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Lesson Three: Joseph Smith

Obtains The Golden Plates: 


The Unofficial LDS Family Home Evening Resource Book




An earnest discussion of events from Lucy Smith's history (reprint by Preston Nibley/2004 edition) which has been corrected and revised to make it easier for the family to gain a pure testimony of Joseph Smith obtaining the golden plates.




This lesson encourages us to better understand Joseph Smith's account of obtaining the golden plates by reading what his mother wrote about it in her history. And, also what Joseph Smith wrote about the golden plates in his handwriten account. It also teaches us about faithful history. 




This lesson was prepared for families who are ready to go beyond a milk only diet and indulge on teaching with substance. It is meant to bring about meaningful thought and discussion; and, challenge the participants to obtain a deeper understanding of the LDS faith. Therefore, parents are advised to first carefully read the lesson all the way through in order to make sure it is appropriate for each and every family member.        




Buy a few packages of Cherry Jell-O, and some Cool Whip, or whipped cream as a topping; whatever your family prefers. Boil some water, make the Cherry Jell-O as per directions, adding in one or two sliced bananas before it gels to one half of the batch only; then, chill the mixture in the refrigerator for an additional 4 hours, or until it's firm. 

Serve the Jell-O to each family member by giving them two separate portions; one with bananas and whipped topping on top, the other with the Cherry Jell-O plain.  The reason for the separate portions is explained further on in this lesson.    



Lucy Smith's history was written in 1844-45.  Then, about 10% of her words were deleted and many changes were made to the remaining text.  Also, to better align her history with the History of the Church, sections were added from the History of the Church and the Times and Seasons magazine before it was first published in England in 1853.  Yet, even with all the changes, additions and deleted text, Lucy Smith's history still did not find approval with the standing Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of the Church back in his day.




"... a committee of revision was appointed by President Young consisting of President George A. Smith and Judge Elias Smith, cousins of the Prophet, men personally familiar with the family and thoroughly conversant with Church history. They were instructed carefully to revise and correct the original work throughout, which they did..." (History of the Mormon Joseph Smith by His Mother... Preston Nibley, Edition reprint, Publisher Kessinger Publishing, 2004, Introduction to First Utah Edition, pp. VII-VIII)


The corrected edition's 2004 reprint spells out the following statement in its opening pages: 


"The picture of Mrs. Smith, used in this volume, which we believe is accurate in all its details, was obtained by President George Alber Smith in September, 1942... It is with pleasure that we present this new edition of the 'History of the Prophet Joseph Smith,' by his mother, to the members of the Church and to the world." (History of the Mormon Joseph Smith by His Mother... Preston Nibley, Edition reprint, Kessinger Publishing, 2004, Foreward, p. X)


Explain to the family that this version of "Lucy Smith's history" of her son Joseph Smith is said to be


"... accurate in all its details ..."


and that is why we are using it in today's lesson.


Also explain that the reason we are reading the history of Joseph Smith by his Mother is because it contains details that will be new and exciting for us, as a family, to learn.


Then, read the following quote from Lucy's history:


"On the twenty-second of September, 1824, Joseph again visited the place where he found the plates the year previous; and supposing at this time that the only thing required, in order to possess them until the time for their translation, was to be able to keep the commandments of God--and he firmly believed he could keep every commandment which had been given him--he fully expected to carry them home with him. Therefore, having arrived at the place, and uncovering the plates, he put forth his hand and took them up, but, as he was taking them hence, the unhappy thought darted through his mind that probably there was something else in the box besides the plates, which would be of some pecuniary advantage to him. So, in the moment of excitement, he laid them down very carefully, for the purpose of covering the box, lest some one might happen to pass that way and get whatever there might be remaining in it. After covering it, he turned round to take the Record again, but behold it was gone, and where, he knew not, neither did he know the means by which it had been taken from him.


At this, as a natural consequence, he was much alarmed. He kneeled down and asked the Lord why the Record had been taken from him; upon which the angel of the Lord appeared to him, and told him that he had not done as he had been commanded, for in a former revelation he had been commanded not to lay the plates down, or put them for a moment out of his hands, until he got into the house and deposited them in a chest or trunk, having a good lock and key, and, contrary to this, he had laid them down with the view of securing some fancied or imaginary treasure that remained.


In the moment of excitement, Joseph was overcome by the powers of darkness, and forgot the injunction that was laid upon him.


Having some further conversation with the angel, on this occasion, 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.


As he was aware that we would expect him to bring the plates home with him, he was greatly troubled, fearing that we might doubt his having seen them. As soon as he entered the house, my husband asked if he had obtained the plates. The answer was, 'No, father, I could not get them.'


His father then said, 'Did you see them?'


'Yes,' replied Joseph, 'I saw them, but could not take them.'


"'I would have taken them,' rejoined his father, with much earnestness, 'if I had been in your place.'


'Why,' returned Joseph, in quite a subdued tone, 'you do not know what you say. I could not get them, for the angel of the Lord would not let me.'" (History of the Mormon Joseph Smith by His Mother ... Lucy Mack Smith,  Contributor Preston Nibley, Edition reprint, Publisher Kessinger Publishing, 2004, Chapter 18, pp. 83-85) 



Envision Joseph Smith coming back to the house without the plates:


"...greatly troubled, fearing that ... [his parents] might doubt his having seen them."



Then, ask the family if they had ever heard about Joseph being,


"... hurled back upon the ground with great violence ..." (Lucy, p.84)


Listen intently and respond to any questions that may arise?


Tell the family that, according to the story, it was really important for Joseph not to,


"... put them [the golden plates] for a moment out of his hands, until he got into the house and deposited them in a chest or trunk, having a good lock and key, ..."


Also, explain that Joseph had told a similar story to his close friend Joseph Knight:


"And after he had Covered the place he turned round to take the Book [golden plates] and it was not there and he was astonished that the Book was gone. He thot he would look in the place again and see if it had not got Back again. He had heard people tell of such things." (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History)



Then, tell the family that when Joseph Smith told Joseph Knight:


"He had heard people tell of such things."


he was most likely referring to stories of chests full of treasure1 and the magic woven into those early American folktales.



Then, read what LDS author/scholar Richard Bushman said while describing the golden plates:


The plates walk a fine line between magic and religion, between enchantment and disenchantment, between fraud and religious genius... They make the claim that the supernatural has entered into the natural world.” (Presentation given at Utah State's Eccles Science Learning Center on March 22, 2012)


Explain that in the natural world, things do not normally move from here to there by some unseen power; and, perhaps that is why Richard Bushman said,


"They [the plates] make the claim that the supernatural has entered into the natural world.” (Presentation given at Utah State's Eccles Science Learning Center on March 22, 2012)


Also: Tell the family that back in Joseph Smith's time it was believed that if someone dreamed the same dream or had the same vision three times in one night,2 that added credibility to the dream or vision!


Then, give this example of that happening from Joseph Smith's hand written history:


"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 com mandments & revelations and it was on the 22d day of Sept. AD 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)


Explain that the dream / vision is said to have occured in 1822, it is at night, and then an appearance the next day.  Joseph claims he is 17 years of age, the messenger is called "an angel of the Lord", and, while this angel does speak of "Maroni [Moroni]", he was clearly not referring to himself; nor is it mentioned that Moroni is the name of the personage / spirit or angel, depending on the account, watching over the golden plates.


Ask the family if they think that the original golden plates accounts had details3 in them which are not included in today's faithful history; and then, ask the family members if they think that perhaps many plain and precious truths have been taken away? 


Listen intently and address any questions which may arise.


Explain that leaving out details from the early golden plates accounts is kind of like having our Cherry Jell-O without any banana slices in it, or, whipped topping on top.


Then, ask the family if they like their Jell-O better with the banana slices and whipped topping, or without?


Listen intently as answers are given.


Then, tell the family that we can learn more about Joseph Smith's accounts of obtaining the golden plates by studying them and ask if any family members would like to learn more about the golden plates? Link < to an informative study on the golden plates


Compliment those who want to drink in more from the wellspring of knowledge; and, let them know that the study will make the subject matter as clear as water.



FHE Index



Other articles of Interest:


1. Excerpts from Joseph Smith's Use of Seer Stones

2. Preach My Gospel — A Guide to Missionary Service

3. Joseph Smith Money Digging Accounts

4. Enchantment — Magic and Money Digging 

5. Disturbing Early Versions of The Golden Plates Accounts




Folklore Associated With Buried Treasure: 


"It was reported by these money-diggers, that they had found boxes, but before they could secure them, they would sink into the earth. A candid old Presbyterian told me, that on the Susquehannah flats he dug down to an iron chest, that he scraped the dirt off with his shovel, but had nothing with him to open the chest; that he went away to get help, and when they came to it, it moved away two or three rods into the earth, and they could not get it." (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris)



"Joseph Smith and the money-digging company were not unique; many in New England and New York dug for money. Smith’s early belief in seer stones and enchanted treasures was also shared by others. In 1825 the local Wayne Sentinel reprinted an article from the Windsor [Vermont] Journal, stating that many believed in the “frightful stories of money being hid under the surface of the earth, and enchanted by the Devil or Robert Kidd.” The Wayne Sentinel that same year reprinted another article from the Orleans [New York] Advocate, which reported:


A few days since was discovered in this town, by the help of a mineral stone, (which becomes transparent when placed in a hat and the light excluded by the face of him who looks into it, provided he is fortune’s favorite,) a monstrous potash kettle in the bowels of old mother Earth, filled with the purest bullion. Some attempts have been made to dig it up, but without success. His Satanic Majesty, or some other invisible agent, appears to keep it under marching orders; for no sooner is it dug on to in one place, than it moves off like “false delusive hope,” to another still more remote [place].


In his book Legends of the West (1832), James Hall related a story about a money digger named Anderson. According to Hall, Anderson tried to locate a treasure in some hills with his “divining rod” but was prevented from getting possession of the treasure by its guardian spirit. Sarah Josepha Hale in Traits of American Life (1835) reported a story which she claimed was based on a late eighteenth-century legend originating from Newport, New Hampshire. According to Hale a Deacon Bascom, one of the area’s original settlers, was one night visited three times in a dream by a man clothed in black who told him where to find a silver mine under a large stone. Although the deacon was greatly tempted, he concluded that the dream was inspired by the devil and never uncovered the mine. These and other such stories circulated widely, no doubt inspiring many New Englanders and New Yorkers to search for hidden treasures." (Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon by Dan Vogel, Chapter 1., The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon)



“... Willard Chase evidently reported the instructions concerning Alvin correctly. The event was confirmed by Joseph Knight, the LDS convert who supplied Joseph and Oliver with necessities while they translated the Book of Mormon. Brother Knight tells how Joseph first went to the hill but was denied the record because of carelessness: “Joseph says, ‘When can I have it?’ The answer was the 22nd day of September next if you bring the right person with you. Joseph says, ‘Who is the right person?’ The answer was ‘Your oldest brother.’ But before September came his oldest brother died.' — 'Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,' BYU Studies, Autumn 1976, p. 31. — Two later reports tell similar stories, basically repeating the Chase affidavit. ... Why was Joseph instructed to bring another person? The procedure must have been important, for both Knight and Chase add that after Alvin died Joseph was told to bring Emma, a reality confirmed in her patriarchal blessing given by Joseph Smith, Sr. ..." (Ensign, 1987, August, The Alvin Smith Story: Fact and Fiction, By Richard Lloyd Anderson)