- “By the Gift and Power of God”
- You are here
- Criticism of the Book of Mormon
- Book of Mormon Translation
- Book of mormon translation method theory
- Book of Mormon Apologetics: How Mormons Defend the Book of Mormon
- Problems with Mormonism #3 Translation Method of the Book of Mormon
- Book of Mormon/Translation/Method
- Official LDS Essay on Book of Mormon Translation, Annotated
An essay on the mechanical process in which the Book of Mormon was translated was put in the topical guide of the LDS. It is found here: Book of Mormon Translation. This very-well done video by award-winning author and Mormon historian Dan Vogel addresses many of the issues from the Church essay as well as other apologetic arguments provided by the Mormon Interpreter.
Dan is probably the most knowledgeable scholar on the Book of Mormon translation process and this addresses the translation process better than anything we have seen. Eyewitness 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.
“By the Gift and Power of God”
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.
This video examines the historical sources and responds to recent apologetic attempts to reconcile this problem. Many Mormons believe this is how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon as he sat behind a curtain dictating the translation to a scribe on the other side. There is a good reason for this: Joseph Smith's official history implies this is how it was done. The problem is that there is not a shred of evidence supporting this claim. In fact, this image is an anachronism that reflects a later development in Smith's evolving story.
Instead, eyewitness testimony confirms that Smith translated 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. Hi I'm Dan Vogel. There has been a lot of confusion about the method Joseph Smith used to produce the Book of Mormon.
The confusion is largely due to Joseph Smith's attempt to suppress the occult or folk magic not Satanic origins and coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
Some apologists have also confused matters in an attempt to harmonize Smith's official history with eyewitness accounts, claiming that he switched between methods and simply chose to emphasize one over the other. In this video, I will attempt to reconstruct the historical events as they unfolded and hopefully clear up some of the confusion and get everyone on the same page. The first thing to discuss is why Joseph Smith invented the magic spectacles and how they came to be associated with the Urim and Thummim used by Aaronic priests in the Old Testament.
Actually, Joseph Smith wasn't the inventor of the spectacles at all. It was another Palmyra seer named Samuel Lawrence. According to Willard Chase, a cabinetmaker whose sister Sally used a green-colored seer stone, Smith took Lawrence to the hill in and showed him the spot where the plates were supposedly buried.
Lawrence, who evidently looked in his own seer stone, asked Smith. He looked, and said there was nothing; he told him to look again, and see if there was not a large pair of specks with the plates; he looked and soon saw a pair of spectacles, the same with which Joseph says he translated the Book of Mormon.
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Chase's account was subsequently corroborated by early Mormon convert and Smith family friend from Colesville Joseph Knight Sr. They were large because it was generally held that the legendary ancient Mound Builders were a large race. While Smith obtained a second witness to the existence of the plates through Lawrence, he was nevertheless stuck with the spectacles. So when he got possession of the plates in , he had to include the spectacles.
The idea that Smith did not invent the spectacles but that they were forced on him explains why he quickly and inexplicably discarded them for his own stone-in-hat method. Chase's account also raises doubt about Smith's claim that the angel told him about the spectacles in On the night in September when Smith said he removed the plates from the hill, he did not bring them home but hid them in the woods.
Criticism of the Book of Mormon
When Lucy Smith saw that Joseph didn't have the plates, according to her history, she panicked and to ease her worry Joseph allowed her to feel the spectacles wrapped in a silk handkerchief, calling them "a key".
Her description of the instrument went well beyond what she could determine by feeling alone. She said:. Joseph Knight Sr. Knight's use of the term "Urim and Thummim" when referring to the spectacles reflects later terminology. It was for obvious apologetic reasons that this magical instrument began to be associated with the Old Testament's "Urim and Thummim" meaning in Hebrew "light and perfection" ,which were two stones in Aaron's breastplate. Exodus states:.
And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goeth in before the LORD: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually. Exodus While there was no attempt to claim the instrument buried with the plates was the same as the one used by ancient Jewish High Priests, the purpose of making such an association was to obscure the occult or folk-magic connection with seer stones.
Phelps, who was the editor of the church's periodical the Evening and Morning Star , was one of the first to associate Smith's spectacles with the Urim and Thummim. In January , Phelps said:.
Book of Mormon Translation
It [Book of Mormon] was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles— known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim It was apparently Orson Hyde who answered the following questions in a public meeting in Boston on 5 August while serving a mission in the East:. Soon the term began appearing in sources under Joseph Smith's control. With Smith's help, Oliver Cowdery published a history of the church in the Messenger and Advocate in and In the October issue, Cowdery said Smith "translated, with the Urim and Thummim , or, as the Nephites would have said,'Interpreters.
Moroni, the person who deposited the plates,…appeared onto 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.
Book of mormon translation method theory
In his history, Joseph Smith simply said that"the Lord had prepared…spectacles for to read the Book therefore I commenced translating. During his vision, Smith said the angel told him that buried with the plates. Unlike earlier associations of the spectacles with the Urim and Thummim, here Smith added the fastening of the instrument to a breastplate.
In his March letter to Chicago newspaper editor John Wentworth, Smith again mentioned the fastening of the spectacles to the breastplate:. 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 breast plate.
Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God. This fastening of the instrument to the breastplate linked Smith's spectacles even closer to Aaron's Urim and Thummim.
One of the most elaborate descriptions of the spectacles and breastplate came from Joseph's brother William. In , John W.
Book of Mormon Apologetics: How Mormons Defend the Book of Mormon
He also said the Urim and Thummim was attached to the breastplate by a rod which was fastened at the outer shoulde[r] edge of the breastplate and to the end of the silver bow. This is the only source for the rod holding the spectacles out from the breastplate.
If reported accurately, William, who had no firsthand information about the translation and admitted he "knew nothing about it…until after the organization of the Church,"  undoubtedly obtained these details from his brother Joseph, probably after However, this image of Joseph Smith sitting behind the curtain wearing the breastplate and spectacles is anachronistic to the and setting.
None of the eyewitnesses mention the breastplate, or Smith attaching the spectacles to a breastplate. Nowhere does the Book of Mormon associate the interpreters or spectacles with a breastplate.
Lucy mentions Joseph showing her a breastplate in , which she claimed to have examined through a cloth. However, she is the only one to mention it. Otherwise there is not a hint in the historical record that Joseph had such a thing, or that he carried it to Harmony, Pennsylvania, when he moved there in December When a June revelation promised the Three Witnesses a view of the plates and other sacred relics, the spectacles and breastplate were not listed together as one might expect but separately:.
The revelation apparently associates the breastplate with the sword of Laban, rather than the Urim and Thummim or spectacles. The earliest copy of this revelation dates to about This has serious implications for those who imagine Joseph Smith sitting behind the curtain wearing the breastplate since it appears that the meaning of the breastplate was changed to fit with the evolving story of the Urim and Thummim.
Problems with Mormonism #3 Translation Method of the Book of Mormon
This means that Joseph Smith's later descriptions of the Urim and Thummim attached to a breastplate are anachronistic to the and setting. The breastplate was part of the fiction that came with associating the spectacles with the Urim and Thummim; hence prior to this association, there was no thought of attaching the spectacles to a breastplate. With the breastplate gone, what was Joseph Smith's method of using the spectacles? What did he claim to be doing behind the curtain?
The curtain was necessary because he said he was commanded to show neither the plates nor the spectacles to anyone. Prior to the story of the Urim and Thummim attached to a breastplate, it was apparently understood that Smith simply held the spectacles up to his face or somehow attached them to his head, which is what Martin Harris apparently told Professor Anthon in New York City and the Reverend Clark in Palmyra in , as I will soon discuss.
There are also sources that claim Smith sometimes put the spectacles in his hat like he did with his seer stone. However, these sources are of questionable authority, vague and sometimes confused, and contradict more reliable sources. Moreover, there is a distinct possibility that some reporters simply conflated the stories of Smith's translating with the spectacles and his dictating with the seer stone in his hat.
Book of Mormon/Translation/Method
None of the sources provide enough detail to determine if Smith used this method behind the curtain or in the open, or what period of the translation process it occurred. At least one apologist has endeavored to exploit this confused aspect of reporting.
In an online journal— The Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture —Roger Nicholson attempted to answer the question: "How can a believing Latter-day Saint reconcile apparently conflicting accounts of the translation process? Nicholson's solution was to suggest that Smith alternated between putting the seer stone and spectacles in his hat, drawing on the vague and inaccurate secondhand reports for support.
He suggested that this was not only true at the beginning when Smith was behind the curtain, but also during the entire process when he was in full view of the witnesses. Martin Harris was responsible for one of the earliest published descriptions of Joseph Smith's method of translation. On 5 September , the Rochester Gem reported:. A man by the name of Martin Harris was in this village a few days since…He states that after a third visit from the same spirit in a dream, he [Smith] proceeded to the spot, removed earth, and there found the bible, together with a large pair of spectacles.
Official LDS Essay on Book of Mormon Translation, Annotated
By placing the spectacles in a hat and looking into it, Smith interprets the characters into the English language. It is possible that the reporter conflated the story of the spectacles and Joseph Smith's use of a seer stone in a hat. Such confusion would be understandable.
Since the spectacles were buried with the plates for the purpose of translating them, it would only be natural to assume that it was the instrument Joseph Smith put into his hat. Nicholson also quotes Martin Harris's interview with spiritualist Joel Tiffany as evidence that Harris "told a consistent story" throughout his life.
Rather than showing that Harris "told a consistent story," as Nicholson argues, it shows quite clearly that it was easy to misunderstand Harris's account of an inherently confusing story.
Moreover, despite Nicholson's assertion, these accounts are inconsistent with more reliable sources, to be discussed, where Harris describes Smith using a seer stone in his hat. William Smith, who transmitted the false story about the breastplate, also heard that Joseph sometimes put the spectacles into his hat.
In , he said:.