|Mormons on South Park – Part 5: The Lost 116 Pages|
|South Park retells the crucial story of Joseph Smith and Martin Harris losing the first Book of Mormon manuscript. In the South Park version, Martin Harris takes the first 116 pages of the manuscript to his wife and explains how they plan to publish it as a book.
But Lucy Harris is skeptical. She suspects that Smith is “just making stuff up and pretending he’s translating off gold plates.” To prove her point, Lucy takes the 116 pages from Harris and tells him that if Smith really is translating from gold plates, then he should have “no problem” re-translating the plates again and coming up with a matching manuscript.
Martin Harris agrees to the test, and reassures his wife that Smith will have no problem reproducing the 116 pages.
When Harris returns to Smith and tells him the manuscript is lost, Joseph Smith receives a revelation that “the Lord is very angry at me for letting you take those pages.” The Lord is so mad, Smith explains, that the Lord will never let him translate from the same part of the golden plates. Instead, the golden plates happen to have the same story written on different plates by someone else. “So it will be the same basic story,” Smith explains, “but written a little differently.” Martin Harris concludes that “God got angry with you then you must be telling the truth.” It’s funny, but it does leave out some historical elements.
To start with, Martin Harris took the 116-page manuscript to Manchester New York and did not contact Joseph Smith who was living in Harmony Pensylvania. According to Church History, this was a critical time for Joseph Smith. His first wife, Emma, had just given birth to a stillborn baby boy that was horribly deformed. Smith was nursing Emma back to health himself, as she was still bed-ridden. Since Smith hadn’t heard from Martin Harris in two weeks, Smith was getting anxious.
Smith decided to leave Emma in Harmony and travel to Manchester, NY in order to see Martin Harris and find out what had happened. Smith started out traveling by stagecoach, but walked the last twenty miles alone in the middle of the night!
According to Smith’s mother, Lucy Smith, when Joseph reached Martin’s house, Martin broke down and told Smith the 116 pages were lost. Martin cried, “Oh I have lost my soul!” and Joseph Smith replied, “Oh my God! All is lost! Must I return to my wife with such a tale as this I dare not do it lest I should kill her at once.” (Lucy Smith History, 365-365)
Soon thereafter, Smith received his first revelation written down – now known as Section 3 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Until that point, Smith had only claimed to be the translator of an ancient record. But at that moment he took the step from translator to prophet – a man who speaks the words of God. From that point on, Smith started writing revelations, not just translations. As we see in D&C Section 3, the 116 pages were truly lost and God would not tell Smith where they were.
In another revelation regarding what to do next, Smith wrote that the Lord said “if you should bring forth the same words they will say that you have lied and that you have pretended to translate, but that you have contradicted yourself. And, behold, they will publish this, and Satan will harden the hearts of the people to stir them up to anger against you, that they will not believe my words.” (D&C 10:31-33)
So Smith was commanded not to go back and re-translate the Book of Lehi from the gold plates, but to skip to the Plates of Nephi, which happened to be an account of the same story, but from a different person’s perspective. Thus, the Book of Mormon story could be told but it would not match the same version as the first 116-page manuscript, because it would be a translation from different plates. (See History of the Church 1:56).
For the interests of time, South Park shows Joseph Smith immediately going back to translating the Book of Mormon and with Martin Harris again acting as scribe. Nothing could be further from the truth! After the lost manuscript fiasco, Joseph Smith did not go back and start work on the Book of Mormon again for seven months. When he finally did go back to work on the Book of Mormon, Martin Harris did not act as scribe.
So as you can see, most of the elements of the South Park depiction of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are as true as they are bizzare..