Moroni's Visit to Joseph Smith

How did Moroni visit Joseph Smith so many times without waking up his whole household?

It's unclear how "physical" or "visionary" Moroni's[BIO] visitations to Joseph Smith[BIO] were. Joseph's home was small, and he likely slept in a small bed with his siblings.[1] It's possible someone could have woken up, but there is no record of anyone waking during these visitations.

Does this mean that this visitation was some kind of spiritual event rather than physical?

Possibly. Some sources describe the event as a “dream.”[2] These sources, however, generally do not appear very reliable.[3] But if true, they would suggest some kind of spiritual or non-physical component to the event.

Could these “visits” have just been a very vivid, recurring dream that Joseph had?

Possibly, but probably not. The sources that describe Moroni's visitation as a dream are primarily from unsourced, secondhand, or thirdhand accounts,[4] so while it's not an unreasonable theory, it isn't well supported.

How long were the visits?  

There were multiple visits each night, and according to Joseph’s 1838 history, the visits lasted "the whole of that night."[5]

Assuming Joseph and his family went to bed shortly after dark, then the visits lasted, at most, about nine hours.[6] But there are no records about these details, and it's just guesswork.

Did the angel say anything besides what is in the Joseph Smith—History in the Pearl of Great Price?

Probably. Oliver Cowdery[BIO] reported in the mid-1830s that the angel recited many biblical passages and prophecies besides those mentioned in the Pearl of Great Price account.[7]

Why don’t the typical paintings show Joseph’s siblings in the room when Moroni appeared to Joseph?

Probably because it's more dramatic or interesting to just depict Moroni and Joseph alone. Or it could be that artists were unaware that Joseph slept in the same bed with his siblings. There is some more recent artwork (twenty-first century) included in Church publications that depicts Joseph and his siblings in the same bed.[8]

When did Joseph Smith first identify the angel as Moroni?

The earliest record of Joseph referring to the angel as "Moroni" is from 1835, while he had the vision in 1823.[9]

Why did Joseph wait so long to identify the angel?

It's unclear. Joseph never explained why he waited so long to name the angel. It may have been that he waited until he had a more pressing need to correct the public record.[10]

Did Joseph ever describe the visitation of the angel before the 1830s?

Yes. The earliest records that mention Joseph being visited by an angel are from 1829.[11] Joseph's uncle, Jesse Smith,[BIO] wrote a letter with concerns about an angel visiting Joseph and revealing a "gold book."[12] The first official account of the visit was composed in 1830.[13]

Is it true that Joseph originally identified the angel as Nephi,[BIO] not as Moroni?

No. Joseph and other Latter-day Saints were identifying the angel as Moroni in the mid-1830s[14] and continued to identify him this way into the mid-nineteenth century.[15]

The reason this comes up is that in an early draft of Joseph's 1838-39 history, a scribe named James Mulholland[BIO] mistakenly wrote Nephi in place of Moroni.[16] This mistake was reprinted for a number of years in various Church publications.[17] Eventually, this mistake was recognized and corrected.[18]

Did Joseph Smith originally imagine Moroni was a magical treasure guardian?

No, probably not. Critics have portrayed the account of Moroni and the gold plates as a type of folk magic superstition relating to buried treasure,[19] but Joseph consistently described Moroni as a divine messenger sent from heaven protecting an ancient record.[20]

Didn’t Joseph originally claim the angel was a toad or salamander who transformed into an angel?

No, probably not, but there are two accounts that claim the messenger Joseph saw was a toad that transformed into human form.[21] There is also an account that said the messenger was a salamander, but the document of the account was later proven to be a forgery.[22]

What did Joseph's family think about his story of having seen an angel?

Members of Joseph's direct family believed him;[23] however, his uncle and grandfather did not.[24]

Why do some accounts conflate the First Vision with Moroni's visitation?

Probably because of the normal reasons people mix up events—they misremember or confuse two similar events. Neither Joseph[25] nor his close associates[26] ever mixed up the two, but his mother and younger brother seemed to when recalling them decades later.[27]

Some People Say . . .

"Moroni's visit is in the Pearl of Great Price, and everything you need to know about it is in there."

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • It's unclear if Moroni's visit was physical or some type of non-physical vision.

  • Historical records refer to an angelic visit to Joseph Smith as early as 1829, but Joseph did not identify the angel as Moroni until 1835.

  • Some historical records used the name Nephi instead of Moroni because of a mistake in 1838 by one of Joseph's scribes.

  • There are some unsourced accounts by critics that claimed Joseph simply dreamt the vision or was visited by a toad or a bloody ghost.

  • Joseph Smith was consistent in his description of the visitations of Moroni.

Our Take

Moroni’s visit is a big part of the Joseph Smith story and about how the Book of Mormon came forth and how he was called as a prophet. So feeling like this story is inconsistent or doesn't make sense can be concerning.

Why didn't Joseph record this important event when it happened? Why are there weird stories about it, sometimes years later? Was it a physical event or some kind of dream?

The story is complicated somewhat by critics of Joseph that told strange stories which replaced the angel with toads and ghosts. And it also doesn't help that Joseph did not keep a journal until years later.

Examining the complete historical record gives us a reasonably clear indication of what happened. Joseph had some kind of visit with an angel and told his close friends and family. Contemporary records corroborate this. As to whether it was physical or visionary, it's unclear.

Understanding how the Book of Mormon came to be is an important part of evaluating it. Knowing more about the historical records of the account can help us appreciate the difficulty of piecing together historical events, but also give us confidence that the primary narrative aligns with the historical record.

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Footnotes