Rosh Hashanah. Yom Kippur. Sukkot.

These don’t stand out to Latter-day Saints as significant dates in the early history of the Restoration like April 6, 1830, or “early in the spring of 1820.”

They should.

[dfads params='groups=2870&limit=1&orderby=random']

As we will see, the earliest events in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, beginning with Joseph Smith acquiring the golden plates, occurred, not at random and sundry times, but on a sacred timetable from the Israelite calendar that demonstrates a larger design and enables us to better comprehend the purposes for which the Book of Mormon was brought forth.

A New “Ark of the Covenant” and Its Tablets

On the night of September 21−22, 1823, seventeen-year-old Joseph Smith experienced three visitations from the angel Moroni, who told of a long-lost book of scripture written on golden plates and buried atop the nearby hill Cumorah. The angel told him he would find the golden plates deposited with other sacred relics in a stone box, a box that Martin Harris described as an “ark,” paralleling it with the biblical “Ark of the Covenant,” which housed the stone tablets of the Law on which God wrote by His own finger on Mt. Sinai.[1] Within the stone vault or “ark” Joseph would find a collection of “sacred things” (Alma 37:47), relics similar to the “holy things” kept by the Levitical priests in the biblical tabernacle and temple.

Among the sacred treasures in Cumorah’s “ark” were the “interpreters” and breastplate. The interpreters closely paralleled two of ancient Israel’s temple artifacts: the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments and the biblical Urim and Thummim. The interpreters, as the Book of Mormon would describe, were given to the brother of Jared, a founder of the Jaredites, whose exodus from the tower of Babel had led them to their promised land in the New World. Like the inscribed tablets in the Ark of the Covenant, the Jaredite interpreters were stones that had been given by the hand of God on a mountaintop and hallowed by the touch of His finger.[2] The interpreters also were equivalent in structure and function to the biblical Urim and Thummim, which similarly consisted of a pair of stones attached to a breastplate worn in the temple by the high priest, who consulted them to learn God’s will.

Most prominent among the artifacts in the stone box were the plates, which appeared to be made of gold, reversing the composition of the biblical sacred book and its box. Mount Sinai’s tablets were of stone and laid in an ark of gold; the hill Cumorah’s were of gold and laid in an ark of stone.

When Joseph eagerly attempted to remove these relics, he was repulsed by an unseen force and told by the reappearing angel that he could not yet obtain them but must come back one year later. Like the biblical high priest who accessed the Ark of the Covenant behind the veil of the Holy of Holies once each fall on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Joseph was to visit the sacred depository in the Hill Cumorah on the same day every year, the autumnal equinox.[3]

The Feast of Trumpets

Joseph’s fulfillment of a role like that of the biblical high priest comes into sharper focus when we consider when he completed his acquisition of the plates: September 22, 1827. This date corresponded to “the first day of the seventh month” in the Jewish calendar and is also day one of the two-day Jewish feast known as Rosh Hashanah, or “the Feast of Trumpets,” which, despite occurring in the seventh month, was observed as new year celebration, inaugurated the fall Jewish festival season, and prepared for the Day of Atonement. While Joseph had gone to the hill on this same date, the fall equinox, each year, because the Jewish calendar is based on lunar cycles, in none of the previous years had this corresponded with the Jewish “new year.” Of all the years Joseph had visited the hill on September 22, only this year, when he was actually able to obtain the plates, was the equinox also Rosh Hashanah.

The central, dramatic ritual of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar, or “trumpet.”

One of the major significances of this ritual has been stated by Rabbi Nathan Laufer: The sounding of the shofar at Rosh Hashanah reenacts nothing less than the thunderous presence of God and God’s voice at Sinai.”[4] This understanding of the Rosh Hashanah ritual is no recent interpretation. The biblical text itself describes the sounding of a shofar along with the thundering of God’s voice from Sinai (Ex. 19:17-20). Jewish tradition has identified the blowing of the shofar at Rosh Hashanah as a reenactment of that earlier blowing of the shofar and a commemoration of the giving of the Law at Sinai since at least the time of Rabbi Sa’adiah en Yosef Gaon in the 10th century AD. And some of the words (the Shofarot) spoken in the Rosh Hashanah ritual accompanying the blowing of the shofar connect it with the blowing of the shofar at Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Law:

“You, our King, revealed Yourself on Mount Sinai to teach to Your nation, Israel, Torah and mitzvot and You made Israel hear the grandeur of Your voice and Your Ten Commandments…and with the very powerful sound of a Shofar You showed them the splendor of Your Presence….”[5]

Yet the blowing of the shofar at Rosh Hashanah is not understood only to symbolize a moment of divine revelation and deliverance in the past. It is also understood to symbolize a moment of deliverance in Israel’s future. Emanuel Feldman observed: “When we sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah we have in mind two major events: one that has taken place in the past—the Torah at Sinai; and one that will take place in the future—the redemption of Israel….”[6] Rabbi Richard Sarason similarly concluded that “the most dramatic and crucial portion of the Rosh HaShanah liturgy”—when the shofar is blown and biblical histories and prophecies are recited in the Shofarot—invokes “associations with the blowing of the shofar when God, in the past, was revealed and gave the Torah at Sinai and, in the future, will again redeem the people of Israel.”[7]

The image of a divine herald blowing a trumpet to proclaim the redemption, or restoration, of Israel is a familiar one to Latter-day Saints—it occurs in the descriptions of angels in the Book of Revelation and appears atop every Restoration temple, in the form of an angel blowing such a trumpet. This angel, Moroni, is identified in latter-day scripture with the angel of Revelation who proclaims “the everlasting gospel” (D&C 27:5). When Moroni gave into Joseph Smith’s care a book to serve as God’s instrument for the restoration of Israel, he did so when observant Jews scattered across the globe sounded a trumpet both anticipating that restoration and commemorating the Lord inscribing the Law on stone tablets with His finger on Mt. Sinai. This was a fitting occasion indeed for God to begin bringing forth a lost book inscribed on golden tablets by way of stones He had touched with His finger on Mt. Shelem (Ether 3).[8]

The Days of Awe and the Day of Atonement

After retrieving the plates from their ark, Joseph hid them in the hollowed-out tree for “about ten days,” then returned, wrapped them in the “linen frock” he had been wearing, and carried them home.[9] The timing once again evinces a larger design. The days from the Feast of Trumpets to the Day of Atonement, known as “the Days of Awe” or “Days of Repentance,” are a period of reconciliation and preparation for the Day of Atonement—a preparation period of ten days.[10] At the end of this period, on Yom Kippur/the Day of Atonement, the biblical high priest clad himself in a white linen garment and the breastplate and Urim and Thummim, donned a crown with an engraved gold plate to “bear the iniquity of the holy things” (Ex. 28:36−37), and performed the symbolic sacrifices of atonement. He then entered the Holy of Holies, sprinkling the atoning sacrificial blood on the Ark of the Covenant, propitiating God for the remission of Israel’s sins, and afterward removed his linen garment and washed his body, symbolizing the leaving behind of sin (Lev. 16; Num. 29:7−11).

At this same festival season in 1827, four millennia after its institution by Moses, Joseph Smith took home the golden plates, reuniting them with the Nephite “Urim and Thummim” to translate a book that would “talk of Christ,” “rejoice in Christ,” “preach of Christ,” “prophesy of Christ,” and show the remnant of Israel “to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Ne. 25:26).

The Feast of Tabernacles

The Jewish calendar’s fall festival season does not end with the Day of Atonement. Rather, this festival-rich season continues with Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, or Feast of Tabernacles, a festival that harks back to the most trying days of the biblical Exodus. Nor do the connections between the coming forth of the golden plates end and the Jewish festival calendar end with Yom Kippur. They continued for Joseph and his allies in the work through the trying days ahead.

When the angel Moroni delivered the plates into Joseph Smith’s care on the Feast of Trumpets, he also warned Joseph to “be watchful and faithful” because “wicked men” would “lay every plan and scheme that is possible” to take the plates from him.[11] Yet the angel not only warned of enemies but also promised friends that would assist him in both keeping the plates from harm and later publishing the writings they contained. According to Martin Harris, the angel told Joseph “to go and look in the spectacles, and he would show him the man that would assist him,” and when he did so, “he saw myself, Martin Harris, standing before him.”[12] Lucy Mack Smith, speaking at the 1845 General Conference of the Church, similarly relayed how Martin first became directly involved with the project.[13] On October 6, 1827, two eventful weeks after Joseph recovered the plates, Joseph looked into the interpreters, saw Martin through them, and requested his mother to carry an urgent message to Martin about the plates. Lucy’s identification of the timing of this event is significant. Given that Joseph retrieved the plates from their protective ark on the first day of the Feast of Trumpets, which is the first day of the seventh month in the Jewish calendar, fourteen days from that retrieval was the fifteenth day of the seventh month, evoking God’s commandment to Moses to hold a new feast at this time after the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement. The new festival was the Feast of Tabernacles:

[I]n the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days. . . . Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths: That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 23:39−43)

This feast commemorated the Israelites’ forty years of wandering and trial during the Exodus. The booths, or “tabernacles,” in which the Jews were to reside during the festival symbolized the precariousness of life during the forty years’ wandering in the wilderness—and their consequent need for divine guidance and protection. Anciently during this feast all Jews were required to make their own journey—of pilgrimage to the temple at Jerusalem.

The themes of trial and journey commemorated in this feast that began the day Joseph looked into the interpreters to learn who would help him intertwined with what was then occurring in the lives of those working to bring forth the book of plates. Echoing the biblical drama of the children of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, during the period after Joseph had gotten the plates but before he had brought them home to safety, the Smiths endured a period of trial and testing that rose to the level of high drama as they fended off literal raids of their home by robbers—“wicked men” against whom the angel had warned Joseph he would have to defend the plates. The message Joseph sent to Martin that first day of the Feast of Tabernacles was that Martin was to undertake his own storied sacred journey: Joseph “had got the Plates & he wanted him to take an alphabet of the characters & carry them to the learned men to decipher.”[14]

Forty Days: Trial, Testing, and the Bringing Down of the Tablets

Joseph was poorly positioned to do any work of his own with those characters while the plates were in constant jeopardy. It was fortuitous, or providential, that his father-in-law, Isaac Hale, had cooled his anger over Joseph eloping with Emma and offered the couple a house to live in and land to farm on his property in Harmony, Pennsylvania. In late October, Emma’s brother Alva Hale arrived with his wagon to help the couple move. They made plans to leave for Harmony on Monday, November 3, apparently spreading this as their expected departure date to decoy the robbers. Instead, according to Martin, they left on Saturday, “the first of November.”[15]

Joseph’s period of trial and affliction in protecting the plates—from when he lifted the plates from their hilltop ark on September 22 to when he got them safely away from his adversaries—was thus an even forty days. This timing, like each of the previous dates on which he took a new step in the process of bringing forth the golden plates, had biblical significance. Forty days had been the length of time that Jesus endured a trial (fasting and temptation) in the wilderness in order to commune with God (Matt. 4:2; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2). Elijah fasted forty days on “Horeb, the mount of God”—Mt. Sinai under a variant name—before encountering Him in the still, small voice.

Most significantly in relation to Joseph Smith’s period of testing before he could take the sacred tablets he had gotten from an “ark” to safety, Moses had endured forty days of fasting on Sinai to acquire the sacred tablets of the Law that he would place in the biblical Ark (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 9:9, 11, 18, 25; 10:10). Recall that the day Joseph acquired his sacred tablets, the golden plates, on Cumorah was the Feast of Trumpets, on which the shofar is blown to commemorate the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. When Moses went up on Sinai to receive the Law, how long did he remain there before he brought down the Law written on stone tablets? Forty days—the precise amount of time from when Joseph received the sacred tablets from atop Cumorah to when he was able to bring those tablets out of Cumorah’s environs and with him down to Pennsylvania.

Conclusion: Israel’s Sacred Calendar and the Coming forth of the Book of Mormon

Notably, each step in Joseph’s early work of bringing for the Book of Mormon was keyed to dates in the sacred calendar of ancient Israel. At the Feast of Trumpets, he retrieved the plates from their stone ark; on the Day of Atonement, he brought the plates home; at the Feast of Tabernacles, he looked into the priestly “interpreters” and sent for Martin Harris to request he take characters from the plates to the learned; and forty days after recovering the plates on Trumpets, Joseph, like Moses carrying the sacred tablets in his charge down from Mt. Sinai, carried the sacred tablets in his charge away from the region of the Hill Cumorah and struck out for Harmony.

These festivals memorialized Israel’s deliverance at the Exodus and anticipated its deliverance and restoration in the latter days. They also symbolized the coming of the divine Messiah. On what more appropriate days could the Lord have begun bringing forth a book “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations”?

This article was adapted in part from Don Bradley’s book The Lost 116 Pages: Rediscovering the Book of Mormon’s Missing Stories (Greg Kofford Books, 2019).

Don Bradley, is an author and independent historian of American religion specializing in the foundations of the Restoration. He completed a Bachelor’s in History at Brigham Young University and a Master’s in History at Utah State University. Don has performed an internship with the Joseph Smith Papers Project working with the earliest Joseph Smith sources. He was the primary researcher for Brian C. Hales’s Joseph Smith’s Polygamy series. He has published on the translation of the Book of Mormon, plural marriage, Joseph Smith’s “grand fundamental principles of Mormonism,” the Kinderhook plates, early Latter-day Saint understandings of the New Jerusalem, and the Book of Mormon’s “lost 116 pages.” He lives in Springville, Utah.

[1] John A. Clark, reporting on detailed 1828−29 narrations by Book of Mormon financier and scribe Martin Harris, wrote of Joseph Smith’s discovery of the plates, “This book, which was contained in a chest, or ark, and which consisted of metallic plates covered with characters embossed in gold, he must not presume to look into, under three years.” Clark, Letter to “Dear Brethren,” August 24, 1840, in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 2:71; emphasis added. The primary definition given for “ark” in the 1828 Webster’s dictionary was “a small close vessel, chest or coffer, such as that which was the repository of the tables of the covenant among the Jews” and another was “a depository.” The stone vessel in which the plates had been deposited fits both. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “ark.”

[2] Additional parallels between these sacred stones, and the narratives in which they were introduced, can be enumerated: for example, 1) Moses and the brother of Jared both received their stones while on an exodus to a promised land to which they were led by the Lord in a “pillar of cloud” (Ether 2:4–5, 14; 3:1; Ex. 14:19, 16:10, 24:15–16) and on which exodus they were led to a mountain (Mt. Shelem, and Mt. Sinai); 2) on Mt. Shelem, as on Mt. Sinai, the Lord appeared veiled in the cloud but then also appeared outside the cloud, unveiling his glory (Ether 3:13–20); and, 3) just as on Sinai the Lord touched two sets of stone tablets with his fingers–one set provided by the prophet (Ex. 34:1), the other by the Lord (Ex. 31:18), to engrave the Law upon them, on Mt. Shelem the Lord touched two sets of stones—one set provided by the prophet (Ether 3:1), the other by the Lord (Ether 3:23).

[3] For the high priest visiting the Ark annually on the Day of Atonement, see Leviticus 16 (especially verses 12−13, 29−34).

[4] Nathan Laufer, “Rosh Hashanah and Revelation,” Jewish Spectator (Summer 1999); 64(1):31-34.

[5] Rabbi Meir Birnbaum, Pathway to Prayer: A Translation and Explanation of All the Amidah Prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: Sefardic Custom (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2005), p. 78. See also p. 77n.23.

[6] Emanuel Feldman, The Biblical Echo: Reflections on Bible, Jews, and Judaism (New York, Ktav, 1986), p. 25

[7] Richard S. Sarason, Divre Mishkan Tefilah Divrei Mishkan T’filah: Delving Into the Siddur (New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis Press, 2018), p. 88.

[8]Lenet Hadley Read, “Joseph Smith’s Receipt of the Plates and the Israelite Feast of Trumpets,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2, no.2 (Fall 1993): 110−20.

[9] Willard Chase, affidavit, circa 11 December 1833, in E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, (Painesville, Ohio: E. D. Howe, 1834), 246.

[10] Reuven Hammer, Entering the High Holy Days: A Complete Guide to the History, Prayers, and Themes, 1−11, 22. See also Leviticus 23:23−38.

[11] The instruction for Joseph to “be watchful and faithful” was quoted by Lucy Mack Smith. Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 376−77, 388. The warning about “wicked men” is reported by Martin Harris in an 1859 interview with Joel Tiffany, “Mormonism—No. II,” Tiffany’s Monthly: Devoted to the Investigation of the Science of Mind, in the Physical, Intellectual, Moral and Religious Planes Thereof 5 (August 1859): 163–70; reprinted in Early Mormon Documents, 2:308−9.

[12]Martin Harris, 1859, in “Mormonism—No. II,” in, Early Mormon Documents, 2:307.

[13]. At the Church’s General Conference on Wednesday, October 8, 1845, Lucy described this event as occurring “eighteen years ago last monday.” This detail places it on it October 6, 1827, exactly two weeks to the day from Joseph’s final visit to the hill. Norton Jacob, Journal, October 8, 1845, in Early Mormon Documents, 1:225. For Lucy’s written account of this incident, see Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 395−402. For Martin’s, see his 1859 interview in “Mormonism—No. II,” in Early Mormon Documents 2:308−9.

[14] Norton Jacob, Journal, October 8, 1845, in Early Mormon Documents, 1:225.

[15] Martin Harris interview in “Mormonism—No. II,” in Early Mormon Documents 2:310. See also Lucy Mack Smith in Lucy’s Book, 348.