Book of Mormon/Translation

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    Articles related to the translation of the Book of Mormon

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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.
—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gospel Topics (2013) off-site

QUESTIONS


  • What do we know about the method used to translate the Book of Mormon?
  • Were the plates sometimes not in the room while Joseph was translating them?
  • Some claim that each sentence and word in the 1830 Book of Mormon "had supposedly come directly from God."


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS RESPONDS TO THESE QUESTIONS

"Book of Mormon Translation," Gospel Topics (lds.org), (2013)


[T]he scribes and others who observed the translation left numerous accounts that give insight into the process. Some 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 single stone. According 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. The 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 light.”
(Click here for full article)


THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS RESPONDS TO THESE QUESTIONS

Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign, (July 1993)


The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. David Whitmer wrote:


“Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.) [1]
(Click here for full article)


THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS RESPONDS TO THESE QUESTIONS

Marcus B. Nash, "‘Out of Weakness He Shall Be Made Strong’," 70th Annual Joseph Smith Memorial Devotional (history.lds.org), (3 June 2013)


This was not a composition. This was dictated, word by word, as he looked into instruments the Lord prepared for him, using a hat to shield his eyes from extraneous light in order to plainly see the words as they appeared. Contrary to one who translates with the use of a dictionary, as it were, the translation was revelation flowing to him from heaven, and written by scribes (with the inevitable scrivener errors).
(Click here for full article)


THE INTERPRETER FOUNDATION

Roger Nicholson,"The Spectacles, the Stone, the Hat, and the Book: A Twenty-first Century Believer’s View of the Book of Mormon Translation", Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 5:121-190 (June 7, 2013)


This essay seeks to examine the Book of Mormon translation method from the perspective of a regular, nonscholarly, believing member in the twenty-first century, by taking into account both what is learned in Church and what can be learned from historical records that are now easily available. What do we know? What should we know? How can a believing Latter-day Saint reconcile apparently conflicting accounts of the translation process? An examination of the historical sources is used to provide us with a fuller and more complete understanding of the complexity that exists in the early events of the Restoration. These accounts come from both believing and nonbelieving sources, and some skepticism ought to be employed in choosing to accept some of the interpretations offered by some of these sources as fact. However, an examination of these sources provides a larger picture, and the answers to these questions provide an enlightening look into Church history and the evolution of the translation story. This essay focuses primarily on the methods and instruments used in the translation process and how a faithful Latter-day Saint might view these as further evidence of truthfulness of the restored Gospel.
(Click here for full article)


PERSPECTIVES

Brant Gardner"The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon," Proceedings of the 2011 FAIR Conference (August 2011)


A seer stone is a rock. We have seer stones. The church still has them, I’ve seen them. At one point in time I remember going on the temple square and going through the museum there and I saw one and I looked at it and I saw a rock. I didn’t see the translation, I didn’t see anything else I saw a rock. I can pretty much guarantee you that the vast majority of us as we would look at that rock would see, a rock. That does not mean that something isn’t working because they were looking at the rock and that’s what we have to look at. What we will be looking at is the idea that this whole concept of the seer stone working “It’s the seer that’s working,” and it’s stone that becomes the trigger that allows the seer to do what the seer does. So that’s kind of step one and we will talk about how that happens.
(Click here for full article)


CONCLUSION


All that we know for certain is that Joseph translated the record "by the gift and power of God." (DC 135:3) We are given some insight into the spiritual aspect of the translation process, when the Lord says to Oliver Cowdery:

"But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right." (DC 9:8)

Beyond this, the Church does not take any sort of official stand on the exact method by which the Book of Mormon translation occurred. Joseph Smith himself never recorded the precise physical details of the method of translation:

"Brother Joseph Smith, Jun., said that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; and also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things" [2]

It is important to remember that what we do know for certain is that the translation of the Book of Mormon was carried out "by the gift and power of God." These are the only words that Joseph Smith himself used to describe the translation process.

As Elder Russel M. Nelson stated in the July 1993 Ensign, the "details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known." We do know, based upon witness accounts, that Joseph employed instruments designated for that purpose: The Nephite interpreters and his own seer stone. Many have offered their own opinions about how these devices "functioned" in the process, but it should be kept in mind that these opinions are given by people who never performed the translation process itself: They can only report on what they observed the Prophet doing at the time. We also know that at some later point in time, both the Nephite interpreters and Joseph's seer stone were referred to using the term "Urim and Thummim." Whether Joseph used the "original" Urim and Thummim (i.e. Nephite interpreters or "spectacles") or his own seer stone to perform this sacred task is beside the point, and it does not diminish the power of the resulting work. One should read the Book of Mormon itself and evaluate its message rather than get wrapped up in the detail of its exact method of translation.

TOPICS


Translation of the Book of Mormon

What do we know about the method used to translate the Book of Mormon? Were the plates sometimes not in the room while Joseph was translating them? It is claimed that each sentence and word in the 1830 Book of Mormon "had supposedly come directly from God." (Click here for full article)

  • The lost 116 pages
    Brief Summary: It is claimed that Joseph Smith did not retranslate the 116 lost pages of the Book of Lehi because he knew that he could not reproduce the exact same text. They claim that alterations in a different handwriting to the stolen manuscript would have been readily apparent. Some suggest that the writing of the 116 pages served as an “apprenticeship” to allow Joseph to improve his writing skills. (Click here for full article)
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  • Anthon transcript
    Brief Summary: What do we know about the Anthon transcript and the translation of the Book of Mormon? What is the current scholarly thought on the transcript? Didn't Charles Anthon deny having "validating" the characters? (Click here for full article)
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  • Description of the plates
    Brief Summary: A variety of persons who handled and/or saw the plates left descriptions. We list these descriptions in this sub-article. (Click here for full articleStatements by witnesses)
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  • Chronology of events
    Brief Summary: A chronology of events related to the Book of Mormon translation and publication. (Click here for full article)
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  • Chronology of translation methods
    Brief Summary: We have a number of accounts of the translation process from the perspective of various contemporary second-hand witnesses who viewed the Prophet as he dictated to his scribes. The only person other than Joseph who attempted to directly translate was Oliver Cowdery. Oliver, however, did not record any details regarding the exact physical process that he employed during his attempt—we only have the spiritual aspect of the process. (Click here for full article)
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  • Tight versus loose translation
    Brief Summary: Was the Prophet provided with the exact wording of every sentence in the Book of Mormon or was he simply given impressions which he then dictated within the context of his own understanding? (Click here for full article)
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  • Artistic depictions of the Book of Mormon translation
    Brief Summary: People are sometimes troubled when they see artists' depictions of the Prophet and Oliver sitting at a table while Joseph views the plates as they sit in plain sight. Obviously, the plates never sat exposed in plain view, and these artistic interpretations originate purely in the mind of the artist. Some accounts indicate that the plates sat on a table covered with a cloth "in plain view," with Emma indicating that she actually moved them around in order to perform her household chores. [3] (Click here for full article)
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  • Location of the plates during translation
    Brief Summary: Some witness accounts suggest that Joseph was able to translate while the plates were covered, or when they were not even in the same room with him.[4] Therefore, if the plates themselves were not being used during the translation process, why was it necessary to have plates at all? (Click here for full article)
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  • Hiding the facts in plain sight using Church publications
    Brief Summary: Quite a few items that are claimed to have been hidden by the Church were actually published in Church magazines such as the New Era, the Ensign and the Friend. (Click here for full article)
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  • Critical website MormonThink's "Translation of the Book of Mormon" page source quotes without critical commentary
    Brief Summary: The critical website "MormonThink" also has numerous source quotes related to the translation method. We provide here the "no spin" version: All of the complete primary and secondary source quotes while removing all of the anti-Mormon commentary. (Click here for full article)
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Joseph Smith used the Nephite Interpreters as well as his own seer stone (both of which were later referred to as "Urim and Thummim") to translate the Book of Mormon. (Click here for full article)



A collection of articles responding to criticisms related to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. (Click here for full article)



Endnotes

  1. [note] Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign (July 1993), 61. off-site
  2. [note] Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:220. BYU Studies link
  3. [note] Interview of Emma Smith by her son Joseph Smith III, "Interview with Joseph Smith III, 1879," Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:541–542.
  4. [note] Interview of Emma Smith by her son Joseph Smith III, "Interview with Joseph Smith III, 1879," in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:539.


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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