Gospel Topics Essay
Joseph Smith said
that the Book of Mormon was “the most
correct of any Book on earth & the keystone of our religion & a man
would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other Book.”1 The Book of Mormon came into the world
through a series of miraculous events.
explains this quotation comes from Wilford Woodruff’s journal, so it would be
better to explain that “Wilford Woodruff reported that Joseph Smith taught
that the Book of Mormon was ‘the most correct…’.”
In the 1800s,
Woodruff’s summary was converted into a first-person quotation attributed to
Joseph Smith. Inexplicably, the fake quotation remains in the official
Introduction to the Book of Mormon.
can be known about the coming forth of the English text of the Book of Mormon
through a careful study of statements made by Joseph Smith, his scribes, and
others closely associated with the translation of the Book of Mormon.
This is an
ideal aspiration, but as we’ll see below, the essay doesn’t follow through
because instead of offering “a careful study of statements made by Joseph
Smith” and his scribes, the essay omits those statements and focuses on
Smith reported that on the evening of September 21, 1823, while he prayed in
the upper room of his parents’ small log home in Palmyra, New York, an angel
who called himself Moroni appeared and told Joseph that “God had a work for
[you] to do.”2
should know that the first and most reliable and authoritative identification
of the messenger as Moroni was in Cowdery’s Letter VI, written in 1835 when
Cowdery was Assistant President of the Church and with the assistance of
is from what is now Joseph Smith—History 1:33. That verse identifies the
angel as Moroni.
version was published in the Times and Seasons on 15 April 1842. There, the angel who visited was identified
as Nephi. Lucy Mack Smith’s history quoted the Times and Seasons, also
identifying the angel as Nephi.
wondered why the compilers of this history would have identified the angel as
“Nephi” and why Joseph, supposedly the active editor of the Times and Seasons
when this account was published, would not have “corrected” the
identification. One reason could be that Joseph was merely the nominal
editor; i.e., someone else was the actual editor. (That’s what I think the
evidence shows. ) Another could be that the compilers knew Joseph interacted
with both Moroni and Nephi and weren’t sure which one appeared in 1823.
taught that Joseph had interactions with Nephi (one of the unnamed three
Nephites from 3 Nephi 28) as well as with Moroni.
incident can be pieced together from the historical record. Before leaving
Harmony in May/June 1829, Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger he
later identified as “one of the Nephites.” The same messenger later showed
the Fayette plates to Mary Whitmer. She said he identified himself as Brother
informed Joseph that “there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates,
giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source
from whence they sprang.”
should know that the earliest explanation was in Cowdery’s Letter IV, which
states that the messenger “said this history was written and deposited not
far from that place [the Smith farm near Palmyra], and that it was [Joseph’s]
privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and
translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited
for that purpose with the record.”
book could be found in a hill not far from the Smith family farm.
This is an
uncredited paraphrase of President Cowdery’s 1835 Letter IV, in which Moroni
tells Joseph “this history was written and deposited not far from that place
[the Smith family farm near Palmyra].” Letter IV gives additional details
from this visit that relate to the translation, but these details are omitted
in this essay. The angel “proceeded and gave a general account of the
promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of
this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham…. He said
this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it
was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to
obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which
were deposited for that purpose with the record.
deserve to know that during his first visit, Moroni told Joseph “the record
is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place.”
declared it was a fact that the hill Cumorah in New York is the same as the
hill Cumorah in Mormon 6:6.
was no ordinary history, for it contained “the fullness of the everlasting
Gospel as delivered by the Savior.”3
another quotation from Joseph Smith—History 1:34.
the next verse, 35, is never quoted or cited in the essay. That verse
explains what accompanied the plates: “Also, that there were two stones in
silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what
is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the
possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in
ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of
translating the book.”
angel charged Joseph Smith to translate the book from the ancient language in
which it was written.
This is an
inaccurate, misleading paraphrase of what Moroni said because it omits
Moroni’s explanation that Joseph would translate the plates by means of the
Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. The Urim and Thummim was
specifically prepared for a seer to translate the unknown language.
should quote, or at least cite, the actual source.
that it was [Joseph’s] privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the
Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim,
which were deposited for that purpose with the record.”
young man, however, had very little formal education and was incapable of
writing a book on his own, let alone translating an ancient book written from
an unknown language, known in the Book of Mormon as “reformed Egyptian.”4
formal education was limited to three years, but he knew the many Biblical
passages Moroni quoted well enough to discern that Moroni had quoted some
exactly and changed the wording in other passages. Joseph was also
“intimately familiar” with Christian doctrines and writings.
wife Emma insisted that, at the time of translation, Joseph “could neither
write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictat[e] a
book like the Book of Mormon.”5
Joseph wrote a letter to his uncle Jesse before he translated the Book of
Mormon. Jesse said it looked like it had been written by a prophet. A letter Joseph
wrote to Oliver shortly after the translation was complete is both coherent
and well worded, and it does not merely repeat Book of Mormon language.
purportedly related this statement to her son, Joseph Smith III, shortly
before she died in 1879 (50 years after Joseph translated the plates). The
account was published after her death. Emma never publicly acknowledged the
statement. Plus, her statement doesn’t make sense because Joseph did
dictate the book.
received the plates in September 1827 and the following spring, in Harmony,
Pennsylvania, began translating them in earnest, with Emma and his friend
Martin Harris serving as his main scribes.
Good as is,
except it is misleading because he didn’t receive the plates by themselves. Readers
should know about two key scriptural passages: “At length the time arrived
for obtaining the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate.” (Joseph
after my arrival [in Pennsylvania] I commenced copying the characters off the
plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim
and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I
arrived at the house of my wife’s father, in the month of December, and the
February following. (Joseph Smith—History 1:62)
resulting English transcription, known as the Book of Lehi and referred to by
Joseph Smith as written on 116 pages, was subsequently lost or stolen. As a
result, Joseph Smith was rebuked by the Lord and lost the ability to
translate for a short time.6
doesn’t explain what “lost the ability to translate” means, but Lucy Mack
Smith explained that Joseph had to give up the Urim and Thummim after losing
the 116 pages.
told her that “on the 22d of September , I had the joy and satisfaction
of again receiving the Urim and Thummim; and have commenced translating
again, and Emma writes for me; but the angel said that the Lord would send me
a scribe, and I trust his promise will be verified. He also seemed pleased
with me, when he gave me back the Urim and Thummim; and he told me that the
Lord loved me, for my faithfulness and humility.
“Soon after I
received them I inquired of the Lord, and obtained the following revelation”:
I say unto you, that, because <you> delivered up those writings, which
you had power given you to translate, by the means of the Urim and Thummim
into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them; and you also lost your
gift at the same time, and your mind became darkened;”
the Urim and Thummim was directly linked to Joseph’s ability to translate throughout
this incident. The essay explains none of this; it merely says Joseph “lost
the ability to translate for a short time.”
began translating again in 1829, and almost all of the present Book of Mormon
text was translated during a three-month period between April and June of
said it took 8 months. Joseph said he started translating in the fall of 1828
after he received the record and the Urim and Thummim back. Some portion or
all of the Book of Mosiah was translated before Oliver Cowdery arrived in
Harmony in April.
chief scribe during these months was Oliver Cowdery, a schoolteacher
from Vermont who learned about the Book of Mormon while boarding with
Joseph’s parents in Palmyra. Called by God in a vision, Cowdery traveled to
Harmony to meet Joseph Smith and investigate further.
his experience as scribe, Cowdery wrote, “These were days never to be
forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven.”7
truncated quotation omits a key teaching relevant to the topic.
Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from
his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites
would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book
Smith—History, Note, 1)
manuscript that Joseph Smith dictated to Oliver Cowdery and others is known
today as the original manuscript, about 28 percent of which still survives.8 This manuscript corroborates Joseph
Smith’s statements that the manuscript was written within a short time frame
and that it was dictated from another language. For example, it includes
errors that suggest the scribe heard words incorrectly rather than misread
words copied from another manuscript.9 In addition, some grammatical
constructions that are more characteristic of Near Eastern languages than
English appear in the original manuscript, suggesting that the base language
of the translation was not English.10
most dictated drafts, the original manuscript was considered by Joseph Smith
to be, in substance, a final product.
assist in the publication of the book, Oliver Cowdery made a handwritten copy
of the original manuscript. This copy is known today as the printer’s
manuscript. Because Joseph Smith did not call for punctuation, such as
periods, commas, or question marks, as he dictated, such marks are not in the
original manuscript. The typesetter later inserted punctuation marks when he
prepared the text for the printer.11 With the exceptions of punctuation,
formatting, other elements of typesetting, and minor adjustments required to
correct copying and scribal errors, the dictation copy became the text of the
first printed edition of the book.12
accounts in the Bible show that God transmitted revelations to His prophets
in a variety of ways. Elijah learned that God spoke not to him through
the wind or fire or earthquake but through a “still small voice.”13 Paul and other early Apostles sometimes
communicated with angels and, on occasion, with the Lord Jesus Christ.14 At other times, revelation came in the
form of dreams or visions, such as the revelation to Peter to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, or
through sacred objects like the Urim and Thummim.15
Smith stands out among God’s prophets, because he was called to render into
his own language an entire volume of scripture amounting to more than 500
printed pages, containing doctrine that would deepen and expand the
theological understanding of millions of people. For this monumental task,
God prepared additional, practical help in the form of physical instruments.
Smith and his scribes wrote of two instruments used in translating the Book
This is a
deliberately misleading sentence. Joseph never wrote of any instrument other
than the Urim and Thummim.
Cowdery, his main scribe for all but a few pages of the Book of Mormon we
have today, never wrote of any instrument other than the Urim and Thummim.
scribe, John Whitmer, also spoke only of the Urim and Thummim.
only Martin Harris and Emma Smith as scribes, but Martin never wrote about
the translation, and Emma wrote only a brief letter in which she mentioned
two instruments. Additional statements of varying reliability have been
attributed to Martin and Emma but were not written by them.
to witnesses of the translation, when Joseph looked into the instruments, the
words of scripture appeared in English.
This is by
definition hearsay because the only person who looked into the instruments
was Joseph Smith. We have no record of a direct statement by Joseph about
what he saw or how he used the instruments, except that he used them to
statements reflect inference, assumption, and conjecture.
these witnesses could not have seen the actual translation because Joseph was
forbidden to show them either the plates or the Urim and Thummim. Instead,
the evidence suggests they merely observed a demonstration. All of their
statements are consistent with having observed a demonstration, not the
actual translation of the plates
instrument, called in the Book of Mormon the “interpreters,” is better known
to Latter-day Saints today as the “Urim and Thummim.” Joseph found the
interpreters buried in the hill with the plates.16
another misleading statement, designed to imply that the term “Urim and
Thummim” was an invented term.
“interpreters” were “better known” during Joseph’s time as the “Urim
and Thummim” because Joseph himself referred to the Nephite interpreters as
the “Urim and Thummim,” as is plain throughout Joseph Smith—History and his
other accounts of Moroni’s visit. The essay consistently evades that
important point. Furthermore, they were not “buried.” They were “deposited”
in a stone box. “Buried” implies a false connection with “buried treasure.”]
who saw the interpreters described them as a clear pair of stones bound
together with a metal rim. The Book of Mormon referred to this instrument,
together with its breastplate, as a device “kept and preserved by the hand of
the Lord” and “handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of
this is the only instrument that Oliver and Joseph ever said that Joseph used
during the translation.
in the footnote, some scholars assume it was W.W. Phelps who coined the term
“Urim and Thummim” for the interpreters because Phelps’ article in the 1833 Evening
and Morning Star was thought to be the earliest extant published account
that uses that term. However, Phelps’ article is also consistent with prior
use of the term, whether verbal or printed; i.e., Phelps was providing an
explanation of the term for readers who were familiar with the Bible.
first known published use of the term “Urim and Thummim” that refers to the
Nephite interpreters was reported on August 5, 1832, when Orson Hyde and
Samuel Smith told an audience in Boston that the translation “was made known
by the spirit of the Lord through the medium of the Urim and Thummim.” Of course, Orson and Samuel undoubtedly
heard that from someone else—presumably Joseph or Oliver.
portrays Moroni telling Joseph that it was his privilege “to obtain and
translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited
for that purpose with the record.” When Oliver wrote these letters, he
explained he was using original documents then in their possession. He could
have referred to the notebook he kept during the translation process, in
which he recorded the things Joseph told him. In other words, it could have
been Moroni, not W.W. Phelps, who first identified the interpreters as the
Urim and Thummim.
observes that Joseph “most often used the term “Urim and Thummim,” but does
not explain that we have no record of Joseph ever using the term “seer stone”
to explain his translation of the Book of Mormon.
other instrument, which Joseph Smith discovered in the ground years before he
retrieved the gold plates, was a small oval stone, or “seer stone.”18
essay thinks past the sale by describing the “seer stone” as an instrument
used for the translation, contrary to what Joseph and Oliver expressly taught.
a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a
seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure.19
Oliver both jokingly acknowledged the allegations, but neither stated,
suggested, or implied it was anything as extensive as the critics claim.
Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use
this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture.20
sentence is pure speculation, portrayed here as fact. There are no historical
records in which Joseph says or implies anything like this.
for convenience, Joseph often translated with the single seer stone rather
than the two stones bound together to form the interpreters.
This is also
pure speculation, portrayed as fact. Neither Joseph nor Oliver ever said he
used one seer stone to translate the text. Others claimed they observed
Joseph dictating words, but none of them reported what the words were. No one quoted Joseph saying he was translating
the plates during these occasions. These accounts are consistent with people
who observed a demonstration and inferred it was the actual translation. But
they also said Joseph did not use the Urim and Thummim or the plates, so by
their own admission, they did not observe what Joseph and Oliver claimed
about the actual translation.
two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently
interchangeable and worked in much the same way such that, in the course of
time, Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term “Urim and Thummim”
to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters.21
essay claims Joseph and his associates “often” used the term to refer to a
seer stone, the footnote gives only one example, and that example doesn’t
support the claim.
Over a decade
after the translation, on December 27, 1841, Wilford Woodruff recorded in his
journal “The Twelve or a part of them spent the day with Joseph the seer + he
unfolded unto them many glorious things of the kingdom of God the privileges
+ blessings of the priesthood + I had the privilege of seeing for the first
time in my day the URIM & THUMMIM.”
not describe the object, leaving historians to surmise he was referring to the
seer stone so many people reported seeing Joseph use years previously. But
Joseph had given that stone to Oliver Cowdery. Besides, if Woodruff was
referring to the seer stone that many people had already seen, he doesn’t
explain why it was such a privilege.
recorded the same occasion differently.
“I met with
the Twelve at brother Joseph’s. He conversed with us in a familiar manner on
a variety of subjects, and explained to us the Urim and Thummim which he
found with the plates, called in the Book of Mormon the Interpreters. He said
that every man who lived on the earth was entitled to a seer stone, and
should have one, but they are kept from them in consequence of their
wickedness, and most of those who do find one make an evil use of it; he
showed us his seer stone. “
quotation contradicts the main thesis of SITH. Brigham Young made an explicit
distinction between "the Urim and Thummim which he [Joseph] found with
the plates," and the "seer stone" Joseph had, which Joseph
displayed to explain that "every man who lived on earth was entitled
to" such a seer stone. Every man on earth was not entitled to the Urim
and Thummim that Joseph found with the plates.
didn’t mention two separate objects. His statement can be interpreted several
ways, including the possibility that he didn’t care much about the seer stone
but was impressed because Joseph still had the actual Urim and Thummim.
19, 1842, Woodruff recorded in his journal that “the Lord is Blessing Joseph
with Power to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of God; to translate
through the Urim and Thummim Ancient records.”
Smith wrote that “Joseph kept the Urim and Thummim constantly about his
person.” She was writing about an event that occurred in 1827, but Joseph
Smith—History 1:60, he says nothing about him delivering the Urim and Thummim
to the messenger.
Heber C. Kimball declared in General Conference that Brigham Young had the
Urim and Thummim. Some say this referred to a seer stone, which is possible.
But it is also congruent with Woodruff’s journal entry to infer that what
Woodruff saw and what Brigham Young possessed was the Urim and Thummim that
Joseph obtained with the plates.
Joseph’s contemporaries and successors in Church leadership, including
Brigham and Wilford, taught that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim
and Thummim. None said or implied that he used a seer stone instead
ancient times, Israelite priests used the Urim and Thummim to assist in
receiving divine communications. Although commentators differ on the nature
of the instrument, several ancient sources state that the instrument involved
stones that lit up or were divinely illumined.22 Latter-day Saints later understood the term
“Urim and Thummim” to refer exclusively to the interpreters.
contemporaries and successors all understood the term this way, but Joseph’s
history shows it was Moroni who identified the interpreters as Urim and
Thummim. JS-H 1:52.
Smith and others, however, seem to have understood the term more as a
descriptive category of instruments for obtaining divine revelations and less
as the name of a specific instrument.
“Seem to have
understood” is mindreading—and unsupportable historical revisionism. By 1843,
usage had developed this way (D&C 130:8-10), but not before Nauvoo.
there was no confusion about the two terms. The 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed
spelled out the two distinct and alternative explanations for the
translation: SITH and U&T.
to Mormonism Unvailed, Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith declared unequivocally
that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim. They published Letter I (now the
footnote to Joseph Smith—History 1:71 that we discussed above). Thereafter,
Joseph and Oliver consistently taught that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim.
All of Joseph’s contemporaries and successors did likewise. There are no
known instances in which Joseph or Oliver used the term Urim and Thummim to
refer to anything Joseph used for the translation of the Book of Mormon
except the instrument Moroni put in the stone box.
people have balked at this claim of physical instruments used in the divine
translation process, but such aids to facilitate the communication of God’s
power and inspiration are consistent with accounts in scripture. In addition
to the Urim and Thummim, the Bible mentions other physical instruments used
to access God’s power: the rod of Aaron, a brass serpent, holy anointing oils,
the Ark of the Covenant,
and even dirt from the ground mixed with saliva to heal
the eyes of a blind man.23
examples of divinely prepared instruments demonstrate that the Urim and
Thummim was not a generic term applying to ordinary rocks, but instead
referred to a specially prepare instrument, carefully preserved along with
Mechanics of Translation
the preface to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith wrote: “I
would inform you that I translated [the book], by the gift and power of God.”
is misleading because it falsely portrays Joseph as saying merely that he
“translated” “by the gift and power of God.”
the balance of his statement, which the essay omits, Joseph explains the
source: “the which I took from the Book of Lehi,” referring to the plates.
He did not
say “the which I read on a stone.”
When read in
context, Joseph unambiguously explained that he translated the plates.
pressed for specifics about the process of translation, Joseph repeated on
several occasions that it had been done “by the gift and power of God”24 and once added, “It was not intended to
tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of
another misleading rephrasing of the original source.
does not show that Joseph was “pressed for specifics about the process of
translation.” He was asked about “the coming forth of the book of Mormon” which
involved more than the translation, such as Joseph being tutored by divine
messengers (including Moroni and Nephi), details about the plates, the
breastplate, and the interpreters, information about the repository in the
hill Cumorah, whether there was only one or more sets of plates, or even
where the Title Page was published.
1831 statement could have also referred to the manner of translation, those
present at the meeting did not apparently understand it that way. David
Whitmer and Martin Harris were both present, and both later discussed details
about the translation. If Joseph meant “it is not intended to tell the world
all the particulars of the translation of the Book of Mormon,” then these two
men violated Joseph’s instructions. There is no record of anyone stating that
Joseph told them not to talk about the mechanics of the translation.
matter, after 1831 both Joseph and Oliver provided more details about the process
of translation when they testified that Joseph translated the plates by means
of the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.
the scribes and others who observed the translation left numerous accounts
that give insight into the process.
statement simply assumes these non-scribe witnesses saw the actual
translation, even though their testimony directly contradicts what Joseph,
Oliver, and John Whitmer said.
If we accept
what Joseph and Oliver said, then whatever the witnesses observed regarding
SITH was not the translation.
accounts indicate that Joseph studied the characters on the plates. Most of
the accounts speak of Joseph’s use of the Urim and Thummim (either the
interpreters or the seer stone), and many accounts refer to his use of a
conflates the accounts and redefines “Urim and Thummim” to include the seer
he studied the characters (JS-H 1:62). Joseph and Oliver consistently said
that Joseph translated the plates with the U&T that Moroni put in the
stone box. Neither of them ever said or implied that Joseph used a seer
observers who described SITH may or may not have observed the translation.
They did not record what words they heard Joseph dictate, so we can’t tell
what parts, if any, of the text they thought they witnessed being translated.
Dan Vogel, a
critic of Joseph Smith, agrees with the anonymous authors of this essay.
testimony confirms that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon in the
same manner that he once hunted for buried treasure: that is, with his
brown-colored seer stone placed in the crown of his white top hat and his
face snug to its brim. Rather than seeing treasures in the bowels of the
earth, Smith claimed he saw luminous words on the stone, which he read to a scribe.
In this manner the entire Book of Mormon as we have it came into existence.
This fact conflicts with Joseph Smith's official history, which claims that
he used magic spectacles—which he euphemistically called Urim and
Thummim—attached to a breastplate.”
I agree with
Vogel that SITH conflicts with the official history, as well as every other
statement Joseph and Oliver made.
disagree with Vogel—and this Gospel Topics Essay—when they claim the other
witnesses observed Joseph translating the Book of Mormon.
to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in
a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read
aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument.26
the essay simply assumes the witnesses were describing the actual translation
of the Book of Mormon instead of a demonstration.
footnote claims two Apostles have written accounts of the translation
process, but each involve isolated quotations from the historical record, not
rejections of what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Urim and Thummim.
wrote, “The Prophet Joseph alone knew the full process, and he was
deliberately reluctant to describe details. We take passing notice of the
words of David Whitmer, Joseph Knight, and Martin Harris, who were observers,
not translators…. Oliver Cowdery is reported to have testified in court that
the Urim and Thummim enabled Joseph ‘to read in English, the reformed
Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates.’”
statement by Oliver is consistent with everything else he taught; i.e., that
Joseph translated the characters with the Urim and Thummim.
before becoming President of the Church, Elder Russell M. Nelson wrote, “The
details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known.
Yet we do have a few precious insights.” He then quoted David Whitmer and
Emma Smith without further comment.
statements are “precious insights,” but insights into what? David and Emma
apparently coordinated their statements more than 40 years after the events.
Both focused on SITH to refute the Spalding theory.
process as described brings to mind a passage from the Book of Mormon that
speaks of God preparing “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto
in Alma (37:21-25) refers twice to “interpreters,” but that was a change made
in the 1920 edition. Earlier editions, including the original 1830 edition,
used the term “directors” instead. That suggests a meaning different from the
“interpreters” mentioned in Ether 4:5 and Mosiah 8 and 28, to which Oliver
Cowdery referred in Letter 1 (“the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites
would have said, ‘Interpreters’”).
scriptural phrase doesn’t necessarily refer to shining words appearing on a
other instances of the phrase “shine forth” in the scriptures. “Thou shalt
shine forth” (Job 11:17). “Thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine
forth” (Psalms 80:1). “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun”
(Matthew 13:43). “The King of heaven shall very soon shine forth among all
the children of men” (Alma 5:50). “Then shall the righteous shine forth in
the kingdom of God” (Alma 40:25). “It shall be brought out of the earth, and
it shall shine forth out of darkness” (Mormon 8:16). “Prepare them [stones]
that they may shine forth in darkness” (Ether 3:4). “Thy church may… shine
forth” (D&C 109:73. “Arise and shine forth…” (D&C 115:5).
of the Book of Mormon themselves “shine forth” regardless of the method of
scribes who assisted with the translation unquestionably believed that Joseph
translated by divine power. Joseph’s wife Emma explained that she “frequently
wrote day after day” at a small table in their house in Harmony,
Pennsylvania. She described Joseph “sitting with his face buried in his hat,
with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.”28
specified when she wrote or what portion of the text she recorded. She
apparently acted as scribe before Martin Harris arrived in 1828, before
Oliver Cowdery arrived in 1829, and at the Whitmer home in Fayette. In her
1870 letter, she wrote, “Now the first that my husband translated was
translated by the use of the Urim and Thummim, and that was the part that
Martin Harris lost, after that he used a small stone, not exactly, black, but
was rather a dark color.” This implies Joseph did not use the U&T after
the 116 pages were lost.
Joseph said Emma wrote for him after he recovered the U&T in 1828 (they
had been taken because of the lost 116 pages). Lucy Mack Smith wrote in her
history that while Joseph and Oliver were working in Harmony, Joseph applied
the Urim and Thummim to his eyes and looked on the plates.
make sense to conclude that Joseph received the U&T back in September
1828 so he could resume translating, only to not use the U&T with Emma
but then to begin using it with Oliver starting in April 1829.
apparently wrote part of 2 Nephi in Fayette when Joseph demonstrated the
process with a stone in a hat. That could have provided the basis for her
statements 40+ years later, especially if she sought to counter the Spalding
to Emma, the plates “often lay on the table without any attempt at
concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth.”
statement has been taken to mean Joseph never used the plates during the
translation, but that is not what it says. Joseph had to leave the plates
somewhere when he wasn’t using them. That doesn’t mean he didn’t actually use
them when he translated. This is not complicated.
asked if Joseph had dictated from the Bible or from a manuscript he had
prepared earlier, Emma flatly denied those possibilities: “He had neither
manuscript nor book to read from.”
This is part
of the refutation of the Spalding theory, which was the original purpose for
the interview. Emma volunteered her comments about the manner of translation;
they were not in response to specific questions from her son.
told her son Joseph Smith III, “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 manuscripts unless he was inspired;
for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me for hour
after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would
at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or
having any portion of it read to him.”29
If Joseph was
translating the plates, he naturally would have resumed the translation where
he ended it, with no need of seeing the manuscript to jog his memory.
scribe, Martin Harris sat across the
table from Joseph Smith and wrote down the words Joseph dictated. Harris
later related that as Joseph used the seer stone to translate, sentences
appeared. Joseph read those sentences aloud, and after penning the words,
Harris would say, “Written.”
would say “Written,” Martin claimed that “if correctly written that sentence
would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly
it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was
engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used.”
to the engravings on the plates is consistent with the language of D&C
statement seems to imply a literal translation, but Joseph said only that the
Title Page was a literal translation.
claimed to have seen what Joseph saw when he translated. He also didn’t claim
that Joseph told him what he saw. Instead, Martin apparently made this claim
based on his own inference of what occurred. This statement has led some to
conclude that the translation was “tightly controlled,” but we do not have
the 116 pages to see if there were misspellings and other errors of the type
present in the OM.
the 116 pages, so the process may have been different for the translation we
associate who interviewed Harris recorded him saying that Joseph “possessed a
seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and
Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone.”30
footnote here points out that Martin Harris recognized the distinction
between the Urim and Thummim (the Nephite interpreters) and the seer stone.
Like his contemporaries, Martin didn’t use the term to apply to both. Of
course, Martin’s statement here contradicts Emma’s statement that Joseph used
the stone only after the 116 pages were lost. Martin’s first statement about
the seer stone was published in 1881, six years after Martin’s death in 1875,
and after David and Emma had used the seer stone scenario to refute the
principal scribe, Oliver Cowdery, testified under oath in 1831 that Joseph
Smith “found with the plates, from which he translated his book, two
transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking
through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian
characters, which were engraved on the plates.”31
consistent with every statement by Joseph and Oliver about the translation,
although it contradicts the SITH narrative.
the fall of 1830, Cowdery visited Union Village, Ohio, and spoke about the
translation of the Book of Mormon. Soon thereafter, a village resident
reported that the translation was accomplished by means of “two transparent
stones in the form of spectacles thro which the translator looked on the
has Joseph looking on the engraving instead of having the plates resting
nearby under a cloth. This is consistent with what Lucy Mack Smith wrote
about how Joseph translated the plates. The phrase “two transparent stones”
is the description always given of the Nephite interpreters.]
Smith consistently testified that he translated the Book of Mormon by the
“gift and power of God.” His scribes shared that testimony. The angel who
brought news of an ancient record on metal plates buried in a hillside and
the divine instruments prepared especially for Joseph Smith to translate were
all part of what Joseph and his scribes viewed as the miracle of translation.
When he sat down in 1832 to write his own history for the first time, he
began by promising to include “an account of his marvelous experience.”33 The translation of the Book of Mormon was
“buried” is ahistorical and implies a false connection to “buried treasure.”
Moroni explained that the plates were “deposited.”
truth of the Book of Mormon and its divine source can be known today. God
invites each of us to read the book, remember the mercies of the Lord and
ponder them in our hearts, “and ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of
Christ, if these things are not true.” God promises that “if ye shall ask
with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will
manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”34
The Church acknowledges the contribution of scholars to the
historical content presented in this article; their work is used with