On September 21, 1823, approximately three years after his First Vision, seventeen-year-old Joseph Smith reported that he experienced three visits in one night from the angel Moroni. Moroni's visitation provided him with information about the existence and location of the Book of Mormon.
According to Joseph Smith, while he was praying late at night, a very bright light appeared in his room and a heavenly personage wearing a loose white robe stood before him in midair. The exalted being announced that he was Moroni, a special messenger sent from God. Moroni declared to the young Smith that God had an unprecedented salvation ministry for him to perform worldwide.
Immediately, Moroni unveiled the millennial-long secret of a sacred book-today called the Book of Mormon-hidden inside a stone box that was buried on Hill Cumorah only a few miles away. This book was written on thin gold plates six inches wide and bound with three large rings. Moroni also told Smith that inside the stone box with the gold book was the Urim and Thummim, obscure objects mentioned in the Old Testament. The Urim and Thummim, composed of two special seer stones attached on silver bows that fastened to a breastplate, were to be used to translate the contents of the gold book from its original language of "Reformed Egyptian" to King James English. Joseph Smith describes the Urim and Thummim this way:
With the records was found a curious instrument, which the ancients called "Urim and Thummim," which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breast plate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.
It is revealing that no such language as Reformed Egyptian is known or confirmed by any Egyptologist.
Joseph Smith Sees the Book of Mormon
The next day-September 22, 1823-the angel Moroni once again appeared to Joseph Smith. Moroni told Smith to go to Hill Cumorah, where the gold book-the Book of Mormon- was buried. When he arrived, he rapidly found the buried stone box and pried it open, seeing the gold book and the seer stones. When Smith attempted to remove them from the stone box, however, he experienced a severe physical shock. Moroni quickly rebuked him and told him that he required another four years of spiritual preparation before he would be ready to take possession of them at the age of twenty-one.
Who Was Moroni?
It is within the story of the Book of Mormon that Moroni's personal identification is discovered. The Book of Mormon tells the narration of two peoples-the Nephites and the Lamanites- who lived on the American continent between approximately 600 BC and AD 400. The earliest family members of the Nephites and the Lamanites had emigrated from Israel to America.
Moroni was the eldest son of Mormon, a Nephite prophet and military commander-in-chief, after whom the Book of Mormon is named. Moroni served under Mormon in the final great battle between the initially good Nephites and the bad Lamanites in AD 421.
Prior to this final war, Mormon gave the gold book to Moroni and commanded him to preserve it for future generations. During this war, the Lamanites killed Mormon and all the other Nephites, while Moroni escaped and went into hiding. Before Moroni died, he added final contents to the Book of Mormon and buried it on Hill Cumorah, where it remained untouched for fourteen hundred years.
Moroni met Joseph Smith on Hill Cumorah each year on September 22 from 1823 to 1827. During these four years, Joseph Smith received intense tutoring and preparation from Moroni in order that he would be found worthy to receive the gold book. Joseph Smith wrote about his experience:
Accordingly, as I had been commanded, I went at the end of each year, and at each time I found the same messenger there, and received instruction and intelligence from him at each of our interviews, respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner His kingdom was to be conducted in the last days.
Today, an LDS monument stands on Hill Cumorah in New York. A ten-foot bronze figure of Moroni is stationed on top of a twenty-five-foot shaft of white granite. The figure is pointing toward heaven with his right hand and holding a replica of the gold Book of Mormon tablets in his left hand. The image of the angel Moroni blowing a trumpet also stands atop many LDS temples, which Mormons see as a fulfillment of Revelation 14:6:
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.
More Treasure-Hunting in Pennsylvania
Even during Joseph Smith's intense tutoring times with Moroni, he and his father gained a strong local reputation for using divination to hunt for treasure. In October 1825, approximately two years into his Moroni preparation years, Joseph Jr. was hired by Josiah Stowell to help him search for hidden treasure in an old Spanish silver mine located near Harmony Township, Pennsylvania. While in Pennsylvania, these treasure hunters boarded with the Isaac Hale family. After approximately one month of searching for treasure, they had no success and abandoned the exploration.
Although LDS authorities have often denied Joseph Smith's treasure-hunting, he was found guilty of disorderly conduct and treasure-hunting through the use of divination on March 20, 1826, in Bainbridge, New York.
Joseph Smith Marries Emma Hale
While Joseph Smith was boarding at Isaac Hale's Pennsylvania home, he fell in love with Isaac's daughter Emma. When Isaac Hale strongly disapproved of his daughter's marrying Smith, he and Emma ran off and eloped. They were married on January 18, 1827.
Immediately after their marriage, Joseph and Emma moved to the Smiths' family home in Manchester, New York, where they farmed with Joseph Sr. throughout the summer of 1827. Late one night in the fall of 1827, Moroni again appeared to Joseph Smith, declaring that he was now ready before God to receive the gold book. On the early morning of September 22, Moroni led the twenty-one-year-old Smith to Hill Cumorah and gave him the gold tablets and Urim and Thummim. After hiding the gold tablets in a hollowed-out birch log, Joseph Smith would find that from then on, his life would be preoccupied with protecting and translating them.
Joseph Smith in Pennsylvania (1827-1830)
Rather abruptly, Joseph Smith decided to permanently move to Pennsylvania, where he would end up living for over two and a half years, from December 1827 to August 1830. Joseph Smith was apparently motivated to rush to Pennsylvania because he thought many people were trying to steal the gold book from him, and so he decided to take Emma and move back to her father's home in Pennsylvania. Hiding the gold book in a barrel of beans in the back of his wagon, Joseph and Emma Smith rode out of town toward Harmony on a wintry day in December 1827.