The 1829 Jonathan Hadley account of the translation of the Book of Mormon
Questions about the origin of the Book of Mormon revolve around a preliminary truth claim; i.e., did Joseph Smith translate the engravings on the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim (aka Nephite interpreters or spectacles) that came with the plates, as he said?
Or did Joseph Smith produce the text by dictating words that appeared on a stone in a hat, thereby misleading everyone with his explanation about the Urim and Thummim?
(Variations on this view have Joseph Smith receiving the Book of Mormon by direct revelation of some sort, ignoring or reversing the process described in D&C 9:8-9 where study must precede inspiration. Since these approaches all rely on setting aside the plates-and-interpreters process given by Joseph Smith in favor of stone-in-the-hat accounts, I treat them together here.)
Faithful scholars on both sides of this debate cite historical documents, make assumptions, draw inferences, and present theories that explain the facts the way they see them.
In my view, the historical evidence corroborates what Joseph Smith claimed; i.e., that he translated the engravings on the plates with the interpreters that came with the plates. This once prevailing narrative has been supplanted in recent years by scholars who claim the historical evidence favors the stone-in-the-hat narrative.
In this post, we will examine the arguments made by two of the most prominent advocates of the faithful version of the stone-in-the-hat narrative, Michael MacKay and Gerrit Dirkmaat.
We pause to note that critics who reject the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon universally (and necessarily) reject the claim that Joseph actually translated the engravings on the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.
These same critics readily embrace the “stone-in-the-hat” narrative (SITH) for two reasons. First, it permits them to argue that SITH is the “true history” that has been “hidden” by Church leaders. Second, they observe that SITH accommodates explanations that deny divine intervention, including (i) the explanation that Joseph composed the text either in advance or during his oral “performance” based on prompts or (ii) the explanation that Joseph used occult methods to obtain a supernatural text that was not divine.
Believers who accept SITH obviously disagree with critics about the source of the words that appeared on the stone directly, or which came into Joseph’s mind without any preparatory study through some form of catalysis by the stone in his hat.
However, believers who reject SITH point out that the strongest narrative to support the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon is the one Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery gave; i.e., that he translated the characters on the plates with the interpreters prepared by God for that purpose.
The first known published account about Book of Mormon translation was an article entitled "Golden Bible" which appeared in the Palmyra Freeman in August 1829 by Jonathan Hadley (“Hadley 1829). Hadley claimed that Joseph Smith said he could translate characters by placing spectacles in a hat.
Hadley 1829 has been cited in the Joseph Smith Papers, the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation, and several other books, including my own A Man That Can Translate and From Darkness Unto Light by Michael MacKay and Gerrit Dirkmaat.
Most recently Hadley 1829 was elevated to greater prominence in the 2023 book Let’s Talk about the Translation of the Book of Mormon, also by MacKay and Dirkmaat. MacKay/Dirkmaat have created a narrative based on assumptions and inferences that supports their claim that Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon by reading words that appeared on a stone he placed in a hat.
However, MacKay/Dirkmaat apparently overlooked a subsequent article Hadley published in 1842 (Hadley 1842) that contradicts important elements of this MacKay/Dirkmaat narrative.
In this paper, we will compare the MacKay/Dirkmaat narrative to the full Hadley accounts, including both 1829 Hadley and 1842 Hadley. Then we will review the evidence that Joseph Smith himself rejected the Hadley SITH narrative.
To enable full comparison, relevant portions of the MacKay/Dirkmaat books are excerpted below, with commentary, beginning with Page 1 of their Let’s Talk About book (LTA).
MacKay and Dirkmaat
Comments: Jonathan Hadley 1829 and 1834
LTA, p. 1.
In August 1829, newspaper editor Jonathan Hadley was angry at Joseph Smith. Joseph had recently approached Hadley and Egbert Grandin, rival editors in Palmyra, a few weeks earlier with the prospect of publishing the Book of Mormon.
Hadley never said Joseph came to his shop. He never said he met Joseph. While historians could argue Joseph’s presence was implied in Hadley 1829, Hadley 1842 explicitly states that only Martin Harris came to the shop and met with Hadley.
Grandin, who competed with Hadley for readers and was his political rival, had already vigorously refused to publish the book. Grandin published in his paper his disdain for the entire project, calling Joseph Smith’s account of gold plates “a pretended discovery.” 1
MacKay/Dirkmaat argued previously that Grandin refused to publish the book out of concern that Martin Harris would lose his money. Grandin sought to dissuade Harris from the project.
1. Wayne Sentinel, June 26, 1829.
Unlike his nemesis Grandin, Hadley had not rejected the project outright. But Hadley’s small facilities were totally inadequate to publish the nearly six-hundred-page book, especially at a print run of five thousand copies.
This speculative, mind-reading claim by MacKay/Dirkmaat contradicts Hadley’s own explanation in Hadley 1842.
“Soon after the translation was completed, I was one day waited upon by Harris, and offered the printing of the Book of Mormon. This was in the summer of 1829, at which time I was carrying on the printing business at Palmyra. Harris owned a good farm in that town, and offered to mortgage it to secure the expense of printing. Though he was a subscriber to my paper, and had frequently "labored" to convert me to the Mormon faith, I was so sceptical as to utterly refuse to have any "part or lot" in the imposition, telling him at the same time, that if he proceeded with the publication, I should feel it my duty, as the conductor of a faithful public journal, to expose him and the whole Mormon gang.”
Possibly hoping to still share in the profits from publication, Hadley had referred Joseph and Martin to his mentor and friend, Thurlow Weed, in Rochester.
This is pure speculation that contradicts Hadley 1842. In From Darkness Unto Light, the authors couch their speculation more carefully by writing “it is very likely that Hadley was the principal reason Smith and Harris traveled the considerable distance to Rochester… Hadley likely told Joseph that… he had no experience in book printing or binding.” But Hadley never claimed he met Joseph.
Though Joseph Smith and Martin Harris tried, they were unable to convince Weed to publish the book. However, with an agreement with another Rochester publisher in hand, Joseph returned to Palmyra and was able to convince Grandin to relent in his opposition and publish the Book of Mormon.
This sentence is accurate.
When Hadley learned that it would not be his friend but his chief competitor publishing the Book of Mormon and that thousands of Martin Harris’s dollars would be pouring into Egbert Grandin’s coffers, Hadley reacted in anger and lashed out at Joseph Smith.
This narrative contradicts Hadley 1842, quoted above, in which Hadley had threatened at the outset to “expose [Harris] and the whole Mormon gang” if Harris proceeded with the publication.
Hadley’s chief weapon was always his biting, sarcastic wit, which he used to pillory politician and religionist alike when the crossed him. And Joseph Smith had now crossed him. Hadley published a lengthy attack on the “Gold Bible in his newspaper, repeating the story of the discovery of the gold plates and Joseph Smith’s explanation of the miraculous translation.
Hadley simply followed through on the threat he made when Harris first asked him to publish the Book of Mormon. Hadley 1842 explains, “He took the work, however, to the other office in the village, and it was soon put to press. It was then I wrote and published an article, which you may recollect, headed "THE GOLDEN BIBLE," giving a history of the humbug up to that time. This article was extensively copied, it having been the first ever published about the Mormons.” Hadley 1842 also asserts that he never indicated any interest in the publication of the Book of Mormon, rejecting it from the beginning as a “humbug.”
LTA p. 2
Unlike later antagonists of Joseph Smith, Hadley did little to attack Joseph Smith personally. He did not need to. Anyone who heard Joseph’s story of angelic visitations, ancient plates, holy devices used to translate them, and receiving revelations from God would, Hadley assumed, immediately reject the whole idea as preposterous.
Hadley 1829 only briefly mentions Joseph Smith, whom Hadley did not claim to have met in person. MacKay/Dirkmaat’s statements about Hadley’s reasoning are speculation since their Hadley 1829 source is silent. And when Hadley did speak to the issue in Hadley 1842, he again contradicts MacKay/Dirkmaat as Hadley 1842 was very much a direct attack on Joseph Smith that reiterated charges made in Mormonism Unvailed published in 1834.
“But you wish to know something about the earlier history of the Smiths. They were always considered by their own townsmen as a lazy, vicious, profane, unlearned, superstitious family. They lived "from hand to mouth," spending most of the time not required for the provision of their immediate wants, in digging in the hills of Manchester for money, under the belief often expressed by them, that Capt. Kidd or some other person of wealth, had there deposited their treasures. For many, many years to come, traces of these excavations will be visible -- monuments alike of the superstition and folly of the Smith family.
As for Jo, he is altogether too stupid to write an ordinary newspaper paragraph of common sense, as the columns of the Mormon paper will bear abundant testimony. Before he got up his humbug, he was so illiterate as scarcely to be able to write his name intelligibly or spell it correctly. -- He could have no farther agency in the preparation of the Book of Mormon for the press, than that which I have already awarded him.
I may here add, that Harris, disgusted with Mormonism, left the tribe nearly two years since, as have also all of the honest persons of ordinary intelligence, who had become the dupes of Jo and his assistant wire-pullers.”
Without the manuscript in his hand, Hadley particularly scoffed at the idea that Joseph Smith could even produce such a book—one that proclaimed itself to be another book of scripture, equal if not superior to the Holy Bible itself. After all, Joseph Smith was, Hadley asserted, “very illiterate.”
Hadley 1829. “Now it appears not a little strange that there should have been deposited in this western world, and in the secluded town of Manchester, too, a record of this description, and still more so, that a person like Smith (very illiterate) should have been gifted by inspiration to read and interpret it. It should be recorded as a "new thing under the sun." It is certainly a "new thing" in the history of superstition, bigotry, inconsistency, and foolishness.”
As fantastical as Joseph’s story of the angel sounded, the idea that this uneducated farm boy translated the purported book from ancient records seemed even more implausible to Hadley.
Hadley 1829 claimed Joseph had a dream and did not mention angels. Hadley 1842 says “Jo was one night visited by an angel” and made two other references to angels. Perhaps MacKay/Dirkmaat confused the two articles? At any rate, they never cited Hadley 1842.
At the time Hadley published his dismissive article, there were few indications to him or anyone else that Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon would amount to anything more than a curiosity that would quickly be lost in the rapidly shifting sands of time. There was not yet a Church of Christ (the original name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and it would not be organized for another eight months.
This sentence is accurate.
In Palmyra, where Hadley lived, only Joseph Smith’s own family seemed to have accepted Joseph’s claims. The lone exception was Martin Harris, whom even Hadley in his criticism seemed perplexed about because Harris was “an honest and industrious farmer,” well respected in the community.
Hadley never said or implied that Harris was the “lone exception.” Hadley 1829 said “the greatest piece of superstition… still occupies the attention of a few superstitious and bigoted individuals of this quarter. Hadley refers to “its proselytes” without naming anyone, then says “A few however, believed the "golden" story, among whom was Martin Harris, an honest and industrious farmer of this town.” The “few” presumably included Joseph’s own family along with others identified by Harris, such as Oliver Cowdery and the Whitmers.
In Hadley 1842, Hadley writes “At first, no one would listen to his absurd story; but he soon let some knowing ones into the secret, and by dint of their united efforts, a few of the unlearned and superstitious of their neighbors were made to gulp down the story.”
Harris notwithstanding, Hadley dismissed Joseph’s claims and the Book of Mormon, believing that they would be rejected entirely by anyone who heard the story or read the book 2.
As we just saw, Hadley acknowledged that some people had already accepted the “story.” His purpose was to warn the public. “It should, and it doubtless will, be treated with the neglect it merits. The public should not be imposed upon by this work, pronounced as it is, by its proselytes, to be superior in style, and more advantageous to mankind, than the Holy Bible!”
2. “Gold Bible,” Palmyra Freeman, August 11, 1829.
LTA p. 3.
For his part, Joseph Smith always maintained that the translation of the Book of Mormon was a miracle. He affirmed that “through the medium of the Urim and Thummim,” he had “translated the record by the gift and power of God.” 3
There are no instances of Joseph describing the translation as a “miracle.”
The full quotation from the Wentworth letter explains the origin of the name “Urim and Thummim” and gives a specific description that contradicts the SITH narrative.
“With the records was found a curious instrument which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God.”
3. Joseph Smith to John Wentworth, Times and Seasons, March 1, 1842.
As soon as believers and skeptics were able to peruse the book’s pages, they set forth explanations for how it was produced. Believers added details to Joseph’s description of the process of translation. Meanwhile, skeptics offered explanations for how Joseph Smith either attempted to pawn off someone else’s prose as a miracle or had himself creatively produced a fiction.
In his Preface to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, Joseph responded to alternative explanations.
“As many false reports have been circulated respecting the following work…I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon.” Hadley 1829 had been reprinted in several newspapers and constituted the most notorious of the “false reports” that circulated. As we’ll see below, the only factual error in Hadley 1829 was the account of the spectacles in the hat, which Joseph explicitly contradicted by saying he took the translated from the plates.
Thus, even before it was published (and even more so afterward), the Book of Mormon became the focal point of those joining or deriding the Church of Christ. Many offered their own explanations of how the Book of Mormon came into being. Those various explanations often did not take the accounts Joseph and his scribes gave at face value. Some attempted to prove it was not a miracle, while others would later embellish the events to try to make it seem more miraculous. In either case, the explanations did not describe the miracle as the participants said that it happened.
There were no contemporaneous accounts of the translation from the participants for believers and non-believers to argue over as implied by MacKay/Dirkmaat. The earliest specific account is what Joseph wrote in the Preface. The rest appeared later in the 1830s after Mormonism Unvailed was published in 1834. And then the accounts published by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery consistently credited the translation as coming from the plates through the interpreters by the gift and power of God, with no mention of a stone in a hat.
Hadley 1829 restated what unnamed “proselytes” said, combined with whatever Martin Harris said, but Hadley did not state or imply that he met Joseph personally.
Hadley 1829 explains that no one was permitted to see the spectacles, which makes the spectacle-in-the-hat narrative inherently hearsay.
LTA p. 7
This book expands upon the historical explanation found in the Gospel Topics essays, but readers should be aware that other faithful Latter-day Saints have proffered different theories about the translation of the Book of Mormon, which attempt to describe the process in different ways. But this book addresses common questions that arise in light of the historical explanation of the miracle of translation, and those subscribing to different theories of translation will no doubt find some of our questions and answers unsatisfying.
The irony of this statement is threefold.
First, the Gospel Topics essay on translation never quotes what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation, apart from a truncated excerpt that changes the meaning.
Second, LTA invents a demonstrably false narrative about Hadley 1829 to promote the authors’ SITH narrative.
Third, despite their claim to a historical approach, the authors avoid a detailed contextual analysis of the SITH statements. They also do not acknowledge that one of the alternative “theories” of translation is Joseph Smith’s plates-and-interpreters account which was accepted by all faithful believers in the Book of Mormon in all of the churches of the Restoration until only the most recent times when scholars like MacKay/Dirkmaat began to put aside Joseph’s account.
NOTE: MacKay/Dirkmaat revisit Hadley 1829 in this later chapter in the book.
LTA p. 70.
Though Hadley's small-time operation could not accommodate the herculean project of printing the Book of Mormon, he went from amiable to incensed after Joseph eventually agreed to terms with the recalcitrant Grandin rather than Hadley's more well-positioned friend in Rochester. Joseph had described to Hadley many of the remarkable events that had let him to the plates and how they were translated. Now Hadley determined to undermine Joseph Smith by relating the fantastical events Joseph had told him.
According to Hadley's original article and his 1842 letter, he never met Joseph Smith. Nor was Hadley ever "amiable" about the project nor did he want to have anything to do with furthering it.
In Hadley 1842, he wrote: “I was one day waited upon by Harris, and offered the printing of the Book of Mormon…. I was so sceptical [sic] as to utterly refuse to have any "part or lot" in the imposition, telling him at the same time, that if he proceeded with the publication, I should feel it my duty, as the conductor of a faithful public journal, to expose him and the whole Mormon gang. He took the work, however, to the other office in the village, and it was soon put to press. It was then I wrote and published an article, which you may recollect, headed "THE GOLDEN BIBLE," giving a history of the humbug up to that time. This article was extensively copied, it having been the first ever published about the Mormons.
LTA p. 70.
The earliest written account of the translation of the Book of Mormon comes from Palmyra editor Jonathan Hedley, whom we met in the introduction to this book. 14
This sentence is accurate but misleading in the sense that Hadley purported to relate the translation but presented a narrative that his own article shows was hearsay at best.
14. See the introduction, p. 1 herein.
After Egbert Grandin not only refused to print the Book of Mormon but attempted to stop Martin from supporting the project, Joseph sought to employ the offices of Hadley’s Palmyra Freeman. Hadley was Grandin’s outspoken local nemesis.
Hadley never said or implied that he met Joseph personally. Instead, he expressly said it was Harris who approached him.
Though Hadley’s small-time operation could not accommodate the herculean project of printing the Book of Mormon, he went from amiable to incensed after Joseph Smith eventually agreed to terms with the recalcitrant Grandin rather than Hadley’s more well-positioned friend in Rochester.
This is a repeat of the false narrative we discussed above. Hadley was never amiable or interested in assisting with the publication project, but opposed the “whole Mormon gang” from the outset.
Joseph had described to Hadley many of the remarkable events that had led him to the plates and how they were translated. Now Hadley determined to undermine Joseph Smith by relating the fantastical events Joseph had told him.
Again, Hadley never said or implied that he met Joseph personally.
While antagonistic sources can clearly make a believer uncomfortable, Hadley's account is unlike any of the others that would follow it.
To the contrary, Mormonism Unvailed related a version of SITH.
LTA p. 71.
When Hadley wrote his piece, there were no other published accounts for him to twist and distort. Yet he knew details of how Joseph obtained the plates and their exact size and about Martin’s trip to scholars in the East, as well as the translation process.
Hadley never said or implied that he relied on “other published sources.” He said he had learned the story directly from Martin Harris and the “proselytes.”
He could only have gotten these details from a conversation with Joseph Smith or one of the witnesses to the translation.
This is an obvious logical fallacy because Hadley could have learned these details from anyone who heard rumors circulating in town.
Hadley explicitly stated that he got the information from the vague, unnamed "proselytes" and that Martin Harris came to his printing shop several times. Martin was not a witness to any of the translation of the text we have today, except possibly for part of the Book of Mosiah in Harmony (D&C 5:30). Again, Hadley never claimed he met Joseph Smith or ever had a conversation with him.
Hadley averred he had talked to Joseph himself.
This is the MacKay/Dirkmaat inference, but it contradicts what Hadley actually said about his conversation with Martin Harris. If Hadley 1829 is ambiguous, Hadley 1842 is explicit.
When Hadley wrote “by placing the Spectacles in a hat, and looking into it, Smith could (he said so, at least,) interpret these characters,” he was relating what others said Joseph said. Hadley did not write "Smith told me" or anything close to that.
Because Hadley did not think Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon would amount to anything, he did not feel the need to embellish or distort the story of the plates.
This paragraph is mind-reading that contradicts what Hadley actually wrote.
In Hadley 1842, he explained “I was so sceptical as to utterly refuse to have any "part or lot" in the imposition, telling him at the same time, that if he proceeded with the publication, I should feel it my duty, as the conductor of a faithful public journal, to expose him and the whole Mormon gang.”
If Hadley did not think the BofM would amount to anything, he had no need to “expose… the whole Mormon gang.”
Hadley 1829 and Hadley 1842 show that Hadley thought Joseph’s narrative was not credible. He was highly motivated to “embellish and/or distort” the story of the plates in his effort to warn the public.
But because MacKay/Dirkmaat want to persuade readers that SITH is authentic, they turn logic on its head and conclude that Hadley "did not feel the need to embellish or distort the story."
Readers can decide for themselves whether Hadley's explicit animosity would make him more likely to distort the story to make it sound even more ridiculous.
Nevertheless, MacKay/Dirkmaat read Hadley's mind further.
He dismissed it, for sure, but did not think the story needed to be sunk by torpedoes that were more explosive than common sense and satire. The idea was fantastical enough that no sane person would believe it--at least, that's what he assumed.
Here, MacKay/Dirkmaat make a good point: SITH is difficult to believe, both on its face and because it directly contradicts what Joseph and Oliver always said. It's no wonder why Joseph Smith complained when "false reports, lies, and foolish stories were published in the newspapers."
He published his account of the translation of the Book of Mormon in August 1829, before even the first word of the book was typeset on Grandin's press.
Hadley did exactly what he told Martin Harris he would do if Martin published the book.
Hadley told his readers: “In the fall of 1827, a person by the name of Joseph Smith, of Manchester, Ontario county, reported that he had been visited in a dream by the spirit of the Almighty, and informed that in a certain hill in that town, was deposited this Golden, [sic] Bible, containing an ancient record of divine nature and origin. After having been thrice thus visited, as he states, he proceeded to the spot and . . . the Bible was found, together with a huge pair of spectacles!”
Notice that Hadley’s account has Joseph relating a dream visitation with no mention of an angel. Joseph always said it was an angel who appeared to him, which indicates that Hadley was reporting hearsay.
Joseph once mentioned he supposed it had been a dream, but he knew it was not. “I immediately went to the place and found where the plates was deposited as the angel of the Lord had commanded me and straightway made three attempts to get them and then being excedingly frightened I supposed it had been a dreem of Vision but when I considred I knew that it was not.” https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-circa-summer-1832/4
Hadley explained that Martin Harris, “an honest and industrious farmer of this town,” had come to believe the story and had taken characters copied from the gold plates to the East and met with the renowned Professor Samuel Mitchell in 1828. 15
Hadley reported that Harris was among “a few” who believed the story, suggesting that Hadley had multiple sources for his version.
15. Jonathan Hadley, “Golden Bible,” Palmyra Freeman, August 11, 1829.
Evidence that his knowledge came directly from Joseph Smith is further bolstered by Hadley's explanation of the gold plates, which provide the same dimensions that Joseph Smith would himself publish but in 1829 had not ever been publicly declared: “The leaves of the Bible were plates of gold,” wrote Hadley, “about eight inches long, six wide, and one eight of an inch thick, on which were engraved characters or hieroglyphics.” 16
This is not evidence that Hadley’s knowledge came from Joseph Smith directly. In fact, everything Joseph knew about Harris’ trip to the East came from Harris himself, making Harris the original source.
Regarding the plates, MacKay/Dirkmaat edit the original text here to omit the third-party nature of this quotation. Instead of claiming that Joseph Smith directly told him anything, Hadley wrote “It was said that the leaves of the Bible were plates, of gold about eight inches long, six wide, and one eighth of an inch thick, on which were engraved characters or hieroglyphics.” (emphasis added)
Harris, as one of the Three Witnesses, was an obvious source for the description of the plates.
16. Hadley, “Golden Bible.”
While the witnesses of the plates provided various accounts of the size of the plates, Hadley’s 1829 description is the closest to the one Joseph Smith himself gave in the Wentworth letter in 1842: “These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold, each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin.” 17
Orson Pratt’s 1840 pamphlet, which scholars believe Joseph adapted for the Wentworth letter, reads “These records were engraved on plates, which had the appearance of gold. Each plate was not far from seven by eight inches in width and length, being not quite as thick as common tin.”
17. Joseph Smith, “Church History,” Times and Seasons, March 1, 1842.
Hadley also used the peculiar term “spectacles” to describe the device containing the two seer stones that was found with the plates.
“Spectacles” was a common descriptive term used by many close to the translation for the Nephite interpreters.
Though his recitation of Joseph’s explanation of the translation was filled with incredulity, Hadley explained, “By placing the Spectacles in a hat, and looking into it, Smith could (he said so, at least) interpret these characters.” 18
This sentence is the source of the claim that Joseph personally told Hadley how he translated, but notice that Hadley does not say “Smith told me.” Instead, he relates what others said.
That this is a hearsay statement is obvious from the context. MacKay and Dirkmaat omitted the preceding sentences from Hadley 1829. “He had been directed, however, not to let any mortal being examine them, "under no less penalty" than instant death! They were therefore nicely wrapped up, and excluded from the "vulgar gaze of poor wicked mortals!"
Given the command never to display the spectacles, anyone who claimed Joseph put the spectacles in the hat must have related hearsay and/or assumption.
18 Hadley, “Golden Bible.”
In Joseph Smith’s first written account of the translation of the Book of Mormon, he also described the stones as “spectacles,” explaining that though he felt overwhelmed by the task because he was unlearned, God had prepared the spectacles so he could translate.
“Spectacles” is an obvious description of the two stones set in a silver bow. Lucy Mack Smith described the instrument as “connected with each other in the same way that old fashioned spectacles are made.”
Thus this earliest published account of translation described the same process of placing the stones in a hat to block out the light—a description that Emma Smith, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Joseph Knight affirmed, and one that Oliver Cowdery also described according to multiple early (1830 and 1831) sources.
This is misleading because the statements from Emma, Martin, David and Joseph Knight occurred decades later and were inconsistent. Further, they provide no reference for their statement that Oliver Cowdery also endorsed the SITH account “according to multiple early (1830 and 1831) sources.” In fact, in direct contradiction of this very misleading statement, Oliver Cowdery’s accounts always referred to the use of the interpreters. It cannot be over-emphasized that Oliver and Joseph contradicted the SITH narrative because they always said Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.
At times the testimonies of these witnesses have been dismissed by modern Latter-day Saints.
This is misleading because the testimonies of these witnesses regarding SITH have always been dismissed by Latter-day Saints, from Joseph Smith through the present.
Joseph Smith himself dismissed the SITH account in Hadley 1827 when he wrote the Preface to the 1830 edition, as Hadley’s article was the major attack on the Book of Mormon in print at the time of its publication.
In the ensuing years, Joseph’s contemporaries and successors in Church leadership reaffirmed the Urim and Thummim narrative. For a list of 95 examples from LDS General Conference between 1856 and 2007, see
Confronted with these descriptions, which may be foreign to how they previously envisioned the process of translation, some have invoked the later apostasies of Martin Harris, Emma Smith, and David Whitmer in order to discard their testimonies.
This sentence makes a legitimate objection. Rejecting the testimonies of Martin, Emma, and David on the sole basis of their later apostasies is a superficial analysis, especially when all three claimed they were supporting the divine authenticity of the translation. However, this argument is a red herring because there are specific evidentiary problems with their testimonies, as discussed in books such as By Means of the Urim and Thummim: Restoring Translation to the Restoration.
However, taking a much more measured approach, one can recognize that though some of these witnesses of the translation left the Church (Joseph Knight did not), none ever denied their testimony of the gold plates or of Joseph Smith as the translator of the Book of Mormon. Indeed, Latter-day Saints correctly and proudly affirm that none of the witnesses of the gold plates ever denied their testimony, despite their various apostasies.
Instead of a “much more measured approach,” this is a dodge. The issue is not whether these witnesses apostatized but whether their testimonies are credible and reliable. This involves questions of whether they were actually witnesses, what they actually witnessed (versus what they assumed or inferred they saw), whether they had apologetic motives or other bias, etc.
It is inconsistent to herald the witnesses’ testimonies about the existence of the gold plates but then to cast aside their explanation of translation that they provided at the same time they were affirming the truthfulness of the work.
Superficially, this is a rational argument. But it’s one thing to observe physical objects and quite another to describe a mental process (translation). Emma never saw the plates. Oliver always said Joseph used the U&T. Martin always said Joseph used the U&T except for one hearsay deviation related years later after Martin had died. David Whitmer changed his story over the years, was never in Harmony, and admitted he wasn’t around for most of the translation in Fayette.
Emma was, for instance, seeking to affirm the prophetic nature of her husband. Virulent anti-Mormons of her day, such as Eber Howe, mocked the fact that Joseph translated with a seer stone and a hat. Why then would Emma describe the process of translation by repeating the description given by Howe, who hated Joseph and mocked the miracle, rather than describing how it actually occurred? If the process involved neither the seer stones nor a hat, what motivation would Emma Smith have in making that claim while still desperately defending Joseph as a prophet?
While Howe mocked SITH, Joseph and Oliver promptly responded with Letter I (JS-H, Note 1) which reaffirmed that Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim.
The dominant narrative from Mormonism Unvailed was not SITH, but the Spalding theory that was widely adopted by the media. Emma had a strong motivation to refute the Spalding theory.
Emma’s “Last Testimony” started with a rebuttal of the Spalding theory, a rebuttal that continued with her SITH account.
Similarly, Martin Harris affirmed his testimony both inside and outside of the Church. Did he also, though disconnected from Emma Smith, provide a false explanation that he knew was ridiculed by antagonists of the gold plates and the Book of Mormon?
Martin always testified about the Urim and Thummim, except for the stone-swapping account related as hearsay after his death.
Indeed, Jonathan Hadley’s account (the earliest) agrees with David Whitmer’s (the latest). Thus, historians have concluded that the translation process must have, in some way, involved placing the stones into a hat.
As we’ve seen, the Hadley account is obvious hearsay that did not come from Joseph Smith. And it did not involve putting a seer stone in a hat anyway.
LTA p. 74.
They have also concluded that the traditionally held notion that Joseph translated with the gold plates open in front of him has almost nor support, early or late, among witnesses and scribes of the translation of the gold plates. This new understanding is reflected in the Church’s Gospel Topics essay on the subject as well as in various other publications enumerated later in this chapter.
Notice the careful wording here, focusing on “witnesses and scribes.” Joseph himself said he translated the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim, but he was neither a witness nor a scribe, so his statements are excluded (and omitted from the Gospel Topics Essay, apart from an out-of-context excerpt).
The principal witness/scribe was Oliver Cowdery, who corroborated what Joseph said about the Urim & Thummim in both formal publication and when he returned to the Church (as recorded by Reuben Miller). Another scribe, John Whitmer, also said Joseph used the Urim & Thummim.
The only witness/scribe who related SITH was Emma, in a statement written by her son that Emma never publicly acknowledged that was published months after she died. And that son, Joseph Smith III, who conducted the interview, did not quote or cite it in his own analysis of the translation in 1886, in which he instead repudiated the SITH narrative and concluded the translation was performed with the Urim & Thummim.
All of the witnesses of the translation describe Joseph using the seer stones or a single seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon, referring to them variously as interpreters, Urim and Thummim, spectacles, stones, crystals, etc.
This is obfuscation. Joseph and Oliver never referred to the Nephite interpreters as stones or crystals.
Several of these scribes and witnesses also affirmed that Joseph used more than one device during his translation. Emma Smith, for instance, explained, “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.” 19
Here Emma clearly distinguished between the Urim & Thummim and the seer stone, contrary to the MacKay/Dirkmaat theory, but she also never said she saw the Urim & Thummim and was not among those authorized to do so. Thus, she related hearsay and/or assumption and/or inference.
Her claim in this one late (1870) letter that Joseph used a stone after Martin lost the 116 pages contradicts what Joseph said about recovering the Urim & Thummim with the plates, as well as everything Joseph and Oliver said about the translation.
19. Emma Smith to Emma Pilgrim, March 27, 1870, in John T. Clark, “Translation of Nephite Records,” Return (Davis City, IA), July 15, 1895, 2.
As one of the main scribes of the translation of the gold plates, Emma’s description of the translation as miraculous and involving more than one device should be taken very seriously.
No one knows for sure what part of the translation Emma scribed because she never said what she wrote. (I think she scribed the Book of Mosiah in Harmony and part of 2 Nephi in Fayette, but others have different ideas.) But as we’ve seen, her two statements are inconsistent and unreliable.
Joseph Smith’s possession and use of at least one separate seer stone during the translation of the Book of Mormon was once more widely understood in the Church, as a statement from Martin Harris published in the Deseret Evening News in 1881 indicates: [sic] He described Joseph using both the “spectacles” that had been found in the box with the gold plates as well as a separate, different stone. He stated 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.” 20
Joseph’s possession and use of a seer stone was well known, as Zenas Gurley explained. The question is what Joseph used it for. Gurley said Joseph used it to “satisfy the awful curiosity” of his followers, which makes sense. It was an aid to their faith, not an instrument he needed (unlike the Urim and Thummim).
The Martin Harris statement published years after his death is hearsay that could have originated with what others said from the Fayette or similar demonstrations.
20. Deseret Evening News, December 13, 1881, 4.
The following excerpts are from the previous book written by MacKay/Dirkmaat in which they also discussed Hadley 1829 article without mentioning Hadley 1842.
MacKay/Dirkmaat – From Darkness Unto Light
Jonathan A. Hadley of the Palmyra Freeman
Rebuffed by Grandin, who not only refused to help with printing but aggressively sought to derail the entire project, Joseph and Martin appear to have next solicited the aid of Jonathan A. Hadley, editor of another Palmyra newspaper, the Palmyra Freeman....
Actually, in his 1842 letter, Hadley reported that it was only Martin Harris who approached him. There is no basis for claiming that it "appears" Joseph approached Hadley.
Barely twenty years old in the summer of 1829, Hadley was nevertheless apparently approached by Joseph Smith with the same proposal: a massive print run of a lengthy book. It is likely that Smith approached Hadley because the latter repeatedly advertised his abilities and facilities, including his acquisition of “a new and choice assortment of Job Type.” ...
Now the authors skew the record even more, to say it was Joseph Smith who approached Hadley (instead of Joseph and Martin together).
In his 1842 letter, Hadley said that it was Martin Harris who approached him, not Joseph Smith. Nowhere did Hadley state, imply, or suggest that he met Joseph personally.
Soon after the translation was completed, I was one day waited upon by Harris, and offered the printing of the Book of Mormon. This was in the summer of 1829, at which time I was carrying on the printing business at Palmyra. Harris owned a good farm in that town, and offered to mortgage it to secure the expense of printing. Though he was a subscriber to my paper, and had frequently "labored" to convert me to the Mormon faith, I was so sceptical as to utterly refuse to have any "part or lot" in the imposition, telling him at the same time, that if he proceeded with the publication, I should feel it my duty, as the conductor of a faithful public journal, to expose him and the whole Mormon gang. He took the work, however, to the other office in the village, and it was soon put to press. It was then I wrote and published an article, which you may recollect, headed "THE GOLDEN BIBLE," giving a history of the humbug up to that time. This article was extensively copied, it having been the first ever published about the Mormons.
Hadley’s immediate reaction to Smith’s proposal can only be speculated, but his publication later that summer of a scornful diatribe against the impending publication of the Book of Mormon suggests that Hadley had extensive, very detailed discussions with Joseph Smith or one of his closest associates.
It's difficult to understand why MacKay and Dirkmaat say that Hadley's reaction "can only be speculated." Hadley himself wrote, in the paragraph quoted above, that
I was so sceptical as to utterly refuse to have any "part or lot" in the imposition, telling him at the same time, that if he proceeded with the publication, I should feel it my duty, as the conductor of a faithful public journal, to expose him and the whole Mormon gang.
Nor does the evidence "suggest" that Hadley had any discussions with Joseph Smith whatsoever. Hadley's original article explains that he learned this from the "proselytes" of the "Golden Bible."
"The greatest piece of superstition that has ever come within the sphere of our knowledge is one which has for sometime past, and still occupies the attention of a few superstitious and bigoted individuals of this quarter. It is generally known and spoken of as the "Golden Bible." Its proselytes give the following account of it:"
In his 1842 letter, Hadley explained that:
The story of the manner in which it is said the plates were found, I have often had from Martin Harris, (the only honest man, if there was one, among the original Mormons,) which is briefly as follows:
In fact, Hadley’s negative article on “the Gold Bible” contains the earliest surviving account of many of the foundational events in Joseph’s retrieval and translation of the plates, all of which Hadley indicated were told him by Joseph himself...
To the contrary, Hadley expressly said that he learned the account from "its proselytes." Here, "proselytes" could have meant Martin specifically (as he claimed in his 1842 letter) or others such as the Smith family or anyone who was spreading the story. Hadley said the account was "soon circulated," which suggests lots of people were talking about it.
After proceeding to explain to his readers that Smith was not allowed to let anyone look at the plates, Hadley gave the earliest surviving description of the plates. In that description, the dimensions of the plates as outlined by Hadley are almost identical to those later sent by Joseph Smith to newspaper editor John Wentworth in his famous 1842 letter....
This similar description is not evidence that Joseph Smith described the plates to Hadley. After all, Martin Harris was one of the three witnesses and had seen the plates only a few weeks before visiting Hadley.
More than just the dimensions, Hadley gave the earliest published account of the translation process, stating that “by placing the Spectacles in a hat, and looking into it, Smith could (he said so, at least,) interpret these characters.”
This description of the translation process is in the paragraph of the account Hadley said was given by "its proselytes." Whether Hadley meant Martin specifically or other proselytes, the parenthetical in no way indicates Joseph Smith told this to Hadley personally. First, Hadley never said he met Joseph. Second, the "proselytes" describing the event would naturally say Joseph said he could interpret the characters. That was common knowledge.
Hadley's version is obviously hearsay. Prior to describing SITH, Hadley had emphasized that the proselytes told him that Joseph "had been directed, however, not to let any mortal being examine them, "under no less penalty" than instant death!" Therefore, no observer could have watched Joseph place the "Spectacles" in the hat.
Whether it was Martin or another "proselyte" who related this account of the translation to Hadley, Hadley could have conflated alternative versions he had heard from the "proselytes" and critics, or he could have repeated his understanding of Martin's account. In either case, because no one could have seen Joseph place the spectacles in a hat, the account appears to be a combination of the seer stone demonstration Joseph conducted in Fayette and Joseph's explanation that he could interpret the engravings on the plates with the spectacles.
Hadley was also familiar with Martin Harris’s trip to the East with characters from the plates, and even that Dr. Samuel Mitchell was one of the scholars visited.
Because it was Martin who visited Hadley, it's not surprising that he related this account. Hadley wrote this in the paragraph after the account related by the "proselytes."
Despite the obvious contempt he held for the story of the gold plates by August 1829, it is very likely that Hadley was the principal reason Smith and Harris traveled the considerable distance to Rochester in search of a printer rather than in the much more convenient surrounding communities. Hadley likely told Joseph that, despite the expansive printing skills he advertised, he had no experience in book printing or binding.
Even assuming it is "likely" that Hadley's response prompted Joseph and Martin to travel to Rochester, his response was nothing like what MacKay/Dirkmaat imagine here. As noted above, Hadley explained his response:
I was so sceptical as to utterly refuse to have any "part or lot" in the imposition, telling him at the same time, that if he proceeded with the publication, I should feel it my duty, as the conductor of a faithful public journal, to expose him and the whole Mormon gang.
Note that Hadley wrote "telling him," referring to Martin Harris. He did not write "them" or in any other way suggest or imply that Joseph was present.
But the master he apprenticed under in Rochester, Thurlow Weed, would be a better candidate. Given the connection between Hadley and Weed, the possibility that Smith just happened to approach both men by chance seems remote. Hadley’s referral of Weed also helps explain why, by Weed’s account at least, Smith and Harris came to him first rather than other printers in Rochester that were more famous and experienced.
Here we see MacKay/Dirkmaat compound their demonstrably false speculation by portraying Hadley as having referred "Smith and Harris" to Weed. To the contrary, Hadley didn't want the book published at all, and threatened to "expose.. the whole Mormon gang" if Harris did publish it.