Don Bradley is writing a master's thesis on a portion of the Book of Mormon that was stolen from LDS Church founder Joseph Smith's sometime scribe, Martin Harris, in 1828 and never recovered.
Though these "lost 116 pages," as they have come to be known, are Mormonism's earliest scripture, Bradley says, their contents have long been a mystery.
"As I've collected the sources about the lost manuscript and put them together like puzzle pieces, pictures of several missing Book of Mormon stories have begun to emerge," he says, "offering a glimpse into earliest Mormonism."
Bradley found clues to the lost pages' contents in early Smith published "revelations"; an account of an 1830 interview given by the prophet's father, Joseph Smith Sr., who related some of the missing narratives; and reminiscences by witnesses who heard Joseph Smith Jr. and Harris detail some of the manuscript's contents.
"These witnesses include two early LDS apostles," Bradley says, "and Emer Harris, who was both a brother to Martin Harris and a direct ancestor to present-day LDS apostle Dallin Harris Oaks."
Such reminiscences are found in 19th-century newspapers, published sermons by LDS leaders, and, in the case of the Emer Harris account, official LDS stake conference minutes now housed in the Church History Library.
"Surprisingly, I found that these stories from the missing manuscript anticipate temple theology that historians usually believe Joseph Smith didn't develop until the 1840s," Bradley says, "a discovery that helped spark my return to faith."
The thesis is slated to be published next year by Greg Kofford Books as The Lost 116 Pages: Rediscovering the Book of Lehi.