This seems to be the favorite topic of many, particularly of those that comment on this blog regularly. How exactly was the Book of Mormon translated?
The LDS version of how it transpired
Raised Mormon, I can testify myself of how I was personally taught in the church of the translation process of the Book of Mormon. The story goes like this: The angel Moroni appears to Joseph Smith and tells him about a book written on golden plates. Joseph recovers the gold plates as well as the Urim and Thummim deposited with the plates that he uses to translate the writing on the metal plates.
The Book of Mormon is translated to English with help from the Urim and Thummim and once the record is translated into English, Joseph Smith gives the golden plates back to the angel Moroni where they are now safely in his hands forever.
Regarding the actual translation process, on the official LDS website, we see depictions of Joseph Smith thinking and diligently studying the plates like a scholar. Joseph is depicted as a man looking at actual gold plates. Joseph Smith is supposed to be looking at actual characters etched on the plates and is working hard to translate the characters into English.
We are also told that there is no way Joseph could have been the author of the Book of Mormon because it was translated in a manner of months!
What the historical records tell us
Joseph is allowed to take possession of the plates on September 22, 1827, but apparently doesn't know what do do with them for 7 months because he doesn't begin translating them until April 1828. The manuscripts for the Book of Lehi are lost in June 1828.
However, this is where the story really starts to get fishy. Joseph starts to re-translate in September 1828 with Emma as his scribe. So that is 3 months after the manuscripts were lost. Joseph does this without any kind of instruction or revelation to do so. In fact, Joseph doesn't start the book of Lehi, not even the Books of Nephi. The really odd thing is that as Joseph is starting the re-translation process, he doesn't start at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. He starts where he left off: at the end of the Book of Lehi, or the beginning of the Book of Mosiah.
Joseph only manages to dictate a few chapters of Mosiah and forgets about the whole thing from September to April of the next year. Finally, 7 months after that, Joseph is ready to translate the Book of Mormon with rapid-fire succession, this time with Oliver Cowdery as principal scribe.
The Method of Translation
The manner of which the Book of Mormon was translated at this point is probably the most odd thing and troubling for most Mormons today. By this time, Joseph was not using the Urim and Thummim for the translation process as he did with Martin Harris. Now, instead of the Urim and Thummim, he used what he called a seer stone.
Here is where it gets a little complicated and confusing because people have referred to the seer stone as the Urim and Thummim, but they are 2 separate things. The seer stone is a magic rock that Joseph Smith found in 1822 while digging a well. There is no way the seer stone is the same thing as the Urim and Thummim, because he found it a year before he even saw the angel Moroni. The Urim and Thummim were some kind of crystal spectacles that were supposedly deposited with the plates, which were not uncovered until 1827. What makes it so strange is that the Angel Moroni gave Joseph Smith the gold plates to translate and said that the Urim and Thummim were prepared to assist him in the translation process, but Joseph Smith didn't use either one of those things.
and Joseph Smith had previously used this seer stone for locating treasure years before the gold plates came into the picture. In fact, Joseph Smith was brought to trial in 1826, a year before he received the gold plates and UrimThummim, for "glass-looking". He would place the seer stone into a hat and look into the hat to find buried treasure, a practice that was illegal. To the left is a copy of the original bill of Justice Albert Neely, which has been authenticated by both LDS and non-LDS historians. It says"Joseph Smith the Glass Looker March (20?)1826"
What is so odd is that Joseph Smith used the same method that he did in finding buried treasure as he did in the translation process of the Book of Mormon. He would place the seer stone into a hat, put his face in the hat looking at the seer stone and dictate the words that would appear to him. The plates would remain wrapped up in a cloth or sometimes in a different room, or even out in the woods somewhere. It begs the question why did Joseph even need the plates if he didn't even use them in the translation process? This is a very odd image of how we got the Book of Mormon. Neither the gold plates nor the Urim and Thummim were used in the translation process of the Book of Mormon, instead we have Joseph Smith sticking his head in a hat looking at a magic rock.
Oliver Cowdery Wants To Translate Like Joseph
Oliver Cowdery is absolutely amazed by Joseph's ability to look into the hat and translate the records by looking into the seer stone. So Oliver eagerly wants to help in this astonishing and amazing process and be more than just a scribe. Oliver is granted by God to be given the gift of translation in D&C 8 The lord responding to Oliver's request says "Ask that...you may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up...and according to your faith shall it be done unto you". So Oliver looks into the hat, and.........nothing. All he sees is a rock in a hat.
I can imagine the conversation that transpired between Joseph and Oliver. Oliver looked into the hat and saw nothing. Joseph looks into the hat and says "yup, it is certainly working, I can see the words just fine." Oliver looks in to the hat and...still nothing...hmmm...Frustrated, Oliver Cowdery went back to writing what Joseph was dictating by looking at the rock in the hat some more. Joseph then receives a revelation that is found in D&C 9 and gives Oliver this message from the Lord:
Behold, I say unto you,(Oliver)...that because you did not translate according to that which you desired of me, and did commence again to write for my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., even so I would that ye should continue until you have finished this record...Be patient, my son, for it is wisdom in me, and it is not expedient that you should translate at this present time. Behold, the work which you are called to do is to write for my servant Joseph. And, behold, it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you. Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.So the Lord Basically tells Oliver that he takes back what he said in D&C 8 about him being able to help out as translator, oh and and it's Oliver's fault for not having enough patience. God tells Oliver that because he started taking dictation from Joseph, now he lost his translating privileges all together. Oh, and Oliver, don't cry about it and be happy about being scribe.
Joseph Smith STILL has not translated 1st and 2nd Nephi, and he still hasn't received any kind of revelation that instructed him to start the re-translation process of the Book of Mormon. However, finally in May of 1829 Joseph receives a revelation that is now known as D&C section 10 that tells Joseph to write the Book of Nephi instead of the Book of Lehi. So presumably after they finished with the rest of the Book, they went back and translated the 1st and 2nd books of Nephi and placed them at the beginning of the book.
The LDS church is Committing Fraud
Now the whole story sounds fishy to begin with. However, here is my biggest problem, and surprisingly, it isn't the 19th century folk magic, it is trying to match the dates with his story.
Revelation as published in 1833
Joseph Smith received what is now known as D&C section 10. However, the original publication of this revelation was in a book known as the Book of Commandments. The Book of Commandments was the original Doctrine and Covenants, which was published in 1833. The revelation is documented as chapter 9 in the original Book of Commandments. In it, it says that Joseph received the revelation in May of 1829.
Revelation as published in 1835
The original Doctrine and Covenants as published in 1835 also includes this same revelation and once again, it says the revelation was given to Joseph in May 1829. There is no doubt that Joseph had time to correct the date, because he made several "corrections" to the revelation, by adding the words "Urim and Thummim" and a few other alterations. The funny thing is that finally now in May of 1829, the Lord says referring to the gift of translation: "it is now restored unto you again...continue on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work of translation as you have begun"
So it is NOW restored to Joseph, even though he already had been continuing the translation since September of the previous year, 8 months prior. Hmm. So Joseph just instinctively knew not to re-translate the Book of Lehi when he began the re-translation process. Perhaps he thought it would turn up? But when he began the re-translation process, why did he skip over 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni and Words of Mormon to translate Mosiah without any instructions from God? It doesn't make any sense at all.
Revelation as currently published
The LDS church knows the dates don't make any sense at all and the revelation found in D&C 10 don't match Joseph's story. The historical records show us that Joseph began the re-translation process in September 1828, but he didn't receive the revelation with instructions on what to do about the Book of Lehi until May 1829. What the LDS church has done is simply changed the date of the revelation to better fit Joseph's story chronologically. In the current publication of the Doctrine and Covenants, the LDS church has changed the date of the revelation as found in D&C 10 from the actual date of the revelation in May 1829 to the summer of 1828. They have done this to reflect the fact that Joseph actually started the re-translation process in September of 1828. Now let's be clear on this, because, as I said, this is what is most troubling for me: The LDS church changed the date of the revelation to reflect a chronology that would better fit Joseph Smith's story. They have committed outright fraud. They are literally lying about the date of his revelation.
The only arguments that I have heard is that the editor of the D&C only had the best intentions in mind and did not mean to commit fraud by changing the date of the revelation, yeah, as if making alterations to canonized scripture is done without authorization from the first presidency, riiight. Let's see what LDS apologist Richard Bushman has to say regarding the date change:
The order of translation in turn bears on the date of section 10 in the Doctrine and Covenants, currently dated "summer 1828". The manuscript version of the History of the Church gives May, 1829 for the date of section 10. The Book of Commandments, the first printed version of the Doctrine and Covenants dated the section May, 1829, as well. A later editor changed the date to summer, 1828, because the directions for translating I Nephi are in that section. The revelation would have lost its point by May, 1829 if Joseph had begun the translation of I Nephi three months previouslyWhat Richard Bushman is saying is that whoever changed the date assumed that when Joseph began the re-translation of the Book of Mormon that he started with 1 Nephi and went to the entire book. Although I admire Bushman for his attempts that are much more satisfying than the typical "read the Book of Mormon and pray about it" response, the other problem is that the revelation instructs Joseph not to re-translate the Book of Lehi, which Joseph already skipped over. Joseph already skipped passed 1 Nephi as well, so if Joseph Smith had already translated 1 Nephi, the revelation would have been pointless. The whole thing just doesn't pass the "smell test". I think it is much more likely that Joseph Smith always had the fear in the back of his mind that someone had the original manuscripts and if he tried to reproduce the book of Lehi, his secret would be out. He probably came up with the 'replacing it with the Book of Nephi' idea mid-"translation".
Regardless, the LDS church is lying about the date of the revelation of section 10 to reflect a time line that makes the story more believable.
Regardless, if they have any integrity, they will change it back to the actual date to reflect reality. This is one of the biggest problems I have with the church, is that the date does not reflect the correct one. But then again, Joseph Smith might have been wrong about when he received his revelation and maybe he was just speaking as a man, after all, even prophets of God are not infallible. So what the LDS church is saying right now is that Joseph Smith didn't get the date right. If Joseph Smith couldn't even get the date right, how do we know he got the message straight? He made changes to the revelation years later, so how do we know we have the correct message now?
I think it is much more likely and reasonable to say that Joseph Smith simply got caught in his own lie. The date that he said he got that revelation doesn't match the historical records, so the LDS church changed the date. The LDS church has falsified a document and now knows the date is incorrect, and therefore is committing fraud.
So let's recap the timeline because it is a little confusing.
1822- Joseph Smith finds a seer stone while digging a well by his farmhouse
Sept 1823-Joseph Says he sees Moroni in a vision in his room and is allowed to see the plates but not take them.
Sept 1824-Joseph visits the plates again, but is not allowed to take them
Sept 1825-Joseph visits the plates yet again.
March 1826-Joseph is arrested for "glass looking" with the seer stone to find buried treasure
Sept 1826-Joseph visits the plates
Sept 1827-Joseph finally takes possession of the plates
April 1828-Joseph begins translation of Book of Lehi with Martin Harris as scribe
June 1828-Manuscripts for Book of Lehi are lost
July 1828- Joseph receives revelation telling him his gift of translating is taken away for a season
Sept 1828-Joseph starts re-translation of Book of Mormon without any instructions from God or any kind of revelation. He just does it on his own, the really odd thing is he doesn't attempt to re-translate the Book of Lehi, and skips 1Nephi, 2Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni and Words of Mormon. He continues where he left off chronologically at the end of the Book of Lehi, or the beginning of Mosiah. His wife Emma served as scribe.
April 1829-Joseph begins the "rapid-fire" translation now with Oliver Cowdery as scribe
April 1829- Oliver Cowdery wants to translate with the magic rock in the hat, is granted the ability, then God changed his mind because Oliver isn't patient enough.
May 1829-Joseph receives revelation not to re-translate Book of Lehi and to replace it with Books of Nephi. The Lord also tells Joseph that "NOW" his gift of translating is "restored" hmm...
June 1829-Transcript is finished, witnesses "see" the plates and Joseph gives them back to Moroni.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
This seems to be the favorite topic of many, particularly of those that comment on this blog regularly. How exactly was the Book of Mormon translated?