On September 21, 1823 the Book of Mormon Prophet Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith. It could be said that at that moment Joseph entered a School of the Prophets. His knowledge of the Book of Mormon, its lands, its people, its customs, practices, and wars, did not begin when he started translating the plates. It started when he met Moroni, the keeper of the plates.
In March 1842, at the request of John Wentworth, editor of the newspaper, the Chicago Democrat, Joseph penned a history of the church up to that point. He described that first visit of Moroni and included:
“I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origins, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people, was made known unto me.” (emphases added)
In her history, Joseph’s mother Lucy Mack Smith tells how his understanding of Book of Mormon people and events grew after that first visit from Moroni.
“From this time forth, Joseph continued to receive instructions from the Lord, and we continued to get the children together every evening for the purpose of listening while he gave us a relation of the same.”
Describing those evening conversations she wrote:
“During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.” (emphases added)
Between that first visit in 1823 and 1827 when Joseph received the plates, Moroni visited the prophet at least twenty times. He was also instructed by other heavenly “teachers”. Again, from the Wentworth letter:
“After having received many visits from the angels of God unfolding the majesty and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of the 22nd of September, A.D. 1827, the angel of the Lord delivered the records into my hands.”
Before Joseph received the plates he had a good understanding of the people of the Book of Mormon, as Lucy Mack Smith put it, the inhabitants “of this continent”.
After that first visit from Moroni, during which he saw in a vision, the hill in which the plates were buried, Joseph began referring to that hill as Cumorah. This was not a name he received from the Book of Mormon. It was the name of the hill he received from the very person who showed him the hill. Moroni, who had buried the plates in the hill himself called the hill Cumorah.
From these writings, the Wentworth letter (penned by Joseph Smith himself), and his mother’s autobiography, we learn what Joseph knew about the Book of Mormon lands and people.
He saw them. He knew what they looked like. He knew how they dressed.
He spoke with them. He received firsthand, eye-witness accounts of their lives.
He knew where they came from. He knew they were descendants of Joseph who was sold into Egypt.
He knew where they lived. He saw their cities and buildings.
He saw their progress. He saw their civilizations, their laws and government.
He knew whom and how they worshiped. He saw their righteousness.
He knew what became of them. He saw their wars, and iniquities.
We have an expression we use when we want to identify someone as an expert in a given field. We say, He wrote the book on that subject. The person didn’t literally write the book about the subject, but he or she knows more than pretty much anyone else about it. Joseph Smith knew the lands of the Book of Mormon and he received much of his understanding from the people who lived there. He was taught by Moroni, who literally wrote the book. He met and talked with Nephi, who literally wrote the book. Joseph knew the lands and history of the Book of Mormon.
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