The records which Joseph received consisted of a great many gold plates nearly as thick as common tin. They were about seven by eight inches in size, and were bound together by three rings running through holes, in the edges of the plates. This made the plates like a book, so that they might be turned as the leaves of a book are turned. On each side of every plate were engraved beautiful letters, in a language which Joseph could not read. The book was about six inches thick. A part of it was sealed, and Joseph was told not to open it, as the time had not yet come for that part to be made known to the world.
The Urim and Thummim consisted of two transparent stones, clear as crystal, set in two rims of a bow. It was used in ancient times by the seers, and through it they received revelations of things past and future. You may read about this instrument in the Bible, in Exodus, 28: 30; and Ezra 2: 63.
As soon as it was known that Joseph had the plates, many evil-minded persons tried to get them from him, and he had to hide them in different places to keep them safe. Mobs began to surround his house, men tried to catch him on the roads or in the fields, and he was even shot at a number of times. Joseph now saw how timely the angel’s warning was.
Living thus in constant fear, Joseph could not do anything towards translating the records; so he moved, with his wife, to her old home in Pennsylvania. While on the way an officer overtook him and searched his wagon for the plates, but could not find them. They were there, however, safely hidden in a barrel of beans.
Arriving in Harmony, where his father-in-law lived, Joseph began to translate some of the writings on the plates. As Joseph was a slow writer he did not make much progress, and so he asked the Lord to send someone to help him. In answer to this request a man by the name of Martin Harris came to him from Palmyra, New York. Now the work went better. Martin wrote while Joseph translated.
They had translated one hundred and sixteen written pages, when Martin asked Joseph to let him take the writings and show them to some of his friends. Joseph asked the Lord about it, and the answer was that he must not; but Martin kept on teasing Joseph till at last the Lord permitted him to show them to certain persons. But Martin showed them to others, and the writings were lost. The Lord was displeased at this, and told Joseph not to translate the same over again, but to write from another part of the plates which told about the same events. However, the Urim and Thummim was taken from Joseph for a short time, and when he received it again, his wife Emma wrote a little for him.
Now the Lord sent another helper to Joseph. He was a young school teacher, named Oliver Cowdery, and these two men worked hard at the translation. You will remember that Joseph was poor, and it seemed they would have to stop translating and find other work whereby to earn means to live. They were now also again annoyed by evil men and mobs.