Better Depictions of the Translation Process

September 17, 2012

John Dehlin and Richard Bushman spoke of the translation process in part 3 and part 4 of their interview back in 2007.  In the interview, Bushman says that the Church could do a better job in artwork of depicting the translation process, and Bushman states he does not know any evidence that states the Urim and Thummim was actually used in the translation process.

JD, “Why couldn’t people see the plates?  Why didn’t he just show them to people?”

Bushman, “Well it is a good question. It would certainly solve a lot of headaches for us.  Here you’re just—it’s speculation.  If people knew he actually had gold, if he actually had a pile of gold in his bedroom his life would be at risk I would think.  There would just be constant assaults upon him.  So long as it remained in the realm of rumor and possibility and fantasy, the gold diggers and going to get excited about it, but probably…”

JD, “The thieves are going to get more excited.”

Bushman, “Yeah, right, exactly, so it could be just a very practical reason to keep him out of trouble.”

JD, “And then maybe that God doesn’t want people to believe based on proof, he wants them to believe based on faith.  Maybe that’s another explanation?”

Bushman, “Something like that, but I can tell you if they did exist, and people saw them then there would still be criticisms of it.  Nothing is going to satisfy everyone, so there would be plenty of room for faith I think even so.”

JD, “Even if they had been shown because people could say oh they really didn’t see them.”

Bushman, “Or they were fakes of some kind or this or that.”

JD, “Ok, so what does he do, when does the translation—what are the early experiences or experimentations with the plates?”

Bushman, “Well we think that alright he’s got the plates, he’s got the Urim and Thummim, he looks in the crystals and sees the translation and starts dictating and that’s that.  I’m not so sure of that.  I think it was a little bit more of a struggle.  Oliver Cowdery tries to do this and he doesn’t get very far.  It may have required some kind of spiritual or moral powers that he had to learn.  I also think that it’s possible, he even after he started translating, he wasn’t absolutely sure he was getting it right, because how does he check whether or not he’s writing down the right words?  I mean there’s no dictionary he can go to.  There’s not any normal translation process, and so I’ve always had this hunch that one of the reasons for Joseph’s interest in the Anthon transcript was to check himself out to see if he was doing something right.”

JD, “Now you’re referring to the early mechanics, sort of the Martin Harris era mechanics of translation, right?”

Bushman, “Yeah, right, the very, very start—that fall when he’s dictating to Emma.  We don’t know exactly when it began, but 1827, early 1828 before Harris goes to see Anthon in February 1828.  My guess is a kind of a trial and error period there where he’s getting the hang of things.”

JD, “Your book almost gives the sense—well first of all let’s just jump back. He got the plates and you’re saying he got what is referred to as a Urim and Thummim, right?”

Bushman, “Right.”

JD, “And you said it’s two crystals attached by some type of chain to a breastplate?”

Bushman, “I don’t know if it is a chain, but supported by a breastplate.”

JD, “Ok, the Urim and Thummim, are those the only two things he got out of the hill then: the plates and the Urim and Thummim?”

Bushman, “So far as I know, yeah.”

JD, “No sword or anything like that.”

Bushman, “No.”

JD, “Or Liahona?”

Bushman, “Nope.”

JD, “Ok, so he gets the Urim and Thummim out, he gets the plates, they go to Pennsylvania.  When he’s doing the early translation or experimenting, he’s—there’s a nail up on the wall and there’s a curtain, is that right?  And that’s always shielding—“

image from movie "Plates of Gold" by Christian Vuissa. Bushman isn't sure if this portrayal is accurate

Bushman, “Well, that’s been conjectured, but no one knows that for sure.  There’s no description of him translating with a curtain.  We assume it would have to be if the plates were in sight, but later on we know that the plates were not in sight.  They were wrapped in a cloth on the table.  So it’s quite possible that was the way it was from the beginning.  They were wrapped in a cloth and he just looked in the Urim and Thummim.”

JD, “I remember people saying that the house where he supposedly did the translation still exists, and they actually went and saw the nail that was in the wall where the curtain hung.”

Bushman laughs, “I see.  We know this nail hole must have held up the blanket.  [he chuckles some more]  That’s a historical reconstruction if there was any.”

JD chuckles, “So you’re not one to buy that necessarily?”

Bushman, “No.”

JD, “That would be a valuable nail don’t you think?  Someone would have to yank that out and put it in the Church museum.  So we don’t know if there was a curtain you’re saying?  Well that’s news to me because I’ve always—but then I thought about the curtain.  How hard would it be for Oliver or Emma or whoever to just move the curtain and peek, right?”

Bushman, “Well, right and yeah.”

JD, “Or if Emma was dusting, there’s accounts of Emma actually lifting the plates to dust under them and stuff?  Is that right?”

Bushman, “Moving them about on the table while she dusted.”

JD, “But I think of my wife or anyone.  You’d think they would just take a little peek, don’t you think?”

Bushman, “Well…”

JD, “I mean Joseph wasn’t in the room and oh let me just make sure that this is you know, it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t peek and really try hard.”

Bushman, “Well, unless you believe what Joseph said of the angel, that you were not to look in which case it would be a powerful taboo against looking.”

JD, “Potentially like an Arc of the Covenant, struck down dead kind of thing?”

Bushman, “Yeah, right.”

JD, “So maybe fear of God was what kept them from peeking?”

Bushman, “Fear of God, yeah.”

JD, “Ok.  I was reading your book, it makes it sound like when Joseph was doing some of the early experimentation, he wrote some characters down, is that right?”

Bushman, “Yeah.”

JD, “It almost sounds like, you’re wondering if he sent Martin off to find someone who might do the translation of the characters to then provide him sort of a Rosetta Stone to go on and continue the translation, that that might have been part of his motive to send Martin off with the characters.  Did I get that wrong?”

Bushman, “I didn’t mean to say that.  I meant to say he might have asked for someone to check the translation because you know one of Martin Harris’s accounts of the Anthon interview implies that there were not only the characters, but Joseph’s translations of the characters.”

JD, “Yeah, so he could check what he knew of Egyptian language with what Joseph translated it into, right?”

Bushman, “But it wasn’t a Rosetta Stone thing where’s he’s asking someone else to translate and then he would dope out what the characters meant.  I don’t think of that. I think it was just wondering, well have I got this right?  What do the learned people say?”

JD, “Ok.  Well it would be—it seems like a Rosetta Stone would be almost impossible because for the amount of words that are in the Book of Mormon, there’s not a one-to-one correlation—I imagine there’s eight times as many words in the Book of Mormon as there would have been characters on the gold plates, right?  Like way more English words than actual Egyptian characters. There’s not a one-to-one character per letter, or character per word, right?  A character in reformed Egyptian would likely represent sentences if not paragraphs?  Do we have any idea?”

Bushman, “I don’t know we have any idea, but if you try and figure out how many plates there were with characters on them, it’s not 584 pages in those characters, in those plates.  There must have been some compression.”

JD, “Yeah.  How heavy were the plates?  Do we know?”

Bushman, “Forty or Fifty pounds.”

JD, “Forty or Fifty pounds.  Ok.  What happened when Martin took the stuff to Professor Anthon then?”

Bushman, “Well of course that’s the great dispute.  He shows them materials and Anthon according to his own account, immediately saw the hoax and advised Martin Harris to extricate himself, give up this silly thing.

Harris thinks that Anthon has confirmed the validity of the characters and the translation and goes back and carries on with Joseph Smith, so frankly it’s a mystery how they could have such opposite views.  I mean we can picture Anthon being embarrassed by even giving this guy the time of day once he found out what was involved and trying to prove he wasn’t taken in for a second.  But why would Martin Harris go back and keep working for Joseph Smith if Anthon had told him it was ridiculous?  I just find it hard to bring those two together.”

JD, “So that’s a real mystery?”

Bushman, “Yeah, right.”

JD, “Ok.  But Anthon definitely denies Martin Harris’s account, right?”

Bushman, “Yeah.”

JD, “So Martin comes back energized, and then they begin the translation process full-force, is that right?”

Bushman, “Yup.”

JD, “How’s Martin’s wife feeling about this?”

Bushman, “Well she’s furious of course.  At least if we trust Lucy Smith, who had no love in her heart for Lucy Harris. Lucy Harris was something of a virago, first wanted to see the plates and then when she was denied it turned against Joseph Smith and discredited him entirely and I’m sure put a lot of pressure on Martin, so it’s hard to know exactly what kind of a character Lucy Harris was.  But I think that it would be quite reasonable for her to be concerned that Joseph Smith was trying to swindle Martin.  That was the established accusation against all of the money diggers.  Why money digging was illegal—it’s not because they thought people would steal anything, it was because they thought the people in charge of these money digging expeditions were trying to con the people who were going out with them.  So she would, I think quite naturally would think her husband was being taken for a  bath.”

JD, “Right.  So Martin begins helping out with the translation.  What do we know about the mechanics of the actual translation?”

Is this image a better depiction of the process?

Bushman, “Not a lot.  There are all these various theories about what’s going on.  I think what is quite evident is that Joseph Smith was not looking at the plates.  We do have a number of descriptions of him. The plates sitting on the table wrapped in a linen cloth.  He looking at his seer stone, not the Urim and Thummim, but a seer stone which is in a hat, which he uses to darken the space right around the stone, which presumes that there was some light coming from the stone, so that you had to read something that was faint and if there were other lights it would obliterate the shape of the letters, so we know that much.  There are these theories that the stone or the inspiration would plant ideas in Joseph’s head, and then he would find the words, so it’s very much his language, it‘s his story as he’s inspired to dictate it.  That’s one theory.

The other theory, which is the Royal Skousen theory now, is that the words of the translation actually appeared to Joseph Smith in the stone and he just dictated them off.  They remained there until they were written down and then they disappeared and new words came, and David Whitmer describes the process somewhat this way.

So lacking a real explanation from Joseph Smith himself, I think that we just have to leave it like that, that there are these two accounts.  We don’t know exactly which one is accurate.”

JD, “Now I was under the understanding that when Martin Harris was involved, there wasn’t a hat and that he used what we would traditionally understand as the Urim and Thummim, which is these crystals.”

Bushman, “Well there is some evidence of that.  That is true, but there—I have said this much in things I have written.  But people have looked at that evidence, scrutinized it carefully and say you don’t really have evidence that you had the Urim and Thummim because they use this word ‘interpreters’ which could refer to the seer stone as well.  Later on Joseph Smith did call the stone a Urim and Thummim, so Urim and Thummim is a type of instrument, it wasn’t necessarily that specific instrument with a stone set in a breastplates.”

JD, “So we don’t know if these crystals in the breastplate were ever used.  There’s no account of them ever being used.”

Bushman hesitantly, “I don’t think so.  No, No.”

JD, “Ok.  And also, sorry I’m just thinking.  Oh.  This begs a really interesting question and I’m sure you get this a lot.  And that is, why ask the Book of Mormon prophets to spend all this time and energy creating gold plates, writing on them, handing them down through generations, make Moroni walk all the way to Hill Cumorah from wherever he was to deposit them in the hill, have Joseph Smith go through all this pain to hide them, and then when it gets to the time to actually create the book, he doesn’t seem to use them?”

Bushman, “Yeah, that is a mystery, and it’s a mystery that carries over into the Book of Abraham.  Did he need those scrolls or not in order to translate?  I don’t really have an answer with any authority behind it at all.  It actually I think points towards the need for speculation about why, I mean let’s begin by accepting as a fact that the plates were necessary, that all that effort was not symbolic, that they had to be there with the words written on them.  Why would that have to be?

I don’t really know except that it seems to indicate some relationship between the physical and the spiritual.  If the words come into this man’s head, you needed the presence of this physical object that was laden with the efforts and thought of so many prophets preceding him.  You know I reach for analogies, and the one that comes to me is induction.  I don’t know if you know the process of induction by which if you move a magnet across a wire, you don’t have to touch it, but just pass it across the wire, it sends—makes electrons in the wire move in a certain direction, and that’s the way electricity is generated by making wires cross magnets.  In there you have some force radiating from the physical object has an effect on the electrical current.  So you know that’s just kind of a fairly lame analogy, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t have an answer to that question.”

[End of Part 3 - Beginning of Part 4]

JD, “You know most people would be just stunned to know that there’s no real evidence that the plates were used materially in the translation, and that the Urim and Thummim, meaning the crystals in the breastplate weren’t used either.  That’s real different from the accounts that we kind of grow up with primary and Sunday School and Seminary.”

Bushman, “Yeah.  Well that’s the account that’s in the historical records though, so we just have to live with it.”

JD, “So we have to live with it.  You know this really does bring up the question—oh two questions.  One is, isn’t it completely dishonest or disingenuous to ever use the word ‘translator’ or ‘translation’?  Aren’t those just the wrong words first of all, and then I’ll ask you the second question later, so let’s start there.  Why do we even call it a translation?”

Bushman, “Well Nibley’s discoursed on that subject.  What does it mean to translate, to carry over from one culture or one time to another?  You know we use the word ‘translated’ to talk about bodies being resurrected or carried about one way or another.  So I don’t think you could call it dishonest.  It certainly has misled us into thinking that—you know I used to speculate, did Joseph Smith learn Reformed Egyptian staring at those plates and coming up with the words?  And that of course is beside the point if you see it this way.  Maybe we do need to have another word.  I think we certainly need to make clear to our children as we teach them or whoever, that when we refer to a translation is carrying a message from one culture into the language of another, not necessarily by using a dictionary.  So you do have to generalize or change the meaning of translation from its ordinary usage.”

JD, “Ok, do you think that we need to change the art and the pictures and the graphics and the motion pictures that we are using to depict the process.  Do you think it’s disingenuous to continue having the curtain and using some type of spectacles, and showing Joseph staring at the plates thinking earnestly and then dictating?  Do you think that’s something we need to change maybe?”

Traditional (and incorrect) depiction of translation process

Bushman, “Yeah I definitely think that we need to change it.  It’s not because it’s a horrible mistake because the guys who do those pictures are not trying to deceive anyone.  That’s what they think actually happened.  It’s just a matter of accuracy. The problem is if you’re not accurate, then down the line you put your own credibility in jeopardy, and I just think all of our young people should feel they are really getting the straight story on Joseph Smith or they’re going to go through the experience you’ve had: disillusionment, anger.  It’s a very sad thing and it’s unnecessary.  We do need to avoid that.”

JD, “So is it possible that somehow the mechanics were never really known, and so someone in the 1850s or 1860s and let’s say 19th century correlation sort of just came up with this story, and even subsequent apostles and prophets sort of understood that to be the way that the translation happened?  In other words, when did we learn about the hat in the stone?  Have we always known it and we just never talked about it?  How did this creep in, and how did it get allowed to creep in the way that it did?

Bushman, “Well it’s actually an interesting historiographical question.  I mean the stories of the hat in the stone were recorded very close to Joseph Smith’s lifetime by the people who were there, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer and Emma Smith, so It’s not like—that we sort of made up this new version.  It’s been there. But I think what threw us off was our own embarrassment about Joseph Smith.  We so wanted him to be kind of a 19thcentury protestant view of a prophet, you know a noble soul, sort of partly ethereal, who speaks only spiritual wisdom, and not someone who is involved in magical practices, which is superstition and which protestants are dead set against in the 19th century.  That effort to kind of suppress anything that would scandalize Joseph Smith, or turn him into a scandal I think motivated the desire to make it all sort of lovely and common-sensical, rather than anything that would be magical.”

JD, “So someone along the way maybe felt embarrassed or said, you know people aren’t going to buy this or people aren’t going to believe it or people are going to think we’re goofy, and so let’s depict it, let’s re-write history and depict it in a way that’s a little bit more palatable?”

Bushman, “Well I’m not sure it’s quite that calculated, but it has that effect that you just kind of bowdlerize the story, whitewash it.  It ends up this way.”

What are you opinions on how the church portrays the translation process?

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20 Responses to Better Depictions of the Translation Process

  1. Hedgehog on September 17, 2012 at 1:36 AM

    “What are you opinions on how the church portrays the translation process?”

    Unfortunate.

    “The problem is if you’re not accurate, then down the line you put your own credibility in jeopardy, and I just think all of our young people should feel they are really getting the straight story on Joseph Smith or they’re going to go through the experience you’ve had: disillusionment, anger. It’s a very sad thing and it’s unnecessary. We do need to avoid that.”

    Quite.

    Lets have some plain-speaking and a whole lot less window-dressing please.

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  2. Jenn on September 17, 2012 at 6:37 AM

    The weird thing is, I don’t think the head-in-hat approach is SO much harder to believe/grasp than the ancient-breastplate-with-goggles thing. Let’s face it, either way you have to have some faith.
    What bothers me most is the lack of explanation about why Joseph even NEEDED the plates, since they weren’t even present sometimes by many accounts. Sounds like a big hassle for poor Moroni to get them buried in NY…

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  3. hawkgrrrl on September 17, 2012 at 8:20 AM

    I think Bushman is on to something about the need to create a palatable narrative about Joseph Smith, even when it is contradicted by history. People cherry pick the stories and infer motives that are very holy when actions are certainly subject to less flattering interpretations. I am thinking of Truman Madsen who might as well have been writing a Superman comic for all the objectivity in his presentation of Joseph Smith.

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  4. KT on September 17, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    In my opinion, if you, as an institution are going to do something like write/publish books/manuals on Church history, and spend an hour block out of a given year teaching on that, then you should be accurate about what you are publishing and teaching. Of course there are those who say, “well, why would the Church want to teach things that portray it in a negative light.” And to that I say, well yea, most people and institutions don’t really want to do that, but for one, you are a Church and have certain articles of faith and so you should follow those and be HONEST. And secondly, a lot of other institutions don’t purposefully teach their “official history” as part of regular meeting attendence, so if you’re gonna do that, it’s a little hypocritical to not be entirely accurate or truthful. So, I guess that’s my take on Church history as a whole, and also this in particular, although I realize it can be difficult to know the particulars of all parts of it, there are parts that are well documented and known and those should be held to a certain standard of truth on those things.

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  5. Mike S on September 17, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    Up until the fairly recent past, it was fairly easy for the Church (or any other institution) to control their message – to present what they wanted how they wanted, and to basically ignore things that didn’t fit with this narrative. This has all changed. Information is much more freely available.

    Ultimately, the Church needs to be absolutely honest or else they are going to lose credibility, particular with the upcoming generation. This includes things like the Joseph Smith translation method. They need to simply be upfront about it and say this is what happened. Perhaps use Bushman’s explanation as a model.

    It goes far beyond the Joseph Smith story, however. A perfect example is the past few weeks when BYU explained their caffeine policy as “there’s just no demand”. Really? On a college campus? No demand for any caffeinated drink? It includes airbrushing angels Photoshopping primary children. Really? What’s the point?

    At the end of the day, it’s about integrity. Just like what is expected of the members of the Church, to be perfectly honest in their dealings with their fellowman, we should expect nothing less from the institution. Unfortunately, it seems increasingly prevalent that the tail is wagging the dog, with the PR department doing a terrible job of representing the Church.

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  6. Course Correction on September 17, 2012 at 10:03 AM

    I’m embarrassed to recall that in my youth, I argued with a history professor who said Joseph Smith stuck his head in a hat to translate the BoM with a seer stone.

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  7. Blake on September 17, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    The problem is that there is very solid evidence that Joseph used the two stones set in the bow of the breastplate when he first started to translate — first called the Urim and Thummim in 1833. His brother, William, explained that Joseph stopped using the two stones because it was big and difficult to use and it hurt his eyes to use them. You can check in out in my article on the Expansion Theory and Craig Ostler’s (yes, he is my brother) commentary on the D&C Revelations of the Restoration. He has included the full interview with William in the commentary to the book. Check out also the comments on D&C section 9. You can check it out here: http://www.cumorah.org/libros/english/Revelations_of_the_Restoration_-_Craig_J_Ostler,_Joseph_Fielding_McConkie.html

    Why Bushman would state that there are no accounts of such translation using the two stones in the breastplate is beyond me. Bushman apparently takes his sources from those who were not there during this first period of translation – primarily David Whitmer.

    So when Bushman says that the evidence supports the view that Joseph put on the breastplate and looked into the stones when Martin Harris translated, he is accurate. When he later denies that there is evidence to support that account (in the same interview nonetheless) he is not fully informed or just forgot the evidence. Did Joseph look at the plates when he translated using the two stones? It is quite likely – but later did not use that same method. So suggesting that there is just one way that Joseph translated and the church is somehow dishonest because it hasn’t fully sorted out how Joseph did it just is not accurate in my view.

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  8. Will on September 17, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    It is suppose to be confusing and full of opposition and questions. It is not to make any sense. The Joseph Smith story and all that is associated with it is supposed to be nebulous and confusing and not able to be researched by secular means. It is suppose to have missing, confusing and unfound pieces. It is suppose to be a puzzle that cannot be solved. It is a spiritual equation; thus, it must be solved by spiritual means. It is not, and should not be solved by secular means.

    The spirit of God has borne witness to my spirit that the Book of Mormon is true and anything that anyone says will not change this personal truth.

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  9. Jenn on September 17, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    I have a hard time believing that God would purposefully give us confusing or even misleading evidence just because “spiritual equations shouldn’t be solved by secular means”. First, secular observations often DO testify of God’s truth. “All things denote that there is a God”, right? Or how about “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.”

    God gave us intelligence, analytical skills, questioning spirits, and created this beautiful and LOGICAL world for us. It doesn’t always make immediate sense to mankind, but the longer we are around the more we discover about what God has laid out for us. What we used to not understand and chalk up as a miracle, science can now explain, but that makes it no less divine.
    I’m willing to say we should have faith now, even if it doesn’t make sense. But we can have faith while still trying to understand it with our logical, secular minds… the faith comes in when you say “this may never make sense and that won’t change my belief.” But if only to reduce the cognitive dissonance or to keep our mind active during boring sunday school lessons, we can still try to figure it out- and maybe we will discover in the end that it DOES make sense, even in a secular way, and we just haven’t discovered it yet.

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  10. Neal on September 17, 2012 at 6:15 PM

    I think we have extremely incomplete information, which makes it difficult to draw any concrete conclusions about the matter. For example, we have no idea how much time Joseph spent alone with the plates, with no scribes present. It could be significant. We have no idea how much history he was given in his annual interviews with Moroni. The point is that there are many other possibilities that we can only speculate on, because there is insufficient evidence to confirm or deny any one particular scenario. So, in the end, it becomes a matter of faith.

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  11. Sam R on September 17, 2012 at 9:43 PM

    I agree that we need more explanation about why the plates were necessary in the first place. What is so different from revelation as translation or revelation as …. nevermind it’s the same thing.

    I agree there might be something to the idea that with the plates being there it makes Joseph more credible. The whole witness thing adds a lot of validity to his story.

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  12. Mormon Heretic on September 17, 2012 at 9:50 PM

    Mike, I am continually amazed at how you can take any topic and weave current events into it. BYU caffeine? Really? I don’t recall Bushman talking about that in his discussions about Joseph Smith.

    Blake, I clicked on your link, but since there is so much info there, I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to. Could you help me narrow it down?

    From what I understand, Bushman may have been quoting Dan Vogel (though I’m not sure.) I’d be curious to find out more about the Urim and Thummim in the translation process.

    Will, The Joseph Smith story and all that is associated with it is supposed to be nebulous and confusing and not able to be researched by secular means.

    The Church represents the translation process as simply through God’s power. I don’t know why you are saying it is supposed to be nebulous. All Bushman is trying to say is that the story the Church is presenting should be more accurate. There’s nothing confusing about that. You seem to be conflating testimony with history. History need not be nebulous–Bushman has shown that we know much about the history. There’s no need to obfuscate. Faith may be more nebulous, but the actions Joseph took to translate are more clear and we should represent what we know.

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  13. Will on September 17, 2012 at 9:55 PM

    “I have a hard time believing that God would purposefully give us confusing or even misleading ”
    So do I. He doesn’t, Lucifer does. He creates confusion. He creates tension. He clouds the truth. He always has; and, the opposition around the Book of Mormon (IMO) and how it came about is just more of his tricks.

    With that said, the only way to know the Book of Mormon is true is by the spirit.

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  14. Mormon Heretic on September 17, 2012 at 9:57 PM

    Neal, I don’t see Bushman drawing any conclusions about the matter of translation, nor do I see him discounting faith. All he is doing is trying to be more precise in the history. Whether Joseph used a seer stone in a hat or a Urim and Thummim, God’s power is still manifest. If the words appeared on a stone in a hat (like Royal Skousen theorizes), is that any less miraculous than peering through a Urim and Thummim? I don’t think so. Now that I think about it, I think Blake is right–Joseph probably did use the U&T at first, found it cumbersome, and then switched to a seer stone. The method doesn’t make it less miraculous, IMO. Either way, one can choose to believe that the “translation” came about by the power of God, just as Jesus spitting in dirt and healing a blind man is miraculous. I mean if Jesus healing the blind man was in an apocryphal gospel rather than the Bible, would that cast doubt that Jesus did miracles?

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  15. LDS Anarchist on September 18, 2012 at 3:08 AM

    When I first joined the church, I just took the Book of Mormon and the witnesses and revelations seriously and believed that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon using the Urim and Thummim, as they all stated.

    Then I came across the information regarding the seer stone and the hat and figured, okay, he started out with the Urim and Thummim and then switched to using the seer stone after the 116 pages incident.

    Based on this new information, I figured that when it said he translated the Book of Mormon with the Urim and Thummim, it must have been a loose meaning of the words Urim and Thummim (meaning that he used both the Urim and Thummim and a seer stone) or that it must have been referring to only the first part of the Book of Mormon (the 116 pages), which definitely used the Urim and Thummim.

    Still, I was bothered that the Book of Mormon publication and all those involved in its coming forth always said he used the Urim and Thummim or Nephite interpreters in its entire translation, except that it wasn’t used in its entire translation. But I just put this contradictory mystery on the shelf figuring that I’d learn the answer at some point in time.

    Now, after reading Craig Ostler’s commentary, I’m back to square one, my original belief: that he used the Urim and Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon, just as he said he did. Ostler has a good explanation for all the accounts about a seer stone being used, namely that they all derive from one, unreliable source: David Whitmer.

    So, thank you, Blake, for pointing out your brother’s historical research.

    (Now watch, someone will come forth to contradict Ostler’s explanations!)

    What I wonder now, though, is: what is the story behind that seer stone? I understand that the church still possesses it. I wonder, is that the stone that Hyrum Page used to receive the false revelations?

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  16. LDS Anarchist on September 18, 2012 at 3:28 AM

    But people have looked at that evidence, scrutinized it carefully and say you don’t really have evidence that you had the Urim and Thummim because they use this word ‘interpreters’ which could refer to the seer stone as well.

    I assume he means that all three stones are interpreters, right? In other words, that the Urim, the Thummim and the seer stone are three interpreters and not that the seer stone alone (singular object) is an interpreters (plural objects), right? But even assuming they are talking about three objects being interpreters and not one object being interpreters, did Joseph have both the Urim and Thummim and the seer stone at the same time? I was under the impression that it is claimed that he had one, or the other, but not both simultaneously. In which case, if he only had the seer stone, then how on earth can you call a singular object “interpreters”? This just doesn’t compute. My mind naturally says, “Interpreters are the Nephite interpreters, meaning the Urim and Thummim.” So, what are these “people who have looked at the evidence” saying?

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  17. Cowboy on September 18, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    The best evidence for the “seer stone” has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon translation, but the 1826 court case that charged him as a “glass-looker”. It’s quite apparent that Joseph Smith was divining through magic rocks.

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  18. Blake on September 18, 2012 at 9:34 AM

    Cowboy: The best evidence for the seer-stone is not the 1826 trial. Read what those who were working with him had to say about the charges in the 1826 trial — Joseph Knight, Josiah Stowell and William Smith and others who actually knew Joseph and lived with him. I am very skeptical about the reliability of the accounts of the 1826 trial — even the so-called “glass-looker” document. I have long suggested that the document needs to be tested for the “Mark Hoffman signs of forgery.” I still suspect that it was planted by Hoffman — given that it was found at the time Hoffman was at the height of his work and follows the general description of what he was doing and working on.

    Sorry Mormon Heretic — you are right. The entire book is a bit much to digest. Here is a better link that summarizes the research: http://emp.byui.edu/SatterfieldB/Rel121/Process%20of%20Translating%20the%20BofM.pdf

    What William (who was actually there and saw the breastplate and two stone interpreters) said was: “The instrument caused a strain on
    Joseph’s eyes, and he sometimes resorted to
    covering his eyes with a hat to exclude the light in part” (Smith, Rod of Iron 1, 3 [February 1924]: 7). What I take away after extensive research on this issue is that Joseph used the two stones set in the breastplate at first to translate. He would look at the plates through the “instruments” or “spectacles” or “interpreters” and would receive the translation through revelation. When he learned that translation was merely another species of revelation (what else could it be since he did not know the ancient language at all) he learned he could avoid the difficult-to-manage breastplate set-up and use the stone to focus his heart-and-mind to receive revelation. The plates were necessary because there could not be an accurate revelation of what was written on the plates unless there was something written on the plates which was accurately reflected in the translation.

    In the interview William also described the breastplate and interpreters as follows: “Explaining the expression as to the stones in the Urim and thummim being set in two rims of a bow he said: A silver bow ran over one stone, under the other, around over that one and under the first in the shape of a horizontal figure 8 much like a pair of spectacles. That they were much too large for Joseph and he could only see through one at a time using sometimes one and sometimes the other. By putting his head in a hat or some dark object it was not necessary to close one eye while looking through the stone with the other. In that way sometimes when his eyes grew tires [tired] he releaved them of the strain. 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 rod was just the right length so that when the Urim and thummim was removed from before the eyes it woul reac to a pocked [pocket?] on the left side of the breastplate where the instrument was kept when not in use by the Seer.”

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  19. Bob on September 18, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    There will not be “Better Depictions” as long as the Church wishes Golden plates be at the heart of the story. The Seer Stones show there was no need for plates to obtain the story or do a Translation.

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  20. Andrew S on September 20, 2012 at 9:30 PM

    Everyone can feel free to ignore me…I’m just doing some (late) housekeeping…I saw some of Blake’s comments were in the spam filter for some reason, but I saw no reason why they should be there, so I unspammed one. (The other seemed to be a replica, but without some additional content.)

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