“As the individual who was with Joseph from the beginning to the end of the translation process and who provided him with immeasurable assistance in various ways, Emma Smith was arguably more intimately involved in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon than any individual besides Joseph,” wrote scholars Amy Easton-Flake and Rachel Cope in their paper, A Multiplicity of Witnesses: Women and the Translation Process.
However, few Latter-day Saints understand the depth of Emma’s role in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Here’s a quick look at what she did and how it can inspire us today.
The “Right Person”
When Joseph Smith visited the Hill Cumorah, he was instructed to bring the “right person” with him the following year in order to receive the plates. The Lord told Joseph this person was his oldest brother, Alvin. Tragically, Alvin died just two months after this direction was given. Joseph was then instructed to bring Emma, his wife of less than a year.
Emma would go with Joseph on September 22, 1827, to finally retrieve the plates, waiting in the wagon at the bottom of the hill. In her patriarchal blessing, the Lord reminded Emma of the sacred moment: “Thou shalt ever remember the great condescension of thy God in permitting thee to accompany my son when the angel delivered the record of the Nephites to his care.”
The Voice of Warning
Due to intense persecution, Joseph was forced to keep the plates hidden until the work of translation could begin. Within two days of retrieving the plates, a group of men had conjured up a plan to find and steal them. Emma, who learned of the plot from her father-in-law, wasted no time and mounted her horse, racing off to warn Joseph who had gone to work in a nearby town. They immediately returned and Joseph removed the plates from their hiding place. After multiple attacks on their persons and property, Joseph and Emma took the plates to her home in Harmony, where translation would officially begin.
The First Scribe
Emma acted as Joseph’s first scribe as he translated the Book of Mormon. While we’ll never know just how much she recorded, historical accounts indicate her work was extensive. Emma “frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him . . . dictating hours after hour with nothing between us.” Her work as a scribe stands as an important female witness to the Restoration. Nearly 50 years later, Emma told her son:
My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity. I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscript unless he were inspired. . . . Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. . . . And though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, “a marvel and a wonder,” as much so as to any body else.
The Physical Plates
Not only did Emma receive a witness of her husband’s divine work, but she also stood as a witness to the physical truth of the plates. Though she never handled or saw the plates directly, she would lift and move the covered plates when cleaning and constantly saw them under her bed and on her tables. She would trace their outline and shape with her hands and even reported that the plates “seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metalic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.”
Emma, as well as many other women, provide us with powerful witnesses of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Learning their stories can help us develop faith and truth in the Lord, as well as unwavering loyalty and strength. You can learn more about Emma’s role in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon here.