Mormonism and Wikipedia/Golden plates/Translating

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A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia: Mormonism and Wikipedia/Golden plates
A work by a collaboration of authors (Link to Wikipedia article here)
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An analysis of the Wikipedia article "Golden plates"  Updated 9/21/2011

Reviews of previous revisions of this section

Section review

Translating the plates

From the Wikipedia article:
Joseph Smith said that the plates were engraved in an unknown language, and Smith told associates that he was capable of reading and translating them. This translation took place mainly in Harmony, Pennsylvania (now Oakland Township), Emma's hometown, where Smith and his wife had moved in October 1827 with financial assistance from a prominent, though superstitious, Palmyra landowner Martin Harris.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • The local Presbyterian minister, Jesse Townsend, described Harris as a "visionary fanatic". An acquaintance, Lorenzo Saunders, said, "There can't anybody say word against Martin Harris...a man that would do just as he agreed with you. But he was a great man for seeing spooks." Walker (1986) , p. 35.

FAIR's analysis:

  •  Violates Wikipedia: Neutral Point-of-View off-site— All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.
    Violated by John Foxe —Diff: off-site

    The paragraph only mentions Martin Harris a single time in the context of providing financial assistance, and even then the word "superstitious" is used. For what possible reason, other than to smear Harris' character as a later witness, would this warrant a footnote in which Harris is called a "visionary fanatic" and a "great man for seeing spooks?"


From the Wikipedia article:
The translation occurred in two phases: the first, from December 1827 to June 1828, during which Smith transcribed some of the characters and then dictated 116 manuscript pages to Harris, which were lost. The second phase began sporadically in early 1829 and then in earnest in April 1829 with the arrival of Oliver Cowdery, a schoolteacher who volunteered to serve as Smith's full-time scribe. In June 1829, Smith and Cowdery moved to Fayette, New York, completing the translation early the following month. Smith used scribes to write the words he said were a translation of the golden plates, dictating these words while peering into seer stones, which he said allowed him to see the translation. Smith's translation ability evolved naturally out of his earlier treasure seeking,

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Bushman (2005) , p. 73.

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
and he used a process that was "strikingly similar" to the way Smith used seer stones for treasure hunting.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Quinn (1998) , p. 171

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
For the earliest phase of translation, Smith said that he translated using what he called the "Urim and Thummim"—a set of large spectacles with stones where the eye-pieces should be.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Smith (Mulholland) , p. 5. Early followers of Smith used the term Urim and Thummim to refer both to these large spectacles and Smith's other seer stones, most notably one commonly called the "Chase stone" that Smith had found in a Palmyra well during the early 1820sVan Wagoner (Walker) , pp. 59–62; Quinn (1998) , p. 171. Tucker (1867) , p. 35 (referring to the Urim and Thummim as "mammoth spectacles").

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
There is no eye-witness testimony that Smith ever wore the large spectacles, although some witnesses understood that he placed them in his hat while translating.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Quinn (1998) , pp. 169–70. Martin Harris, one of Smith's scribes, is reported to have said that the spectacles were made for a giant, and would not have been wearable by Joseph Smith Anton (1834) . David Whitmer, another scribe, also said that the spectacles were larger than normal spectacles, and indicated that Smith placed them in his hat while translating, rather than wearing them Whitmer (1875) . However, a man who interviewed Smith's father in 1830 said that Smith did at least some of the translation while wearing the spectacles Lapham (1870) .

FAIR's analysis:

  •  Violates Wikipedia: Citing sources off-site— There is either no citation to support the statement or the citation given is incorrect.
    Violated by John Foxe —Diff: off-site

    David Whitmer did state in one interview that Joseph was "affixing the magical spectacles to his eyes."

Each time before resuming the work all present would kneel in prayer and invoke the Divine blessing on the proceeding. After prayer Smith would sit on one side of a table and the amanuenses, in turn as they became tired, on the other. Those present and not actively engaged in the work seated themselves around the room and then the work began. After affixing the magical spectacles to his eyes, Smith would take the plates and translate the characters one at a time. The graven characters would appear in succession to the seer, and directly under the character, when viewed through the glasses, would be the translation in English. ("The Book of Mormon;' Chicago Tribune, December 17, 1885, 3· The Tribune correspondent visited and interviewed Whitmer on December 15, 1885, at Whitmer's home in Richmond, Missouri. )


From the Wikipedia article:
Witnesses did observe Smith using a single seer stone (not part of a set of spectacles) in the translation,

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Hale (1834) , p. 265; Smith (1879) , pp. 536–40; Van Wagoner (Walker) , pp. 59–62 (containing an overview of witnesses to the translation process).

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
the same brown stone Smith had earlier used for treasure seeking.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Quinn (1998) , p. 172. Smith's father-in-law, Isaac Hale, said that the "manner in which he pretended to read and interpret was the same as when he looked for the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time hid in the woods!" Hale (1834) , p. 265.

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
Smith seems to have used a single stone during the second phase of translation.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Van Wagoner (1982) , p. 53.

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
Smith placed the stone in a hat, buried his face in it to eliminate all outside light, and peered into the stone to see the words of the translation.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Whitmer (1875) ("Having placed the Urim and Thummim in his hat, Joseph placed the hat over his face, and with prophetic eyes read the invisible symbols syllable by syllable and word by word."). Michael Morse, Smith's brother-in-law, stating that he watched Smith on several occasions: "The mode of procedure consisted in Joseph's placing the Seer Stone in the crown of a hat, then putting his face into the hat, so as to entirely cover his face." (Van Wagoner (Walker) , quoting W.W. Blair, Latter Day Saints' Herald 26 (15 Nov. 1879): 341, who was quoting Michael Morse). Smith's wife Emma stated that she took dictation from her husband as she sat next to him, and that he would put his face into a hat with the stone in it, dictating for hours at a time. Smith (1879) , pp. 536–40.

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
A few times during the translation, a curtain or blanket was raised between Smith and his scribe or between the living area and the area where Smith and his scribe worked.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Cook (1991) , p. 173. However, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer, later to be the wife of scribe Oliver Cowdery, said she had never seen a curtain raised between Smith and Cowdery or her brothers while translation took place in the Whitmer home Van Wagoner (Walker) , p. 51.

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
Sometimes Smith dictated to Martin Harris from upstairs or from a different room.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Howe (1834) , p. 14.

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
Smith's "translation" did not require any use of the plates themselves.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Marquardt (2005) , p. 97; Van Wagoner (Walker) , pp. 53.

FAIR's analysis:
 FAIR WIKI EDITORS: Check sources


From the Wikipedia article:
As he looked into the stone, Smith told his friends and family that the written translation of the ancient script appeared to him in English.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Bushman (2005) , p. 72; Quinn (1998) , p. 170.

FAIR's analysis:

  •  Violates Wikipedia: Citing sources off-site— There is either no citation to support the statement or the citation given is incorrect.

    Joseph Smith himself never stated that "the ancient script appeared to him in English." This description was provided only by second-hand sources—most notably David Whitmer:

“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. quoted by Russell M. Nelson, “A Treasured Testament,” Ensign, Jul 1993, 61) off-site


From the Wikipedia article:
There are several proposed explanations for how Smith composed his translation. In the 19th century, the most common explanation was that he plagiarized the work from a manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Quinn (1998) , p. 455 n.273 (most common 19th century theory); Brodie (1971) , p. 68.

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
This theory is deemed to be repudiated by Smith's preeminent modern biographers.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Brodie (1971) , pp. 143–44; Bushman (2005) , pp. 90–91; Quinn (1998) , p. 455 n.273 (arguing that the theory has been repudiated).

FAIR's analysis:

  •  Correct, per cited sources


From the Wikipedia article:
The most prominent modern theory is that Smith composed the translation in response to the provincial opinions of his time,

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Brodie (1971) , p. 69; Bushman (2005) , p. 72).

FAIR's analysis:

  •  Correct, per cited sources


From the Wikipedia article:
perhaps while in a magical trance-like state.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Bloom (1992) , p. 86; Riley (1902) , pp. 84, 195.

FAIR's analysis:
 FAIR WIKI EDITORS: Check sources


From the Wikipedia article:
As a matter of faith, Latter Day Saints generally view the translation process as either an automatic process of transcribing text written within the stone,

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Bushman (2005) , p. 72 (arguing that this transcription method is the only one consistent with the historical record).

FAIR's analysis:
 FAIR WIKI EDITORS: Check sources


From the Wikipedia article:
or an intuitive translation by Smith assisted by a mystical connection with God through the stone.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Quinn (expressing his personal view shared by several other Mormon apologists, and noting that while this view might pose problems vis-à-vis the historical record, it helps explain the origin of the Book of Mormon's grammatical mistakes).

FAIR's analysis:
 FAIR WIKI EDITORS: Check sources


From the Wikipedia article:
Smith's dictations were written down by a number of assistants including Emma Smith, Martin Harris, and notably, Oliver Cowdery.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Clark (1842) ("Although in the same room, a thick curtain or blanket was suspended between them, and Smith concealed behind the blanket, pretended to look through his spectacles, or transparent stones, and would then write down or repeat what he saw, which when repeated aloud, was written down by Harris."); Benton (1831) ("Oliver Cowdery, one of the three witnesses to the book, testified under oath, that said Smith...translated his book [with] two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates.").

FAIR's analysis:
 FAIR WIKI EDITORS: Check sources


From the Wikipedia article:
In May 1829, after Smith had lent 116 un-duplicated manuscript pages to Martin Harris, and Harris had lost them, Smith dictated a revelation explaining that Smith could not simply re-translate the lost pages because his opponents would attempt to see if he could "bring forth the same words again."

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Phelps (1833) , p. 24.

FAIR's analysis:

  •  Correct, per cited sources


From the Wikipedia article:
According to Grant Palmer, Smith believed "a second transcription would be identical to the first. This confirms the view that the English text existed in some kind of unalterable, spiritual form rather than that someone had to think through difficult conceptual issues and idioms, always resulting in variants in any translation."

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Palmer (2002) , p. 7.

FAIR's analysis:


References

Wikipedia references for "Golden Plates"

Further reading

Articles on this subject

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