 reprint (now page 75), it has been changed to Moroni in the falsified text. The reason Lucy thought the angel was called Nephi is because that is who Joseph Smith told her it was, and he recorded it that way himself. Initially, Smith’s records simply say that an angel visited, which in itself is strange when compared with the final official account. Apart from a couple of isolated instances in 1835 and 1838, when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery both quote Moroni as the visiting angel, Smith reverted completely, to the idea that it was Nephi who was the angel, in his later writings and publications, none of which were changed or retracted during his lifetime. Only later was the name changed to Moroni in the accounts, without reference, by other people.
In April 1842 Smith wrote in Times and Seasons:
“He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi.” (Times & Seasons. 15 Apr 1842. V.3. No.12:753).
Exactly the same statement formed part of the story in the Latter Day Saints Millennial Star, published in England in August 1842. Smith had not ‘corrected’ it, following the April printing of Times and Seasons, of which Smith himself was Editor.
“He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi.” (Millennial Star, Aug 1842. V.3:53).
The name is repeated a second time in the Millennial Star in an editorial comment, identifying that the saints in England certainly accepted the name of the angel was Nephi
“…the glorious ministry and message of the angel Nephi which has finally opened a new dispensation…” (Millennial Star, Aug 1842. V.3:71).
Smith did not die until 1844, some two years later, and he never published any retractions or made alterations to his own writings. Although previously using the names of both Nephi and Moroni, Smith ultimately seemed to settle on Nephi as his personal choice. Most importantly, the original handwritten manuscript of The Pearl of Great Price, dictated by Joseph Smith himself, shows that the name of the angel was Nephi. Only after Smith’s death did someone interpolate the name Moroni above the line of the handwritten text.
Jerald and Sandra Tanner say that in 1976 they were able to examine the duplicate copy of the handwritten manuscript, Book A-2. The manuscript, which was not even started until about year after Smith’s death, has the name of Nephi as the angel, just as the original, with someone later interpolating Moroni above the line, along with the original manuscript, Book A-1. This clearly shows that as an original copy of Smith’s work, started after his death, the original name of Nephi was not changed by Smith, but rather altered by someone else, long after his death. (Tanner 1987:142-C).
The falsified name of the angelic visitor was of course incorporated into canonised scripture. In 1851, the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price included Smith’s original statement that:
“He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi.” (PoGP 1st Edition 1851:41).
Orson Pratt “published The Pearl of Great Price in 1878, and removed the name of Nephi from the text entirely and inserted the name Moroni in its place”. (Tanner 1987:137 c. Textual changes in The PoGP, Walter L. Whiple, BYU thesis p.125 typed copy). This was twenty-seven years later.
Current editions of History of the Church use the same words that Smith used in Times and Seasons in 1842 but the angel’s name has since been changed from that of Nephi to Moroni, again without reference. (HC V.1:11). This is yet another falsification which occurred after Smith’s death. (Tanner 1971:13).
Richard L. Anderson, a Mormon writer, admits the change in The Pearl of Great Price but argues that it was necessary as “the ‘Nephi’ reading contradicts all that the prophet published on the subject during his lifetime”. (Improvement Era. Sep 1970:6-7).
He doesn’t qualify all that the prophet published that it contradicted, and in fact many of Smith’s (and others) writings don’t even mention the name of the angel at all. It is usually ‘the angel’ or ‘an angel of the Lord’ or a ‘messenger’ sent by commandment of the Lord. There did however, seem to be some confusion as to which name to ultimately pick, as Oliver Cowdery called the angel a ‘messenger’ and then a few weeks later ‘Moroni’, in 1835 (Messenger and Advocate Feb 1835: V.1:79; Apr 1835: V.1:112) and Smith did once call the angel ‘Moroni’ in 1838 in the publication Elders’ Journal (Vol 1:3). These are the only references to Moroni, along with D&C 27:5 which includes the name Moroni, but this was not in the original D&C revelation. It was inserted – along with well over three-hundred other words (attributed directly to the Lord himself) some years later, in the 1835 edition. The Book of Commandments version of the 1830 revelation contained no angel’s name at all. 1
Other than the couple of references where the name Moroni appeared in 1835 and 1838, the angel then firmly became Nephi in Smith’s writings. Prior to 1835, no name is given at all. By 1842, in published newspapers, in Smith’s own history, and in The Pearl of Great Price, given that Smith consistently used the name of Nephi, apparently it is the name that he had settled upon and intended to be used for his angel. (See: Chapter 5, Summary of Accounts of Joseph Smith’s Early Visions). Contrary to Anderson’s sweeping statement that using ‘Nephi’ contradicted all that the prophet published, that was not the case at all. It was actually the other way around. Smith only called the angel Moroni once. It would have been far easier to have deleted the name of ‘Moroni’ and to have used ‘Nephi’ instead.
Certainly Smith appears to have wanted to ultimately name his visiting angel Nephi. He was, after all, Smith’s first main character in his Book of Mormon. As time passed and Moroni became a more natural, appropriate and logical candidate for the role, as he had supposedly been the one to bury the fictitious gold plates, the angel ‘became’ Moroni. All things considered, it appears that it was a tidying up process after Smith’s death, to make the sequence of events into a more logical, effective and believable overall story.
Had the story actually been true, given the number of times Smith claims he was visited, Moroni’s name should most certainly have been given from the start in most, if not all accounts, especially Smith’s own records. In the event, Smith’s first record of the event in 1832 (nine and five years after the 1823 and 1827 visitations respectively) describes the visitor as “an angel of the Lord” who told him that the plates were “engraven by Maroni” [later Moroni] with the visiting angel not giving his own name at all.
This clearly indicates that when Smith first considered his experience, the angel had certainly not introduced himself as Moroni (or Nephi) as the angel spoke of Maroni [Moroni] in the third person, and did not give his own name. Had the name of Moroni been given as the name of the angel, Smith’s initial writings would have had to read differently and the name of Nephi would never have appeared in the first place.
As with the First Vision, the fabricated story of Moroni’s visits evolved over many years. It all started with the idea of finding gold plates using his money digging seer stone that he found in a well; it developed through to spirits and angels with no name; finally becoming a divinely instructed occurrence involving an angel who Smith ultimately decided to call Nephi, who is now known as Moroni. (Faulring 1989:56-7). An effigy of the angel Moroni now appears, clad in gold leaf, atop Mormon Temples, with the angel Nephi relegated to the pages of the Book of Mormon.
- Book of Commandments 28:6 (1833:60). Doctrine and Covenants Sec. 50:2 (1835:180). (Now Sec 27:5). Revelation given as 4 September 1830 in the Book of Commandments and changed to August 1830 in the D&C. The original 1830 revelation, published as Section 28 in the Book of Commandments in 1833 has seven verses. In the current version of the same revelation which appears as Section 27 in the Doctrine and Covenants, there are well over three-hundred words added, two deleted and several changed from the original, all without reference. They are written in the first person, as if spoken by the Lord himself, although added several years after the supposed original revelation. It is thus extended to fifteen verses.