Monday, July 24, 2023

Gazelem question

The question of Gazelem often arises because scholars who promote SITH (the stone-in-the-hat narrative) link it to the translation of the Book of Mormon. In particular, MacKay/Dirkmaat in their book From Darkness Unto Light, which I've discussed here:

In that post, I made these comments:

The authors entirely omitted two additional important statements by Joseph about the translation. 

First, they forgot to tell readers that the Wentworth letter was later republished in 1844 as "Latter Day Saints" with some modifications, but the paragraph about the translation remained unchanged except for omitting the final comma.

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 on 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.

Second, they forgot to quote and cite what Joseph explained when he answered a question in the 1838 Elders' Journal. Here, he reaffirmed that he translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates:

Question 4th. How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon? 
Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County New York, being dead; and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them, and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon.

Continuing with the excerpt :

As the Book of Mormon prophesied, the word of God “shall shine forth in darkness unto light.”59 

When read in context, the passage refers to a stone: "And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations." (Alma 37:23)

The authors refer to "Gazelem" seven times in their book, stating at one point that "it is likely that the brown stone was the one referred to as Gazelem, which the Book of Mormon prophesied had been prepared to help translate ancient Nephite records like the Book of Mormon." 

Whether that is a "likely" interpretation is subjective, but there are two problems with the claim. 

First, as we saw above, in words as plain as words can be, Joseph clarified that he translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. He didn't qualify his statements by saying he translated some of the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, or that he used two or more different instruments.

Second, the passage in Alma goes on to explain that the prophecy in verse 23 was already fulfilled: "And now, my son, we see that they did not repent; therefore they have been destroyed, and thus far the word of God has been fulfilled; yea, their secret abominations have been brought out of darkness and made known unto us." (Alma 37:26) 

There is no statement, suggestion or implication that this stone would be used in the future.

[Some have been confused by the term "interpreters" in verses 21 and 24; e.g., "And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying:" (Alma 37:24) In the original text, the term used in this passage was "directors." The term was changed for the 1920 LDS edition but the RLDS/Community of Christ edition retains the original reading. Thus, when Oliver said Joseph "translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon,'" (Joseph Smith—History, Note, 1), he was not referring to Alma 37.]

By the way, here's how the authors deal with Oliver's statement, which they partially quote twice in their book.

They truncate the quotation after "Interpreters" to omit Oliver's statement that Joseph "translated... the history or record called the 'Book of Mormon'." Unsuspecting readers would not realize that Oliver actually said Joseph translated the history or record, which is much different from saying Joseph read words off a stone. [Later, in note 44 of chapter 7, they provide the entire quotation without comment.]

Nevertheless, after quoting the truncated passage from JS-H, note 1, they write, "Whether he was using the spectacles or an individual stone, Joseph apparently used either instrument by placing it in the bottom of a hat in order to block out the ambient light so he could read the words that appeared on the stone." [672 of 1233]

Obviously, nothing in Oliver's statement states, suggests or implies any such practice. 

This leads to another important historical source that the authors omitted from their book. Oliver reiterated his first-person testimony when he rejoined the Church in 1848.

I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet as he translated it by the gift and power of God by means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by that book, holy interpreters. I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the Interpreters. That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. Spaulding did not write it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet.

Here again, nothing in Oliver's statement states, suggests or implies that Joseph used a stone he found in a well and placed in a hat. This 1848 statement is all the more meaningful because on that occasion, Oliver possessed the brown stone that Joseph supposedly used. But he neither referenced it nor displayed it. Instead, he referred to the interpreters and the plates. 


Much of the confusion arises from a changed made in the text of the Book of Mormon in Alma 37. Originally the term was directors, but it was changed to interpreters in the 1920 and subsequent LDS editions. (Still directors in the RLDS editions.)

While I understand the rationale, I think this change was an error because it confuses people who read Church history (such as the footnote in JS-H) and because later in chapter 37 Alma refers to director again twice. Singular those times, but the same term.

After all, Joseph Smith (and Oliver Cowdery) edited the Book of Mormon twice after the 1830 edition and didn't make this change.

Here are the relevant verses. 

21 And now, I will speak unto you concerning those twenty-four plates, that ye keep them, that the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, all their murders, and robbings, and their plunderings, and all their wickedness and abominations, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, and that ye preserve these interpreters [1830-1924: directors].
 22 For behold, the Lord saw that his people began to work in darkness, yea, work secret murders and abominations; therefore the Lord said, if they did not repent they should be destroyed from off the face of the earth.
23 And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.
24 And now, my son, these interpreters [1830-1924: directors] were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying:
25 I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land.
26 And now, my son, we see that they did not repent; therefore they have been destroyed, and thus far the word of God has been fulfilled; yea, their secret abominations have been brought out of darkness and made known unto us.
27 And now, my son, I command you that ye retain all their oaths, and their covenants, and their agreements in their secret abominations; yea, and all their signs and their wonders ye shall keep from this people, that they know them not, lest peradventure they should fall into darkness also and be destroyed.
(Alma 37:21–27)


13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
(Mosiah 8:13)

19 And now, when Ammon had made an end of speaking these words the king rejoiced exceedingly, and gave thanks to God, saying: Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates, and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men.
(Mosiah 8:19)

20 And now, as I said unto you, that after king Mosiah had done these things, he took the plates of brass, and all the things which he had kept, and conferred them upon Alma, who was the son of Alma; yea, all the records, and also the interpreters, and conferred them upon him, and commanded him that he should keep and preserve them, and also keep a record of the people, handing them down from one generation to another, even as they had been handed down from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem.
(Mosiah 28:20)

5 Wherefore the Lord hath commanded me to write them; and I have written them. And he commanded me that I should seal them up; and he also hath commanded that I should seal up the interpretation thereof; wherefore I have sealed up the interpreters, according to the commandment of the Lord.
(Ether 4:5)

* Oliver Cowdery describes these events thus: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! 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 of Mormon.’
(Joseph Smith—History, Note, 1)


1 Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.
(Doctrine and Covenants 17:1)

16 And moreover, he also gave him charge concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass; and also the plates of Nephi; and also, the sword of Laban, and the ball or director, which led our fathers through the wilderness, which was prepared by the hand of the Lord that thereby they might be led, every one according to the heed and diligence which they gave unto him.
(Mosiah 1:16)

38 And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it.
(Alma 37:38)

45 And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.
(Alma 37:45)

Friday, July 21, 2023

Cumorah: How historians choose narratives to promote

A common assertion by LDS historians is the claim that Joseph Smith never referred to the hill in New York as Cumorah or Ramah. 

It's an absurd, deceptive statement used to excuse their treatment of Cumorah/Ramah and the false historical narrative present they produced in the Saints book (discussed here:

Nevertheless, their deceptive claim is their justification for censoring the historical record about Cumorah in the Saints book and in the visitors centers in Palmyra and Salt Lake City.

Even in the display about Cumorah on Temple Square, they never mentioned the actual historical record. 

But get this. Instead of informing visitors about the actual historical record, they displayed M2C!

(click to enlarge)

Fortunately, this M2C display has been removed as part of the renovation on Temple Square. It remains to be seen what will replace it, but we can be sure, based on past experience, that the Church History Department will continue to censor the historical record about Cumorah/Ramah.

How did we get here? Why do careful, thoughtful LDS historians choose this narrative to promote?

Obviously, no one knows everything that Joseph said throughout his lifetime. Even today, with all our video and audio technology, only a tiny portion of what we say is recorded. Regarding Joseph Smith and other historical figures, all we have is what the historical record has left us--and that consists of sparse written material, not speech.

We all recognize that Joseph wrote very little by himself. He dictated the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, as well as correspondence. If we compile every known document Joseph wrote or dictated (apart from the Book of Mormon and the revelations), we have less than a week's worth of speech to represent 39 years of an active life. 

The historians can accurately say that we have no extant written first-hand record of Joseph referring to the hill as Cumorah (apart from the letter now canonized as D&C 128:20, which they omitted from Saints and dismissed as "late" because it contradicts their theory about Cumorah/Ramah). 

But that accurate statement is much different from claiming Joseph never referred to the hill as Cumorah.

And excluding D&C 128:20, one of the few direct written statements by Joseph that is even canonized, is inexcusable by any standard.


Historians commonly attribute lots of second-hand statements to Joseph. The Joseph Smith Papers are full of second-hand accounts of Joseph's sermons and other teachings. Historians readily embrace second-hand statements--so long as they don't involve Cumorah.

Even in the Saints book, they cited Lucy Mack Smith's history as authoritative and reliable over 100 times.

But they omitted her statements, including a direct quotation in quotation marks, about Cumorah. 


There is no rational historical justification for omitting Lucy's statements about Cumorah. Lucy is the only source for much of the information published in Saints. There is no independent corroboration for many of her statements that are included as authoritative in the Saints book.

By contrast, Lucy's statements about Cumorah--that Moroni himself told Joseph the name of the hill the first time they met, and that Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah even before he obtained and translated the plates--were corroborated by Joseph himself in D&C 128:20, which preceded Lucy's dictated account. 

Lucy's statements about Cumorah were further corroborated by Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer.

Why have Church historians rejected Lucy's corroborated statements about Cumorah while citing her uncorroborated statements as authoritative?

Solely to accommodate the Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) promoted by their colleagues at BYU and CES.

Lucy Mack Smith related two second-hand statements by Joseph that, if accepted as authentic, explain the entire Cumorah narrative.

If rejected, however, the Cumorah narrative is inexplicable.

That's just how the M2C promoters want the Cumorah narrative: inexplicable and vague, of uncertain origin, based on speculation, etc., so they can (in their minds) legitimately repudiate the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.


Second-hand statements can be problematic, of course. They must be evaluated in light of context, extrinsic evidence, and corroboration. In Lucy's case, her statements about Cumorah were well corroborated, which lends them more credibility and reliability than uncorroborated second-hand accounts. 

But given the paucity of historical sources, historians necessarily rely on second-hand accounts to create a narrative.

A prime example is how historians transformed a single second-hand account, Wilford Woodruff's summary of a day's teachings, into a first-hand statement by Joseph Smith:

Woodruff journal:

28[th] Sunday I spent the day at B[righam] Young in company with Joseph & the Twelve in conversing upon a variety of subjects it was an interesting day Elder Joseph Fielding was present he had been in England four years we also saw a number of english Brethren Joseph said 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 any other Book

Note that, unlike in other parts of his journal, Woodruff did not put the statement in quotation marks, suggesting it was not a direct quotation but instead his own summary of what Joseph taught that day.

Nevertheless, early Church historians converted Woodruff's second-hand journal entry into a first-person statement, inserting it into Joseph's history. Note the insertion in the original text of the history.

History of the Church:

<​28​> Sunday 28. I spent the day in Council with the Twelve <​Apostles​> at the house of President [Brigham] Young <​conversing with them upon a variety of subjects. Bro Joseph Fielding was present, having been absent 4 years on a mission to England. I told the brethren that the book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the key stone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.​>

This history was then incorporated into the official Introduction to the Book of Mormon as a first-person statement by Joseph Smith.

Introduction to the Book of Mormon:

Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

Oliver Cowdery and the translation

In 1834, Oliver Cowdery published his famous account of the trsanslation: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a...