Evidence #406 | May 30, 2023

Timing of the Discovery and Receipt of the Plates

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Several dates pertaining to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon correlate with ancient Jewish festivals.

The Timing of the Book of Mormon’s Discovery and Retrieval

The existence of the Book of Mormon was revealed in this dispensation on September 21, 1823. That night the angel Moroni appeared to a young Joseph Smith and told him that “God had a work for [him] to do” (Joseph Smith—History 1:33). That work would involve translating “a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent”—what we know today as the Book of Mormon (v. 34). 

The next day, on September 22, Joseph went to the hill and “made an attempt to take [the plates] out” but was forbidden by Moroni, who reminded him that “the time for bringing them forth had not yet arrived.” Joseph would have to wait “until four years from that time” but was to “come to that place precisely in one year from that time” and to return each year “until the time should come for obtaining the plates” (Joseph Smith—History 1:53). 

Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

The Ancient Harvest Festival Season

Moroni’s annual visits occurred generally around the time of the Israelite harvest festival season, which included several different holidays.1 The initial visit on September 21–22 in 1823 coincided with that year’s celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot). In 1824, the evening of September 22 initiated the Jewish New Year, known as the Feast of Trumpets (or Rosh Hashanah). In 1825, September 22 was precisely the Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippur). And in 1827, when Moroni finally delivered the plates to Joseph (Joseph Smith—History 1:59), his timing on September 22 precisely coincided with the Jewish New Year’s Day (Rosh Hashanah).2

This important festival season, celebrated in the fall of each year, goes back to the days of ancient Israel (Leviticus 23), and scholars have found extensive evidence of its observance in the Book of Mormon.3 Over time, many key themes were associated with the New Year and with the harvest festival in general. Lenet Hadley Read explains: 

The Feast of Trumpets signifies the time of Israel’s final harvest; the Day of Remembrance of God’s covenants with Israel; the announcement of revelation or truth; and preparation for God’s holiest times, including the Messianic Age.4

Other themes include solemn admonitions and warnings, covenant making, remembrance (including remembering the Law of Moses), sacrifice, prophecy, a new beginning, and God’s involvement in history.5

Blowing the shofar for the Feast of Trumpets. Image via jerusalemchannel.tv.

The Case for a Divinely Orchestrated Revelation

Though we can’t be certain that all of these themes were part of the New Year celebrations in Old Testament times, they were all part of long-standing Jewish customs and traditions by the time the Book of Mormon came forth.6 When the book’s message and purpose, along with Moroni’s counsel to Joseph during his September visits, are compared with these holy festival themes, one can see a number of interesting connections. 

For example, Moroni’s visits to young Joseph Smith included solemn words of admonition and warning to all the world (Joseph Smith—History 1:42, 46). The coming forth of the Book of Mormon can also be seen as initiating the final harvest of souls,7 renewing God’s covenant with Israel,8 offering a new revelation of truth,9 and as being clearly tied to the second coming of Jesus Christ, the true Messiah promised in the Old Testament.10

Furthermore, as a revelation from God, Don Bradley has compared the Book of Mormon and its associated artifacts with the sacred relics contained in the Israelite Ark of the Covenant, including the Ten Commandments.11 Concerning the timing of the Book of Mormon’s retrieval on September 22, 1827, Bradley explains,

Joseph … retrieved the plates from their ark [the stone box in which they were buried] the day Jews celebrated God inscribing the Law on stone tablets with His finger on Mt. Sinai, a fitting occasion for God to begin bringing forth a lost book inscribed on golden tablets by way of stones He had touched with His finger on Mt. Shelem (Ether 3).12

Conclusion

If Joseph Smith, on a certain day, had just randomly stumbled upon an ancient record, these identified parallels regarding the timing of its discovery might be somewhat more suspect. But it didn’t happen that way. Instead, God sent an angel from heaven to visit Joseph Smith on a particular evening and morning in late September 1823. And then the angel counseled Joseph to meet with him annually on that same day (September 22) for four more years before the plates were finally given into his custody. Thus, it isn’t just the dates that count, but also their repetition and the fact that the activities on these days were initiated and facilitated by a divine being. 

Considering the significance that the Book of Mormon has and will continue to play in the restoration and gathering of Israel, it isn’t hard to imagine that God might situate its discovery and retrieval (as well as Joseph’s divine tutoring sessions with Moroni) on a set of particularly momentous dates.13 Throughout scripture, we see that God embeds theological symbolism and typological significance in many of his most awe-inspiring miracles, including those with calendrical relevance.14

It should also be remembered that we aren’t just dealing with a single parallel. Rather, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon involves a specific set of dates (September 21–22) and a specific range of years (1823–1827) which correspond more often than not with traditional Jewish festivals—culminating auspiciously with the plates’ retrieval taking place in precise conjunction with the Feast of Trumpets.15 For a book written, in part, to the Jews and which is aimed to bring about the restoration of their covenant status, this type of chronological correspondence is inviting evidence of a divinely orchestrated miracle.16

Don Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Missing Stories (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2019), 12–13.

Lenet Hadley Read, “Joseph Smith’s Receipt of the Plates and the Israelite Feast of Trumpets,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2, no. 2 (1993): 110–120.

Joseph Smith—History 1:27–29Joseph Smith—History 1:53–54Joseph Smith—History 1: 59

Joseph Smith—History 1:27–29

Joseph Smith—History 1:53–54

Joseph Smith—History 1: 59

Footnotes
  • 1 It was also the fall equinox, which some have argued is evidence of “magical” influence on Joseph Smith. See D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1998), 141–144; Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2004), 43. Joseph Smith was involved in treasure seeking and other so-called “magical” practices, and perhaps saw significance in this timing. According to Mark Ashurst-McGee, “Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian,” FARMS Review 18, no. 1 (2006): 34–100, Joseph Smith’s understanding of Moroni and his mission likely included elements of the “treasure guardian lore,” while still recognizing that Moroni was a divine messenger from the Lord. Yet Ashurst-McGee felt the connection to treasure seeking and the timing of Moroni’s visits has been overstated (see pp. 92–94). On Joseph Smith and treasure digging activities, see Richard Lyman Bushman, “Joseph Smith and Money Digging,” in A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History, ed. Laure Harris Hales (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2016), 1–5; Brant A. Gardner, The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2011), 3–134.
  • 2 These dates were checked online at https://www.hebcal.com/holidays/1823-1824?i=on. Note that in 1826, Rosh Hashanah was October 2, so none of the Jewish holidays landed on September 22. Thus, the argument being presented here isn’t that September 21–22 held the same degree of significance for each year between 1823–1827. Rather, these correspondences just go to show that—in addition to the more auspicious significance of Joseph Smith retrieving the plates on the Jewish New Year (September 22, 1827)—the series of angelic visitations, when looked at as a whole, has a remarkable degree of congruence with ancient Jewish festivals.
  • 3 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Autumn Festival Context (Jacob’s Sermon),” Evidence# 0065, September 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org; John S. Thompson, “Isaiah 50–51, the Israelite Autumn Festivals, and the Covenant Speech of Jacob in 2 Nephi 6–10,” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 123–150; Terrence L. Szink and John W. Welch, “King Benjamin’s Speech in the Context of Ancient Israelite Festivals,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom”, ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 160–174.
  • 4 Lenet Hadley Read, “Joseph Smith’s Receipt of the Plates and the Israelite Feast of Trumpets,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2, no. 2 (1993): 111.
  • 5 For these and other associations, see Read, “Joseph Smith’s Receipt of the Plates and the Israelite Feast of Trumpets,” 110–120; Szink and Welch, “King Benjamin’s Speech in the Context of Ancient Israelite Festivals,” 160–174; John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), chart 88.
  • 6 It could be concluded that, from a divine perspective, the precise dates upon which these festivals were initiated and celebrated in early Israelite history is less important than their traditional observance in modern times. This is because God, according to his own revelations, often chooses to communicate to his children in a language and manner that they can understand and that is meaningful to them. In other words, God tends to meet us on our level, rather than correcting all of our misunderstandings, erroneous assumptions, and false or mistaken traditions all at once. See Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does the Lord Speak to Men “According to Their Language”? (2 Nephi 31:3),” KnoWhy 258 (January 6, 2017).
  • 7 In the Book of Mormon, the allegory of the olive tree ends with the Lord instructing his servant to call laborers together for the “last time” to prune and nourish the vineyard, in preparation for the final harvest (Jacob 5:61–77). See also 3 Nephi 21:1–2, in which Jesus establishes that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon will be a sign of the commencement of the gathering of Israel in the last days. As taught by Ezra Taft Benson, the Book of Mormon is “the instrument which God has designed” for gathering this final harvest of souls. Ezra Taft Benson, “A New Witness for Christ,” Ensign, November 1984, 7, online at churchofjesuschrist.org. Read concluded, “it is significant that the golden plates were received on 22 September 1827, coinciding with the beginning of Israel’s fall garnering and symbolizing the onset of its final harvest of souls.” Lenet Hadley Read, “The Golden Plates and the Feast of Trumpets,” Ensign, January 2000, online at churchofjesuschrist.org.
  • 8 The Book of Mormon was brought forth “to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever” (Title Page). Read aptly summarized, “On 22 September 1827, Israel’s trumpets sounded throughout the world; it was the day the Prophet Joseph Smith received the golden plates, which would help fulfill God’s promise to remember Israel in the latter days.” Read, “The Golden Plates and the Feast of Trumpets,” online at churchofjesuschrist.org.
  • 9 As Read rightly pointed out, “much of the fullness of the Lord’s truth began with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.” Since that time, much new revelation has come forth. Significantly, “one of the most common symbols of the restored gospel is that of the angel Moroni”—the very messenger who delivered the plates—“portrayed in the act of blowing the trumpet.” Truth he proclaimed through “the golden plates is still causing a gathering, is still offering its warnings, and is still acting as harbinger of great things to come.” Read, “Joseph Smith’s Receipt of the Plates,” 117.
  • 10 In his initial visit, Moroni warned that many of the prophecies of judgment in the final days are near at hand (Joseph Smith—History 1:27–42, 45). The introduction to Latter-day Saint editions of the Book of Mormon designates the Nephite record as a sign “that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the Second Coming of the Messiah.”
  • 11 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: The Nephite Ark,” Evidence# 0113, November 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 12 Don Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Missing Stories (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2019), 12. It may also be insignificant that soon after obtaining the plates Joseph hid them in a hollowed out tree for “about ten days.” Willard Chase, “Willard Chase Statement, Circa 11 December 1833,” 246; as cited in Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages, 12. Bradley writes,
  • The timing once again evinces a larger design. The days from the Feast of Trumpets to the Day of Atonement, known as “the Days of Awe” or “Days of Repentance,” are a period of reconciliation and preparation for the Day of Atonement—a preparation period of ten days. At the end of this period, on the Day of Atonement, the biblical high priest clad himself in white linen and the breastplate and Urim and Thummim, donned a crown with an engraved gold plate to “bear the iniquity of the holy things” (Exodus 28:36–37), and performed the symbolic sacrifices of atonement.
  • Bradley then goes on to connect the retrieval and translation of the Book of Mormon—a book which invites all people to come unto Christ and partake of his Atonement—with the high priestly duties associated with this festival, which was inaugurated several millennia earlier (pp. 12–13).
  • 13 It should be remembered that many of these holy days were prescribed in the Law of Moses itself, and therefore should be viewed, generally speaking, as divinely instituted.
  • 14 The Book of Mormon itself repeatedly associates the Law of Moses (which would include its prescribed festivals) and its narrative events as being typological in nature. See, for example, Mosiah 3:13–14; 13:31; Alma 13:6; 25:15; 33:19; 37:45. The circumstances of the Book of Mormon’s translation also seems to convey symbolic spiritual meaning. See Book of Mormon Central, “Why Were the Plates Present During the Translation of the Book of Mormon? (Mosiah 1:6),” KnoWhy 366 (September 21, 2017).
  • 15 Initially, it doesn't appear that the statutes of Moroni that sit atop Latter-day Saint temples were intentionally connected to any ancient Jewish festivals. See Valerie Walton, “Why do temples have the angel Moroni on top? Here’s a look at the history of the iconic statues,” Church News, July 30, 2020, online at thechurchnews.com; Wendy Kenny, “Looking Up to Moroni,” The New Era, November 2009, online at churchofjesuschrist.org. Nevertheless, in light of the festival connections explored in this article (especially the Feast of Trumpets), it is quite fitting that these statues depict Moroni as blowing a trumpet. This imagery is apparently in connection with an interpretation of Moroni as being the angel mentioned Revelation 14:6–7, with the trumpet symbolizing his commission to preach the gospel throughout the world with a loud voice. The association with trumpets and preaching the gospel is especially prominent in the Doctrine and Covenants and can also be found in Alma 29:1. See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Trumpet Imagery and the Year of Jubilee,” Evidence# 0171, May 22, 2021, online at evidencecentral.org.  
  • 16 See Daniel H. Ludlow, “The Message to the Jews with Special Emphasis on 2 Nephi 25,” in Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 241–57. See also the Title Page of the Book of Mormon, which explicitly designates it as being written to both “Jew and Gentile.”
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Festivals and Holidays
Timing of the Discovery
Book of Mormon

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