It recently came to my attention that most people assume Words of Mormon were either on the large plates or written as a link between the two books. I don’t know why I didn’t assume that, but I have always assumed that they were on the small plates. It was this assumption that led to all my questions about D&C 10 and Words of Mormon. Below is a beginning sketch of an argument for the Words of Mormon being on the small plates, and that Mormon actually wrote more of the Words of Mormon that we don’t have.
There are two main options for the Words of Mormon.
1. Written as part of the abridgment of Mormon
2. Written as the end of the small plates
Reading 1: part of the abridgment.
Most of the commentaries don’t even ask the question, but rather focus on the evil plot to catch Joseph and how inspired Mormon was. There are plenty that assume Words of Mormon was written to link up or introduce Mosiah 1 (though unfortunately they see it as Joseph’s doing, not God’s). There certainly is reason to wonder why Words of Mormon flows so seamlessly into Mosiah 1. (I will provide my own answer later.)
The other piece of evidence for this case (which I will also argue with) is that Mormon says he will take “remainder of record” from plates of Nephi. Upon a quick read it we see “plates of Nephi,” which we know is what he was abridging, and assume he is simply introducing the next part of his abridgment.
Reading 2: Words of Mormon were on the small plates.
Mormon begins by telling the story of finding the small plates. From here on, he refers to the small plates as “these plates.” The natural reading is that he is writing on the small plates and hence calling them “these plates.” Nephi talks about the small plates as “these plates” as well (1 Ne 19). He also says he is finishing his record upon them (v.5).
There is some confusion on the printer’s manuscript at the point where Mosiah and Words of Mormon meet up. When it was being divided up for chapters, at first there is a “III” instead of a “I” for Mosiah 1. Since D&C 10:41 refers to a part of the translation that he had retained, this could suggest that there were several chapters of Mosiah already translated and our Mosiah 1 begins what was retained.
Readings 3 and 4: half and half
Based only on the wording of Words of Mormon, it would be possible to see Words of Mormon as split between a finishing up of the small plates and a prefacing of Mosiah.
Reading 3: Verse 8 includes his hopes & sounds like a farewell. Verse 9 picks up with “And now I, Mormon, proceed to finish out my record”
Reading 4: Verse 11 mentions Mormon’s prayer about the small plates and talks of the great and last day. In 12, he finally begins to give us Benjamin in some detail.
The idea that Words of Mormon is both an addition to the small plates and part of the abridgment is convenient, but doesn’t make sense of all the details. If he jumps into the abridgment, where is the room on the small plates for such a lengthy abridgment when Amaleki says they were full? (Omni 1:30)
D&C 10:41 presents a question for all these readings, and will provide the clue to picking one.
“Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained;” (D&C 10:41)
The words “till you come” imply there was more that Joseph could have translated. This first challenges our various understandings of the small plates. To summarize, the options are:
Based on reading 1, the small plates go through Amaleki
Based on reading 2, the small plates go through the end of the Words of Mormon
Based on reading 3, the small plates go through Words of Mormon verse 8
Based on reading 4, the small plates go through Words of Mormon verse 11
However, D&C 10:41 suggests that all 4 understandings are wrong; the small plates contained more than we currently have!
Small Plates revisited
Taking D&C 10:41 into account, readings 3 or 4 either need to be thrown out or given lots of creative help. For example, we could assume that what we have of the Words of Mormon really ended at verse 8 or 11, and the printer’s manuscript is wrong. (And we do not have the original manuscript for this part of the Book of Mormon.) This is quite the speculative leap. Without any evidence to support this creative band-aid, I will throw out readings 3 and 4.
Revisiting reading 1, where the Words of Mormon are on the abridgment and the small plates end with Amaleki, D&C 10:41 would suggest that the plates went on longer, with more prophets’ writings. Joseph stops here because Amaleki mentions Benjamin.
However, Mormon himself stops up this interpretation in Words of Mormon verse 3: “and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.” When Mormon finds the plates, they stop with Benjamin.
That leaves us with reading 2, with Words of Mormon on the small plates themselves. D&C 10:41 then gives us to believe that Words of Mormon went on to discuss further history. This is the hypothesis I would like to explore and support.
The hypothesis: Words of Mormon served as a spiritual mini-abridgment of the large plates
Mormon abridges the large plates until Amaleki (WofM 1:3). He had read of the small plates in the large plates, and even mentioned them in his abridgment (D&C 10:39). However, it is only when he reads that King Benjamin received the small plates that he searches and finds the small plates among the records. (He knew he had received the other records King Benjamin had – see Words of Mormon 1:11.)
He reads them and they are pleasing to him “because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ” (1:4). He decides that since he knows that these prophecies have been fulfilled, he will add his own record to the small plates. He says, “yea, and I also know that as many things as have been prophesied concerning us down to this day have been fulfilled, and as many as go beyond this day must surely come to pass— Wherefore, I chose these things, to finish my record upon them” (1:4-5).
As he begins his record, he tells us the “remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi.” The remainder, in this case, is the rest of what he will add to the small plates. He gives a spiritual account from Benjamin right down to his day. Likely he focuses on the prophecies of Christ and their fulfillment throughout this time period.
Hence, now we have an explanation of why Words of Mormon flows so well into Mosiah 1. Joseph already had some of Mosiah, so as soon as Mormon tells the first part of Benjamin’s story he stops.
This hypothesis seems to be the only way to reconcile Words of Mormon with D&C 10:41