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Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon  >  Was There a Library in Harmony, Pennsylvania?
CHAPTERS
  1. Introduction
  2. Four Suggestions on the Origin of the Name Nephi
  3. Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri
  4. Nephi's Jerusalem and Laban's Sword
  5. The Workmanship Thereof Was Exceedingly Fine
  6. Better that One Man Perish
  7. Metal Plates and the Book of Mormon
  8. Lehi's Jerusalem and Writing on Silver Plates
  9. More on the Silver Plates from Lehi's Jerusalem
  10. A Visionary Man
  11. Rod and Sword as the Word of God
  12. "The Lamb of God" in Pre-Christian Texts
  13. Further Light on Enallage
  14. Connections between the Visions of Lehi and Nephi
  15. Exodus of Lehi Revisited
  16. The Book of Lehi and the Plates of Lehi
  17. Firstborn in the Wilderness
  18. Sam: A Just and Holy Man
  19. The Psalm of Nephi as a Post-Lehi Document
  20. When Did Nephi Write the Small Plates?
  21. Why Nephi Wrote the Small Plates: Serving Practical Needs
  22. Why Nephi Wrote the Small Plates: The Political Dimension
  23. Sherem's Accusations against Jacob
  24. The Hebrew Origin of Three Book of Mormon Place-Names
  25. Sword of Laban as a Symbol of Divine Authority
  26. Upon the Tower of Benjamin
  27. Benjamin's Tower and Old Testament Pillars
  28. Unintentional Sin in Benjamin's Discourse
  29. On the Right or Left: Benjamin and the Scapegoat
  30. Democratizing Forces in King Benjamin's Speech
  31. As a Garment in a Hot Furnace
  32. His Stewardship Was Fulfilled
  33. Evidence for Tents
  34. Revisiting the Land of Jerusalem
  35. Blessing God after Eating One's Fill
  36. The Laws of Eshnunna and Nephite Economics
  37. Notes on Korihor and Language
  38. Cursing a Litigant with Speechlessness
  39. Alma's Use of State in the Book of Mormon
  40. Cities and Lands in the Book of Mormon
  41. Eyewitness Descriptions of Mesoamerican Swords
  42. New Technology and Ancient Voyages
  43. Rollercoaster Economics
  44. Challenging Conventional Views of Metal
  45. Secret Combinations Revisited
  46. The Marketplace
  47. Hebraic Conditionals in the Book of Mormon
  48. "Thus Saith the Lord": Prophetic Language in Samuel's Speech
  49. More on the Hanging of Zemnarihah
  50. Word Groups in the Book of Mormon
  51. Another Note on the Three Days of Darkness
  52. Two Notes on the Lord's Prayer
  53. Was There Leprosy among the Nephites?
  54. The Decline of the God Quetzalcoatl
  55. Semitic Texts Written in Egyptian Characters
  56. Two Notes on Egyptian Script
  57. Old World People in the New
  58. New Light on the Shining Stones of the Jaredites
  59. By Land or by Sea? Revisiting the Bering Straits
  60. Vikings, Iron, and the Book of Mormon
  61. Droughts and Serpents
  62. The "Decapitation" of Shiz
  63. Fragments of Original Manuscript Discovered
  64. Translation of the Book of Mormon
  65. Revelation and the Urim and Thummim
  66. Was There a Library in Harmony, Pennsylvania?
  67. Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family be Trusted?
  68. Roberts Affirms Book of Mormon Antiquity
  69. What the Original Book of Mormon Manuscript Is Not
  70. The Sobering Lesson of the Grolier Codex

“[God] gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon.” (D&C 20:8)

In 1982, Erich Robert Paul published an article in BYU Studies entitled “Joseph Smith and the Manchester (New York) Library.”1 Essentially Paul shows that, while Joseph Smith had potential access to a wide range of books there, “it is likely that during the 1820s he simply was not a part of the literary culture.”2

Because Joseph spent little time, however, in the Manchester/Palmyra area from 1825 to 1829 (he moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, in 1827 when he and Emma married), the logical extension of Paul’s study is to ask the further question, “But was there a library in Harmony, Pennsylvania?”

Even more significant than the information environment of Palmyra was that of Harmony. If Joseph Smith had wanted to do any kind of research while he was translating the book of Lehi onto the 116 pages in 1828 or while he was translating the bulk of the Book of Mormon during April and May, 1829, he would have needed to use libraries or information sources in or around Harmony where he was living at the time.

Harmony was a small town on the border between the states of New York and Pennsylvania. The region was very remote and rural. Recently we asked Erich Paul if he had ever explored the possibility that any libraries existed around Harmony in the 1820s which Joseph Smith might have used. He responded: “In fact, I checked into this possibility only to discover that not only does Harmony and its environs hardly exist anymore, but there is no evidence of a library even existing at the time of Joseph’s work.”

Accordingly, those who have considered western New York as the information environment for the Book of Mormon may be 120 miles or more off target. One should think of Joseph translating in the Harmony area and, as far as that goes, in a resource vacuum.

Even if Joseph had wanted to pause to check his details against reputable sources, to scrutinize the latest theories, to learn about scholarly biblical interpretations or Jewish customs, or to verify any Book of Mormon claims against the wisdom or theologies of his day—even if he had wanted to go to a library to check such things (something he showed no inclination to do until later)—there simply was no library anywhere nearby for him to use.

While this is only a piece of circumstantial evidence for the Book of Mormon, it is still a piece. Perhaps a significant one.

Research by John W. Welch, originally published as a FARMS Update in Insights (January 1994): 2. For a map highlighting church history sites in Western New York, see John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999), chart 12.

Notes

1. See BYU Studies 22/3 (1982): 333–56.

2. Robert Paul, “Joseph Smith and the Manchester (New York) Library,” BYU Studies 22/3 (1982): 333–56.