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.
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: