18. Was it Nephi or Moroni?

Regarding the angelic visitation where Joseph was shown the gold plates, it was originally recorded:

"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." (The Times and Seasons Vol. III, pp. 749, 753)

In modern printings of the History of the Church, this has been changed to read "Moroni". It is interesting to note that Joseph Smith lived for two years after the name "Nephi" was printed in Times and Seasons and he never published a retraction.

In August, 1842, the Millennial Star, printed in England, also published Joseph Smith's story stating that the angel's name was "Nephi" (see Millennial Star, Vol. 3, p. 53). On page 71 of the same volume we read that the "…message of the angel Nephi…opened a new dispensation to man…"

In 1853, Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, also said the angel's name was Nephi (Biographical Sketches, p. 79).

The name was also published in the Pearl of Great Price (1851 edition, p. 41) as "Nephi". The original handwritten manuscript of the Pearl of Great Price dictated by Joseph Smith reveals that the name was originally written as "Nephi," but that someone at a later date wrote the word "Moroni" above the line. All evidence indicates that this change was made after Joseph's death. Walter L. Whipple, in his thesis written at BYU, stated that 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" (Textual Changes in the Pearl of Great Price, typed copy, p. 125).

Lastly, in 1888 J. C. Whitmer made this statement (it should be noted that a majority of the Book of Mormon is alleged to have been translated in the Whitmer home):

"I have heard my grandmother (Mary M. Whitmer) say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by an holy angel, whom she always called Brother Nephi." (John C. Whitmer, "The Eight Witnesses", The Historical Record, Volume 7, October, 1888, p. 621)

Why would the church feel the need to change Joseph Smith's story? Perhaps because Moroni makes more sense than Nephi, given that it was Moroni who buried the plates in the first place. But Joseph originally said the angel was named Nephi, not Moroni.

LDS apologists argue that the references cited above may propagate a transcription error omitted during the 1838 manuscript recitation. It is claimed that Joseph or his scribe perhaps tangled the names in the process. While this is possible, it defies credibility that the error would then go undetected for four years, pass review for inclusion in the Times & Seasons, not be corrected in any subsequent issue, and then recur in 1851 in the printing of the Pearl of Great Price.

Apologist Response

Malin Jacobs stated that this can probably be traced to a simple mistake, and that the angel is in fact referred to as Moroni in other sources:

"The Millenial Star and Lucy Mack Smith both stated that they based their information on the Times and Seasons. Furthermore:

1. Joseph Smith may have simply made a mistake in his dictation to his scribe, James Mulholland. According to both Joseph Smith and other early church leaders, he was visited by angels in addition to Moroni. Nephi and Alma are among those specifically mentioned.

2. Alternatively, Brother Mulholland may have inserted the name Nephi not from Joseph Smith's dictation, but from his own or someone else's confused memory of the name of the angel." Orson Pratt noted that:

"…the discrepancy in the history . . . may have occurred through the ignorance or carelessness of the historian or transcriber. It is true, that the history reads as though the Prophet himself was writing: but . . . many events recorded were written by his scribes who undoubtedly trusted too much to their memories, and the items probably were not sufficiently scanned by Bro. Joseph before they got into print." (Orson Pratt letter to John Christensen, March 11, 1876)

The angel was identified as Moroni long before the 1839 History was written. In 1835, Oliver Cowdery identified the angel:

". . . and I believe that the angel Moroni, whose words I have been rehearsing, who communicated the knowledge of the records of the Nephites, in this age . . ." (Oliver Cowdery, Letter 6, Messenger and Advocate 1:112, April, 1835)

The 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants also identifies the angel:

"Behold this is wisdom in me: wherefore marvel not for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon . . ." (Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, Section 50:2 (Section 27:5 in current edition))

Prior to the writing of the 1839 History, Joseph Smith himself identified the angel in print:

"How, and where did you obtain the Book of Mormon?

Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the Book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, being dead, and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me and told me where they were and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them and the Urim and Thummim with them, by the means of which I translated the plates and thus came the Book of Mormon." (Elders Journal, 1, pp. 42-3, July 1838).

The error in the 1839 History becomes a non-issue-one of the many insignificant errors that crop up in any human record-keeping effort." (Malin Jacobs, SHIELDS, Question 18)